On Sunday’s State of the Union on CNN, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Jake Tapper that the state of his genitals was “intact.” This comment came after Sen. Bob Corker, to whom President Donald Trump diminutively refers to as “liddle,” said that Trump had “castrated” the top diplomat. All this almost a year after this country elected a commander in chief who has bragged about sexual assault.
That caught-on-tape brag prompted a dozen accusations from women who claimed that Trump does what he says, which led to Trump calling those women liars and promising to sue them, which led to a lawsuit by one of the women alleging defamation, which led to Trump claiming the president can’t be sued, which leads us to Monday, when Summer Zervos’ lawyer subpoenaed the Trump campaign for “all documents concerning any woman who asserted that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”
And so the political news cycle beats on, driven by powerful men and their perennial inability to keep their hands or genitalia or speculation about each other’s genitalia to themselves.
As much as it seems uniquely weird, this isn’t the first time we’ve been here. The latest swell of dick-related news content didn’t start with Sen. Corker unleashing his erstwhile-hidden skill as an insult comic. It didn’t start with Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comments. It didn’t start all the way back in February 2016 when Sen. Marco Rubio, the GOP presidential nomination out of his reach but some campaign stops still scheduled, made a joke about the size of Trump’s hands somehow corresponding with Trump’s downstairs Cheeto being commensurately small, or when it was brought up during a primary debate.
Millennials like me were children when Clinton v. Jones festooned the front pages with descriptions of presidential genitalia. Depending on how much access parents or precociousness gave us to the details of that story, our memories of that era might be hazy. But revisiting the last time we had such a penis-focused news cycle gives some important insight into where we are, how we get here, and how we can get out of here.
In the early 1990s, the news was similarly focused on stories involving male genitalia. Speaking to NPR, Andrei Codrescu summed it up thusly. “[Penises] are to the ’90s what hair was to the ’60s. Thanks to Bobbitt’s bubber, Michael Jackson’s Bad and, now, the president’s Jones, the public is being forced to imagine what was once pictured only by the raunchiest porn.” (In these days viewed through Weinstein-colored glasses, it sounds so tame!)
In 1994, Paula Jones claimed in a lawsuit filed in federal court that then-President Bill Clinton had propositioned her in 1991 (sounds quaint, but what she meant by “propositioned” was that he dropped his pants in front of her in a hotel room after having a state trooper bring her to him). Clinton’s legal team claimed that he couldn’t be sued while he was the president, because being president meant he had a super-status. Jones’ team claimed nobody is above the law. Jones claimed she could describe the president’s penis and requested an exam of the president’s penis as part of the court proceeding. A series of court rulings led to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Jones’ favor. A sitting president can, indeed, be sued in federal court.
And so Clinton was sued, and during that lawsuit, Clinton was compelled to testify about his relationship with a former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
That testimony wound its way into the Starr Report, a girthy probe led by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who, with the blessing of Attorney General Janet Reno, looked into Clinton’s misconduct while in office. As part of that investigation, Monica Lewinsky’s friend Linda Tripp turned over taped conversations between the two women wherein Lewinsky detailed the affair she had with the president. Clinton was impeached. And then we had 16 blissful years of nobody writing a news story about the penises of high-level U.S. government officials.
We should have enjoyed those days while they lasted.
We’re back where we started, repeating what was over the heads of current thirtyish Americans then. A lawsuit in the middle of a genitalia-obsessed news cycle could lead to a sitting president testifying in court, once again, about his genitals’ behavior or lack thereof.
Kenneth Starr, lest we forget, went on to run Baylor University until he was ousted for covering up a sexual-assault scandal involving the football team. Hillary Clinton ended up running for president on a feminist platform. Monica Lewinsky is now a respected commentator and writer. Lord knows what moral hairpin turns await the stars of this generation’s male-genitals-dominated news cycle.