Donald Trump, Hand Size, and the Presidential Campaign's Decline

Dave Kaup/Reuters

Dave Kaup/Reuters

As Mom always says, “I don’t care who started it. Just cut it out.”

Who would have thought, just a few weeks ago, when Donald Trump had already amazed us with what he was willing to say, that the presidential campaign would soon decline even further into a veiled discussion of the size of the candidates’ sexual organs? Trump has assured us that we have nothing to worry about on that score, which is a great relief, because imagine the damage he could do as president if he were insecure in this way.

Actually, Trump may be getting too much of the blame here. “Mine is bigger than yours” has been the subtext of politics since the days of kings and emperors and all those sort of folks. Trump has just brought it to the surface. If Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had had any sense, he would have claimed the grown-up role and refused to engage. Instead, he’s the one who first challenged the size of his opponent’s “hands.” We are led to assume that Rubio wouldn’t have brought this up if his “hands” were in any way abnormal or inadequate.

Trump, moreover, has done American journalism a favor by stripping away several layers of faux objectivity. There is almost nothing that you can’t write about Trump — almost no need to disguise your opinion as an editorial or a “news analysis.” You even sometimes see the word “I” on the front page of the New York Times, and you can’t get more subjective than that.

This is a good development. With Trump, you know where journalists stand. They loathe him. (Fair enough.) With the other candidates, if you’re a reporter, covering a candidate full time for months or longer — and are therefore better informed than nearly anyone else in the world about this particular person, the conventions of journalism leave you as the one person in the world who may not reveal that opinion. In fact, you’re not supposed to have one. These conventions were melting away anyway, as newspapers try to figure out how to deal with the Internet. But reporting on Trump has speeded up the process.

Actually, this is not the first time, or even the first time in most of our lifetimes, that hand size has played an important role in our national soap opera. It was more than 20 years ago that the trial of O.J. Simpson, also back in the news last week, captivated the nation. A glove was found at the crime scene — just one glove — and Johnnie Cochran, Simpson’s defense lawyer, persuaded the jury of his client’s innocence with the immortal bit of doggerel, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” It didn’t fit, and they did acquit. Journalists covering the trial had an opinion about that one, too. You’ll never guess what it was.