Good comedy has no expiration date. Great comedy, meanwhile, tends to become even more perceptive as time goes on. George Carlin was a purveyor of the latter, and a routine he performed almost 26 years ago proves it.
On Tuesday (Jan. 2), Donald Trump, the president of the United States, mocked the size and effectiveness of an American adversary’s “Nuclear Button” in a tweet:
Aside from escalating tensions between the US and Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime, Trump’s tweet also had clear…phallic undertones. It was the latest in a long list of personal insults Trump has hurled at the North Korean dictator, namely “Little Rocket Man” and “short and fat.”
Decades earlier, George Carlin had already coined a phrase for the way Trump has chosen to deal with a dangerous adversary: “bigger dick foreign policy.”
Reddit user onthewall2983 resurfaced a clip from Carlin’s 1992 HBO special Jammin’ in New York yesterday in which the comedian discussed how most wars throughout modern history have really been about male politicians dealing with their insecurities. ”You don’t have to be a historian or a political scientist to see the ‘bigger dick foreign policy’ theory at work,” Carlin riffed, referencing the Gulf War, which had ended a few months prior.
Carlin went on, seemingly prognosticating the kind of euphemistic language that the US president, more than two decades later, would use in lieu of diplomacy: ”Imagine an American president using the sexual slang of a 13-year-old to describe his foreign policy.”
Carlin, who died in 2008, was prescient about many things, from politics to the media to religion. But he was often at his best—and apparently most foreboding—when talking about how the instability of men has endangered the entire planet.
“This whole country has a manhood problem,” he said. “You can tell from the language we use. What’d we do wrong in Vietnam? We pulled out. Not a very manly thing to do, is it?”
While many political pundits have deemed Trump an aberration, Carlin’s 1992 routine makes the US president seem more like part of a continuum—the symptom, not the disease, the American id personified. Whether consciously or not, American politicians have long used certain language to describe war. “That’s why in the Persian Gulf, George Bush had to say ‘this will not be another Vietnam.’ He actually used these words, he said, ‘this time, we’re going all the way.'”
Today, Carlin would surely still call out the US president’s singular, almost pathological need to establish that his “button” is bigger and stronger than that of his enemies—easily interpreted as a hint at personal insecurities. “That’s what all that asshole jock bullshit is all about,” Carlin said. “That’s what all that adolescent macho male posturing and strutting in bars and locker rooms is all about. It’s called dick fear.”