POLITICS

Why Donald Trump, Like Many Indian Netas, Is Obsessed With Size

It’s not just big, if it’s Trump, it has to be 'yuge'.

23/01/2017 1:36 PM IST | Updated 23/01/2017 3:21 PM IST
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WASHINGTON, USA - JANUARY 20: President Donald Trump raises his fist to the crowds during the 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration after he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America in Washington, USA on January 20, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

"He's like 6'2", which is why I don't understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5'2"" – Marco Rubio on Donald Trump or rather Trump's hands.

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe" – Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer.

Candidate Trump was touchy about the size of his hands during the campaign trail. President Trump is touchy about the size of his crowds during inauguration.

Spicer harangued the media about "deliberately false reporting" when in fact he had done exactly that. He claimed 420,000 people used Washington DC's metro public transit compared to 317,000 in 2009 when Barack Obama was sworn in for the second time. But the Metro reported that in fact only 193,000 had used it by 11 AM on Trump's inauguration day. In 2013 that number was 317,000. In 2009 it was 513,000.

As for those TV numbers, Nielsen reports that across 12 networks Trump drew 30.6 million viewers while Obama's 2009 inaugural drew 37.7 million, second only to Ronald Reagan's numbers in 1981. "Sorry Sean Spicer, Trump's inauguration garners fewer viewers than Obama's," writes Madeline Berg in Forbes.

And while press secretaries lie, pictures don't, as the New York Times demonstrated clearly here.

What does all this quibbling about numbers prove? It just goes to prove that size matters.

It's not just big, if it's Trump it has to be huge.

Trump measures his worth by his size, and the bigger is always better in his book. It's not just big, if it's Trump it has to be huge. It's a "huge heroin problem". He's not a "huge believer in global warming". And he has a "huge company".

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Supreme Court Justice John Roberts (2L) administers the oath of office to U.S. President Donald Trump (L) as his wife Melania Trump holds the Bible and son Barron Trump looks on, on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

No wonder he insists that the crowd watching his inauguration must be huge.

Obviously Trump is not the only politician with a size fixation. In India we are used to supporters being bussed in to beef up rally sizes. If it was not a rally that brings a city to a traffic standstill, it's not worth having a rally at all. When Narendra Modi first addressed a rally in Kolkata, many paid more attention to the size rather than the "Aami tomay bhalobashi" substance. Long ago, the CPM had scoffed that the BJP was so tiny in Bengal one needed a telescope to spot it.

Of course, now the tables have turned and the CPM often struggles to draw the old crowds while its bête noire Mamata Banerjee's rallies can be described as "maa, maati, mammoth". In 2015 Didi even preemptively apologized to the people who would be inconvenienced by her Martyrs' Day commemoration. "We would have shifted the venue to the Brigade Parade Ground though the huge ground would be too small to accommodate the mammoth crowd that would turn up. But, we have to stick to the spot where the killings took place," she said.

Size is our lazy shorthand for measuring appeal even though we all know people attend rallies for all kinds of reasons – a glimpse of a neta, a packet of biryani or the allure of a day trip to a big city with a museum and a zoo.

Now as the UP election campaigns get underway we will size a lot more of size-by-size comparisons. Will Akhilesh Yadav's rallies be smaller after the family civil war ripping apart his Samajwadi Party? Even if his stature as a leader increases in the party as he tries to come out of his father and uncle's shadow, will the size of his rallies follow suit? Will Rahul Gandhi's tie-up with the Samajwadis boost his rally size? Size is our lazy shorthand for measuring appeal even though we all know people attend rallies for all kinds of reasons – a glimpse of a neta, a packet of biryani or the allure of a day trip to a big city with a museum and a zoo.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
TMC supporters during a rally called by West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Minister Mamata Banerjee against demonetization of currency notes of Rs.500 and RS.1000 at Esplanade on November 28, 2016 in Kolkata, India.

The difference with Trump though is that he needs his crowds to be "huge" in a way that a Mamata does not. For Mamata it's a matter of prestige, not legitimacy. Trump is obviously thin-skinned about the fact that he actually garnered three million votes less than Hillary Clinton. He is a populist who has chosen to bypass the media and connect directly with people. It's worked for him but he constantly needs the reassurance of size because he does not have the comfort of facts. That's his chosen barometer of measuring his worth and now he's trapped in it.

But Trump cannot accept that because for him size trumps substance. He takes pride in being a "ratings machine". Anything less is a personal affront.

Thus on the first full day of the Trump presidency, his press secretary was caught in a wilful and unnecessary lie. It was so blatant, so easily proven a lie, that even the right-wing Weekly Standard which called Obama a "terrible president" was obliged to call him out on it.

"It is not spin, or misrepresentation, or cutting a fine line. It's a deliberate lie," writes Jonathan V Last in the Weekly Standard. He reminds the White House that "crowd size does not matter. At all. It is not correlative with any conceivable marker of presidential success." But Trump cannot accept that because for him size trumps substance. He takes pride in being a "ratings machine". Anything less is a personal affront.

NurPhoto via Getty Images
An Indian supporter of Uttar Pradesh's Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav holds the photograph of Akhilesh Yadav as they protest againest the evictions of Akhilesh Yadav from Samajwadi Party for 6 years, in Allahabad on December 31,2016.Samajwadi Party national president Mulayam Singh yadav expelled Uttar Pradesh's Chiief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and general secretary Ramgopal Yadav from the Party for six years over alleged indiscipline , on friday. A day after Akhilesh Yadav was expelled from the samajwadi party by his father and party chief Mulayam singh yadav, has been taken back in the party. The decision was announced after the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister met Mulayam singh . Akhilesh Yadav's close aide Ram Gopal yadav , who was also expelled yesterday, has been taken back as well. (Photo by Ritesh Shukla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now in a gobsmacking development, Kellyanne Conway, his counsellor, has given us foretaste of what's to come. Confronted on NBC News about Spicer's lie, she insisted it was not a "falsehood" but just "alternative facts". And just like that, with a completely straight face, she gave us a glimpse of a post-truth world where facts are inconveniences and photographs lie. Unwittingly Conway has just given us a hashtag that will dog Trump's presidency and enter the world's lexicon. Her boss' presidency will be hoisted on her #AlternativeFacts petard.

Following that gaffe the Merriam Webster tweeted out its definition of fact. Apparently lookups for "fact" spiked after Conway's comments. That's the kind of world we are now living in – where we must remind ourselves of the meaning of fact.

For the record Trump's hand size, middle finger tip to wrist, is 7.25 inches. An average 5'10" American male has a hand size of 7.44 inches according to the Hollywood Reporter. And that's a fact.

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