During one of the 2016 Republican primary debates, future President Donald Trump made a comment that was a pretty obvious reference to the size of his penis. You see, a running joke during the campaign was that Trump had small hands. And as Trump pointed out, the suggestion was, “If they’re small, something else must be small.” But Trump wanted to reassure the voters that, “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.” That comment obviously raised a few eyebrows. After all, that was the first time someone who wanted to be President brought up the size of his genitals during a debate.
But it actually wasn’t the first time an American politician tried to turn the size of his penis into a political asset. President Lyndon Johnson famously had a very particular way of working with other politicians, and as it turns out, his genitals were a pretty big part of it. People who knew him called this technique, “the Johnson Treatment,” and it wasn’t something anyone wanted to end up on the wrong side of. Johnson believed that the best way to get want you wanted was to just bully people until they gave in. And he wasn’t squeamish about how he did it.
Basically, the Johnson Treatment worked like this: Johnson would have something he wanted from you, like help with passing a bill. So, he would try to catch you alone somewhere. Then he would cheerfully walk up to you and clasp your hand in a firm grip. He would press his face up closely against yours, maybe no more than a few inches apart. Johnson was a tall, large man, and having him tower over you was usually an intimidating experience. Johnson knew that, of course, and making the person he was speaking to uncomfortable was a vital part of his process.
Johnson understood that the more uneasy he could make someone, the less likely they were to refuse when he asked them to do something. People would agree to anything if it meant they could get out of this uncomfortable encounter with the President. And if that wasn’t enough, he would do whatever else it took to get them to do things his way. He would promise favors, plead with them, or even imply that there would be serious consequences if they refused. But through it all, Johnson would be right in their face, making them as off-balance as possible.
More importantly, the Johnson Treatment was about power. It was Johnson’s way of saying that he perfectly comfortable with getting that close to the person he was speaking to and demanding what he wanted. They were the one who was uncomfortable. Johnson was in control of the situation, not them. This projection of power was a good way to help convince people to do what Johnson wanted. He left them with no real choice. And for some people who were on the receiving end of the Johnson Treatment, things could get much more uncomfortable… and much grosser.