While we’re all stuck with the hold music of electoral ballots, here’s an interlude to examine four words that have become both a tribal slogan and an expansive explanation of the thunderdome in which we currently find ourselves: “Make liberals cry again.”

“Let’s make liberals cry again!” Donald Trump Jr., the saddest adult son, encouraged crowds at an election-eve rally in Wisconsin. His father, meanwhile, went on to a different Midwestern rally to fondly reminisce about the time in 2016 when liberal women wept at the announcement of his victory: “At the end of the evening when they’re all crying, and I remember they were crying,” he asked Grand Rapids, Mich. “Remember?”

On Tuesday night, 25-year-old Republican Madison Cawthorn won a North Carolina district and, in his first public act as a future U.S. congressman, tweeted: “Cry more, lib.”

“MAKE LIBERALS CRY AGAIN,” reads a whole mess of muscle T’s and travel mugs and baby onesies for sale on Etsy.

To point out that this is juvenile and mean and weird doesn’t get at the half of it. “Make liberals cry again” is the more synergistic, ball-cap-friendly version of “Own the libs.” A version of “Make America Great Again” that does away with the gauzy nostalgia and goes right for the bad sportsmanship. It is the version one uses when one wants to drop the pretense that this is about America at all and just acknowledge that it’s about reveling in someone else’s pain and perceived humiliation.

“Cry” is the most deliberate word in the phrase. It could have been subbed out for “pay.” Make liberals pay again. That phrase would imply that liberals had done something bad, requiring retribution. It could have been subbed out for “lose,” which would be a little gratuitous but still within the technical vocabulary of competition.

“Make them cry” turns the phrase specifically into a narrative of power. The president and his followers are so very strong and manly that they can make the liberals lose control of their emotions in the most helpless, ineffectual way. The liberals are babies, maybe, or even worse — feminine. To be made to cry is not about losing or paying. It is about humiliating. It is about strong people humiliating the people they see as weak, for the fun of it and because they can.

“Again” is the second-most interesting word in the phrase. It turns the sentence into a narrative with some backstory: The strong people (alpha conservatives) made the weak people (weak-kneed libs) cry before, and things were as they should be. With “make,” it’s clear this return to form will happen by force if necessary.

“Make liberals cry again” has nothing to do with the issues that were metaphorically on the ballot this election. It has nothing to do with the coronavirus. It has nothing do with health care. It is not related to lifting restrictions on businesses or lowering taxes or ending abortion or accomplishing any of the other tasks that Trump supporters solemnly told exit pollsters they came to do on Election Day.

It is a successful slogan because it transcends the issues. It does not require a set of coherent policy positions, nor bootstrapping grit, nor pious restraint. Just a strong desire to kick sand in the face of a beaten opponent. The cruelty, as Adam Serwer famously wrote in the Atlantic, is the point.

“Make liberals cry again” is also the most succinct example of why Trumpism won’t end, even if Trump’s time in office is ended for him. When the goal is not victory but humiliation, there is no way to tell when the game is over. It’s not necessarily over when the Supreme Court is stacked, it’s not over when Roe v. Wade is overturned. It’s not over when all of Barack Obama’s executive orders have been repealed or when Hillary Clinton goes to jail.

It’s not over, ever, because liberals can always be made to cry more, and longer. Long after Trump’s followers have forgotten why this was the goal, or what they gave up in order to achieve it, they can still make a liberal cry, again and again and again — a medicine for an ailment they will never cure.

Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more, visit wapo.st/hesse.