Nel's New Day

May 26, 2020

‘Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President’

Filed under: Donald Trump — trp2011 @ 8:35 PM
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Tom Nichols’ observations about the man in the Oval Office:

Why do working-class white men—the most reliable component of Donald Trump’s base—support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency?

The men I grew up with think of themselves as pretty tough guys, and most of them are…. These are men whose fathers and grandfathers came from a culture that looks down upon lying, cheating, and bragging, especially about sex or courage. (My father’s best friend got the Silver Star for wiping out a German machine-gun nest in Europe, and I never heard a word about it until after the man’s funeral.)

They are, as an American Psychological Association feature describes them, men who adhere to norms such as “toughness, dominance, self-reliance, heterosexual behaviors, restriction of emotional expression and the avoidance of traditionally feminine attitudes and behaviors.” … They are men like my late father and his friends, who understood that a man’s word is his bond and that a handshake means something. They are men who still believe in a day’s work for a day’s wages….

I am noting that courage, honesty, respect, an economy of words, a bit of modesty, and a willingness to take responsibility are all virtues prized by the self-identified class of hard-working men, the stand-up guys, among whom I was raised.

And yet, many of these same men expect none of those characteristics from Trump, who is a vain, cowardly, lying, vulgar, jabbering blowhard. Put another way, as a question I have asked many of the men I know: Is Trump a man your father and grandfather would have respected?

As the writer Windsor Mann has noted, Trump behaves in ways that many working-class men would ridicule: ‘He wears bronzer, loves gold and gossip, is obsessed with his physical appearance, whines constantly, can’t control his emotions, watches daytime television, enjoys parades and interior decorating, and used to sell perfume.’

One must first grasp how deeply [men who support Trump] are betraying their own definition of masculinity by looking more closely at the flaws they should, in principle, find revolting.

Is Trump honorable? This is a man who routinely refused to pay working people their due wages, and then lawyered them into the ground when they objected to being exploited. Trump is a rich downtown bully, the sort most working men usually hate.

Is Trump courageous? Courtiers like Victor Davis Hanson have compared Trump to the great heroes of the past, including George Patton, Ajax, and the Western gunslingers of the American cinema. Trump himself has mused about how he would have been a good general. He even fantasized about how he would have charged into the middle of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, without a weapon. ‘You don’t know until you test it,’ he said at a meeting with state governors just a couple of weeks after the massacre, ‘but I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.’ Truly brave people never tell you how brave they are. I have known many combat veterans, and none of them extols his or her own courage. What saved them, they will tell you, was their training and their teamwork. Some—perhaps the bravest—lament that they were not able to do more for their comrades.

Trump is an obvious coward. He has two particular phobias: powerful men and intelligent women.

Whenever he is in the company of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to take the most cringe-inducing example, he visibly cowers. His attempts to ingratiate himself with Putin are embarrassing, especially given how effortlessly Putin can bend Trump to his will. When the Russian leader got Trump alone at a summit in Helsinki, he scared him so badly that at the subsequent joint press conference, Putin smiled pleasantly while the president of the United States publicly took the word of a former KGB officer over his own intelligence agencies.

… In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, he is eager to criticize China, until he is asked about Chinese President Xi Jinping. In the course of the same few minutes, Trump will attack China—his preferred method for escaping responsibility for America’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic—and then he will babble about how much he likes President Xi, desperately seeking to avoid giving offense to the Chinese Communist Party boss.

[Trump] can never stop talking. The old-school standard of masculinity is the strong and silent type, like Gary Cooper back in the day or Tom Hardy today. Trump, by comparison, is neither strong nor capable of silence.

And when Trump talks too much, he ends up saying things that more stereotypically masculine men wouldn’t, like that he fell in love with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. ‘He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters,’ Trump told a rally in West Virginia. ‘We fell in love.’ One can only imagine the reaction among working-class white men if Barack Obama, or any other U.S. president, had talked about falling in love with a foreign leader. (George W. Bush once said he saw into Putin’s soul, and he has never lived it down among his critics.)

Is Trump a man who respects women? This is what secure and masculine men would expect, especially from a husband and a father of two daughters.

Leave aside for the moment that the working-class white men in the president’s base don’t seem to care that Trump had an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with a new baby, something for which many of them would probably beat their own brother-in-law senseless if he did it to their sister. Trump’s voters, male and female, have already decided to excuse this and other sordid episodes.

Women clearly scare Trump. ‘Donald doesn’t like strong women,’ Senator Ted Cruz said back in 2016 of the candidate who attacked Cruz’s wife as ugly, but who is now his hero as president. “Strong women scare Donald. Real men don’t try to bully women.”

Trump never seems more fearful and insecure than when women question him. His anxiety at such moments—for example, when he calls on female reporters in the White House press room—is palpable. He begins his usual flurry of defensive hand gestures, from the playing of an imaginary accordion to a hand held up with a curled pinky finger like some parody of a Queens mobster, while he stammers out verbal chaff bursts of ‘excuse me’ and ‘are you ready?’

Does Trump accept responsibility and look out for his team? Not in the least. In this category, he exhibits one of the most unmanly of behaviors: He’s a blamer. Nothing is ever his fault. In the midst of disaster, he praises himself while turning on even his most loyal supporters without a moment’s hesitation. Men across America who were socialized by team sports, whose lives are predicated on the principle of showing up and doing the job, continually excuse a man who continually excuses himself. This presidency is defined not by Ed Harris’s grim intonation in Apollo 13 that ‘failure is not an option,’ but by one of the most shameful utterances of a chief executive in modern American history: ‘I take no responsibility at all.’

Trump’s lack of masculinity is about maturity…. He is a boy. To be a man is to be an adult, to willingly decide, as St. Paul wrote, to ‘put away childish things.’ Trump is a hero to a culture in which so many men are already trapped in perpetual adolescence. And especially for men who feel like life might have passed them by…. Trump is a walking permission slip to shrug off the responsibilities of manhood.

Cheat on your wife? No problem. You can trade her in for a hot foreign model 20 years younger. Is being a father to your children too onerous a burden on your schedule? Let the mothers raise them. Money troubles? Everyone has them; just tell your father to write you another check. Upset that your town or your workplace has become more diverse? Get it off your chest: Rail about women and Mexicans and African Americans at will and dare anyone to contradict you.

In the end, Trump will continue to act like a little boy, and his base, the voters who will stay with him to the end, will excuse him. When a grown man brags about being brave, it is unmanly and distasteful; when a little boy pulls out a cardboard sword and ties a towel around his neck like a cape, it’s endearing. When a rich and powerful old man whines about how unfairly he is being treated, we scowl and judge; when a little boy snuffles in his tears and says that he was bullied—treated worse than Abraham Lincoln, even—we comfort.

Donald Trump is unmanly because he has never chosen to become a man…. He is, instead, working-class America’s dysfunctional son, and his supporters, male and female alike, have become the worried parent explaining what a good boy he is to terrorized teachers even while he continues to set fires in the hallway right outside.

Perhaps Howard Stern, of all people, said it best: “The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part … He’d be disgusted by them.” The tragedy is that they are not disgusted by him in return.

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