ETA: The posts are coming fast and furious, aren’t they. Well, heck. This is a full service blog. Graze and munch as you like.
While we wait for consequential news, this is a good time to point y’all to an article that ran in the Gray Lady a few days ago by a friend of mine, Susan Faludi.
Here she points out that the way Trump expresses his notion of American maleness is an inversion of both prior ideas and of gender representations. In particular, she notes how the claims that Trump channels “Greatest Generation”* machismo gets completely wrong the lived experience of those who lived through the Depression and the war:
The masculine archetype of the 1930s and ’40s was the anonymous common man who proved his chops through communal building, not gunslinging. In a 1932 speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that “the man of ruthless force had his place in developing a pioneer country” but he now endangered the nation.
“The lone wolf, the unethical competitor, the reckless promoter,” he said, “whose hand is against every man’s, declines to join in achieving an end recognized as being for the public welfare, and threatens to drag the industry back to a state of anarchy.” New Deal America championed a manliness of usefulness, demonstrated through collective service and uncelebrated competence.
The ’30s ideal of heroic civil servant carried into World War II, and was enshrined in Ernie Pyle’s battlefront dispatches valorizing unsung grunts — “the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys.” Pyle disparaged the silk-scarfed “flyboys,” whose camera-ready star turns Pyle instinctively distrusted.
Of the grunt ethic, Pyle wrote, “We are all men of new professions, out in some strange night caring for each other.” This service-oriented prototype of manhood — tending to the needs of others, providing protective support, spurning the spotlight — was essentially a maternal masculinity, all the purported qualities of motherhood, recoded for the Y chromosome.
That’s Biden’s version of masculinity, Faludi notes. By contrast, Trump is a cosplayer’s idea of an alpha male.
Contemporary manliness is increasingly defined by display — in Mr. Trump’s case, a pantomime of aggrieved aggression: the curled lip, the exaggerated snarl. Display permeates his ratings-obsessed presidency. It’s why he chose his vice president (he “looks very good”) and his former defense secretary (“If I’m doing a movie, I’d pick you, general”). The chief executive of Newsmax, Chris Ruddy, noted of his friend Mr. Trump’s inclinations, “It’s more about the look and the demeanor and the swagger.”
Ornamental manhood is the machismo equivalent of “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.” Or, in the boogaloo movement’s version, “I’m not actually a soldier but I wear camo and walk around downtown with my big gun.” (In Mr. Trump’s case, it’s “I’m not a successful builder but I played one on ‘The Apprentice.’”)
What gender stereotype, Faludi asks, does such posturing evoke? Well…
The hallmarks of contemporary ornamental masculinity — being valued as the object of the gaze, playing the perpetual child, pedestal-perching and mirror-gazing — are the very ones that women have, for half a century, struggled to dismantle as belittling, misogynist characterizations of femininity. The preoccupation with popularity, glamour, celebrity, appearance — what are these qualities but the old consumer face of the Girl? If Mr. Trump is reclaiming a traditional stereotypical sex role, it’s one that long belonged to women.
That’s hitting Trump where he lives–and it is an argument that, to my mind, is spot on. The implicit argument, or at least what I read into it, is that this election is all about freedom, not just in formal, legal terms, but in the degree to which we gain the power to construct for our identities and lives for ourselves.
Anyway, read it for yourself…it’s a good essay. And talk about whatever.
*How I loathe that phrase–and how much my family members who actually did their part in WW II scorned it!
Image: William Hogarth, The Polling, from the Humours of an Election series, 1754-55