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Trump and “Manliness”: A toxic brew

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“[A] startling masculine eruption in the White House” is how the Wall Street Journal editorialist, Tunku Varadarajan, describes the Trumpian testosterone that’s sloshing around the Oval Office.

Varadarajan, reviewing Harvey Mansfield’s book, “Maniliness,” argues that hyper-masculinity, of the sort he professes Trump to embody, is a good thing. No more “politically correct” Obama, as Varadarajan repeatedly called him. Finally, a tough, red-blooded, bare-knuckled American man in the White House!

At the same time, he, and Mansfield, are forced to acknowledge that there’s a powerful reaction against “the male patriarchy” in this country, a reaction that was already underway before Trump installed his version of masculinity to the presidency.

So Mansfield asks, “Is manliness [now] taboo?” His answer—and Varadarajan’s—is, “Yes, and more’s the pity.”

There’s background to this. The revolution in our culture since the liberation movements of the 1960s—women, gay, Black, Native American—has indeed harmed traditional male values, if by “harm” we mean “forcibly changed” and by “male values” we mean what even Mansfield calls the “rough and gross and discourteous” behavior of the kind Trump exhibits every day, and which his base adores.

But are we really supposed to mourn the downfall of “gross discourtesy,” of “baseness” and “belittling” behavior (both are Mansfield’s words) as illustrated by Trump’s juvenile insults (Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Low Energy Jeb, Crooked Hillary)? Are we to shrug off Trump’s “lamentable sexual reputation” (again, from Mansfield)? I don’t think so. I would argue that America is better off without these displays of “toxic masculinity” (Mansfield), which gets off by bullying women, gays, minorities, non-jocks, artistic types, intellectuals and foreigners, and now has finally achieved its apotheosis in Trump’s elevation.

As a gay man who came of age during the in-the-closet era, I can assure Varadarajan and Mansfield that America is far better off now that “toxic masculinity” has been summoned into the defendant’s docket. I’m not a big believer in bashing straight white males, most of whom are just poor schleps trying to get through this world unmauled. But there is a certain justification in the calls to “smash the patriarchy,” by which I mean an end to what Gloria Steinem calls “supremacy crimes” that run the gamut from a man beating his wife, to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, to the schmuck who attacked a Muslim woman in an emergency room for wearing a headscarf, to the glass ceiling that even now prevents women in Silicon Valley from achieving pay parity with males.

For sure, straight white men are feeling the heat. They invented “History,” dominating the world for millennia, only to see their top-dog role eroding. Increasingly, they’re no longer allowed to be bullies, to prop themselves up by putting others down, to achieve through repression and violence what they cannot through persuasion. “Political correctness,” which the right hates, in this case means that the dominant class finally must assume a share of meekness of the sort they have historically demanded of their “inferiors.” Turnabout is fair play.

The end of bullying, the termination of “gross discourtesy” are developments to be celebrated. It is a puzzle to me that Mansfield laments the passing of “toxic masculinity.” It is with even vaster disgust that I see Varadarajan worshipping the crude, bullying vulgarity of Trump and his ilk. Does Varadarajan really believe that America would be better off if more men were chest-beating, assaultive thugs? Is there really something awful about a new type of man who is considerate, respectful, compassionate, liberal, thoughtful and tolerant? (If Barack Obama comes to mind, there’s a reason—the same reason Trumpists hate him.)

Apparently Varadarajan and Mansfield do believe that America would be a better country if all men were like Trump. But then, consider whom Tunku Varadarajan is. He works at The Hoover Institution, the West Coast’s premier bastion of rightwing, conservative ideology. Although his is a politer form of conservatism than, say, Breitbart’s or Hannity’s, it is no less cringe-worthy. Varadarajan, who was born in India, began his career at—where else?—the Wall Street Journal, the print equivalent of Rupert Murdoch’s rabidly reactionary Fox News. He does not seem to have started out as a doctrinaire tea party conservative. But, perhaps because of the rightwing circles in which he runs, or out of deference to the men who pay his salary, he has becoming increasingly illiberal.

He was heavily criticized for coining the phrase “going Muslim” (a play on “going postal”) after the Fort Hood shooting; some called his remarks “normalizing hate speech.” Varadarajan also dodges the legitimate question of whether Trump himself is an unrestrained bigot, or if, as seems obvious, the president stokes racism and xenophobia in his rural, poorly educated, white followers. In another op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, Varadarajan wrote, “I don’t propose to examine whether Mr. Trump’s America is more racist than the America that preceded it.” This surely is a dereliction of journalistic duty that suggests Varadarajan is afraid of what he would find were he truly to examine the question objectively. Of course Trump has unleashed bigotry in America. Charlottesville, where his supporters propounded the most awful anti-semitic, racist and xenophobic views, will eternally redound to Trump’s shame.

Trump’s elevation has empowered “toxic masculinity” in all the wrong people: the kind who used to lynch Blacks in the South, who refused to integrate Boston’s public schools, who murdered Matthew Shepard, who posted cartoons of the Obamas as monkeys, who put Hillary Clinton’s face on a gun target. Donald Trump may not have performed those misdeeds himself, but he egged on the people who did, who feel empowered by his tacit (and sometimes overt) encouragement. These people are “rough, gross and discourteous.” Far from being admirable, as Mansfield and Varadarajan allege, they are canker sores on the American body politic, and Donald Trump is the virus that caused them.

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