Strength brings problems and weakness brings others. But weakness posing as strength is the most dangerous of all
In his history of the origins of the Great War, Christopher Clark wrote of brittle masculinity, a threatened sense of manhood that lurked beneath the spiked helms and elaborated uniforms of central European leaders. Todays endless celebration of American power by the men who are undoing it is not only tragic but disclosing.
Consider Sebastian Gorka, a Hungarian who advises President Donald Trump on foreign policy: he brings central European brittle masculinity into a new century and a new continent. Awaiting an appointment from his patrons Trump and Stephen Bannon, Gorka proclaimed that the era of the Pajama Boy is over, and that the the alpha males are back. No alpha male has in the past referred to himself as such.
Though Gorka presents himself as an expert on the Arab world and counter-terrorism, his credentials are mostly bluster. Lets not forget that he wore the badge of a Hungarian group categorized by the State Department as Nazi collaborators to President Trumps inaugural ball.
President Trumps Twitter flood of late-night mendacity is an unhindered celebration of fragile manhood, a ceaseless summons to the millions for affirmation, a proclamation to vulnerable males across the land that endless preening and stroking is a normal and emulable way of life. But behind the absurdly overstated concern for strength lurks real weakness.
His daybreak attacks on the press reveal a human who is afraid to read the morning newspapers. The portrait of( male) presidential representative Sean Spicer by( female) actress Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live left the president, uncharacteristically, unable to tweet.
The passionate proclamation of masculinity, though it can seem laughable, is an effective sort of politics. There is nothing at all funny about the embarrassment and ache of the millions of American men who find themselves battered by globalization: unemployed, underemployed, and often supported, in ways that they find demoralizing, by their wives or partners.
Many unemployed blue-collar humen find service industries less appealing than the vanished jobs in factories and mines. Understandably, they painfully miss the confidence that a union undertaking could allow them to send their children to college.
Americans can accept that the American Dream will not work out for them: what has been heartbreaking for so many is the sense that their children will have it even worse. In this ocean of shame, brought about by real inequalities, Trump appeals to certain humen precisely because he celebrates the fragility of his own masculinity.
As president, Trump continuously tries the acceptance that so many humen in this country find hard to get, and his open neediness seems to resolve their secret disgrace. More intoxicatingly still, he seems to have proven that losing can lead to winning. Trump bankrupted six companies, but succeeded on the biggest of stages. He is the champion of failings.
Vice-President Mike Pence express and endorses weakness in a different way, by his refusal to have dinner with unchaperoned girls. Such business practices discriminates against girls. It also constrains humen seeking work, or devotes them an excuse when they fail to find it. Seeming for a undertaking requires contact with women, and holding one necessitates listening to them.
This isnt the only hour, of course, that masculinity has played an overt role in politics. The rise of fascism was also a result of masculinity in crisis, of economic problems that seemingly could only be resolved in emotional terms.
Everyone knows that the Great Depression permitted the rise of Adolf Hitler and the triumph of his Nazi party. We remember that unemployment drove men to vote for Adolf Hitler and for revolutionary legislators generally. But why, precisely? How was all of this experienced by the men themselves — and by the many women who also voted for Hitler?
From a distance, historians tend to focus on the exhaustion of liberal democracy, the polarization of politics between far right and far left, and so on. But this is putting the cart before the horse.
It is not so much that humen guess one economic system has failed them and that they should vote for another. It is rather that sustained unemployment or underemployment, which are endemic in precisely the parts of the United States that won the election for Trump, are humiliating and emasculating. Short cuts to self-esteem, such as the delegation of self-confidence to a leader, become more tempting.
Certain politicians are lightening rods in the blizzard of male insecurity. Adolf Hitler was a sexually equivocal figure, and National Socialism was a sexually ambiguous movement. He was also a kind of patron saint of failures, or of the little man as Germans said then: Mein Kampf( just a little bit like the Art of the Deal) is a literary effort that overcomes marginality with grandiosity.
By coming to power, Hitler proved that a loser could win. He was a hero of masculine flux. This does not, of course, mean that Trump is just like Hitler or that America is about to become fascist. It does remind us of some deep political currents that must be identified and channeled while there is still time.
Many of Nazi Germanys murderers, as we are aware from the work of Christopher Browning, murdered because they were intimidated by peer pressure. Brittle masculinity, in the right put, becomes political atrocity. Strength brings problems; weakness brings others; but weakness posing as strength is the most dangerous of all.
Timothy Snyder is the Levin Professor of History at Yale University and the author, most recently, of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century .
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