© Library of Congress / From unsplash.com
An extremely right-wing author and essayist recently caused an uproar by saying something offensive on social media. That’s hardly news these days. Anyway, impelled by morbid curiosity, I checked out said author and essayist’s blog. No, I’m not going to provide a link to it because the dribbling jackanapes has already received enough free publicity. One remark on that blog caught my eye and made me think, though. It was a description of President, soon-to-be ex-President, Donald Trump as ‘the alpha-male of alpha-males’.
Let me get this straight. Donald Trump is not only an alpha-male, but is the most alpha-male going? You’ve got to be kidding.
The last four years and, indeed, most of the past 74 years that Trump has been on the planet are peppered with instances that show him to be not so much an alpha-male as an alpha-wuss. Indeed, the past month-and-a-half since the US presidential election, when Joe Biden handed Trump his arse on a plate by massively winning both the popular vote and the electoral college, has shown him to be even more pathetic than normal.
Seeing Trump react to defeat with a display of whiny, shrieky, stamping-his-little-feet, waving-his-little-fists, chucking-his-toys-out-of-the-pram petulance doesn’t make me think of some muscled, lantern-jawed, bare-chested, testosterone-oozing specimen of maleness swaggering his way through a Hollywood action movie. Rather, it makes me think of the obnoxious Violet Elizabeth Bott, the lisping little girl in Richmal Crompton’s William books (1922-70) who, when anyone refused to let her have her way, would threaten: “I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream till I’m thick!” Or of Veruca Salt, the monstrously spoilt little girl in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), who proved so unbearable that Willie Wonka’s squirrels ended up throwing her down a garbage chute to the factory’s incinerator.
Ironically, the right-wing dingbats who support Trump often lament the decline of good old-fashioned masculine values, thanks to, as they see it, assaults in recent decades by feminists, liberals, socialists, gay rights activists, trans activists, etc. In fact, if you look at the best-known embodiments of traditional masculine values, as portrayed on the cinema screen, you’ll see that their hero Trump displays none of those values himself. He falls laughably short in comparison. Imagine how he’d react and behave if he were in the shoes of Hollywood’s most famous macho-men during their most famous movies.
© Gordon Company / Silver Pictures / 20th Century Fox
Take Bruce Willis, for example – an actor who’s well-known for his conservative leanings but who hasn’t, despite scurrilous rumours, shown much enthusiasm for Trump. As Detective John McClane in Die Hard (1988), Willis attends a Christmas party being held in a skyscraper by the company that employs his estranged wife. There’s an unwanted festive surprise when a gang of German terrorists show up, seize the building and hold the partygoers hostage. McClane, who blames the company for his marriage’s break-up and wasn’t feeling comfortable at the party, nonetheless ducks into the nearest ventilation shaft and spends the film crawling around and picking off the terrorists one by one until order has been restored. You couldn’t imagine Trump selflessly doing any of that. Actually, someone of his orange bulk would manage to crawl about two inches along the ventilation shaft before getting stuck.
No, Trump, the self-proclaimed master of ‘the art of the deal’, would be more like the character of Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner). Ellis is a sleazy company executive who thinks he can bargain with the terrorists and get them to agree to a plan to lure McClane out of hiding. “Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast!” he brags in Trumpian fashion. “I think I can handle this Eurotrash!” Too late does the hapless Ellis realise that the terrorists have been stringing him along and don’t intend to honour their side of the bargain. Inevitably, their leader, Vladimir Putin… sorry, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) puts a bullet through his head.
Or take Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who’s publicly dissed Trump for his appalling record on the environment. In Schwarzenegger’s most famous role, as the reprogrammed-to-be-good Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Schwarzenegger realises at the movie’s finale that the central processing unit in his head is the last remaining piece of technology that might enable the machines to take over the world. So, nobly, he decides he has to be destroyed for the good of humanity and asks Sarah and John Connor (Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong) to lower him into a vat of molten metal. Could you imagine Trump being so self-sacrificing? “I am NOT going in that vat of molten metal! There’s no CPU in my head! That’s fake news! This is the most corrupt decision in the history of my country! This never happened to Obama…!” And so on.
Probably Trump would prefer to model himself on the bad Terminator played by Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator movie (1984), since that character has traits that the Gross Orange One admires: zero empathy, total ruthlessness, no qualms about using its arsenal of heavy-duty weaponry to blow away anything that defies it. However, with Trump as the Terminator, the movie would last five minutes. The Trump-Terminator arrives in 1984 Los Angeles… Naked, it approaches a group of street-punks (including good old Bill Paxton, who exclaims, “This guy’s a couple of cans short of a six-pack!”)… Then the street-punks beat it to death.
© The Malpaso Company / Warner Bros
Who else? Clint Eastwood, yet another Hollywood Republican who’s been muted about Trump (and in 2020 promised to support Mike Bloomberg if he became the Democrats’ presidential candidate)? Eastwood built up his iconic macho persona during Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy in the 1960s. Not only was he The Man with No Name, but he was a man of few words. He’d squint, keep his jaws clamped around a cigar and unnerve his opponents with a contemptuous silence. You couldn’t imagine a brash, loud gobshite like Trump, someone whose mouth is five minutes ahead of his brain, doing that.
In fact, Eastwood in his other most famous role, as Detective Harry Callaghan, aka Dirty Harry, offers advice in Magnum Force (1973) that Trump would have been wise to heed: “Man’s got to know his limitations.”
John Wayne? In Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1966), Wayne plays a town sheriff who’s loyal to and protective of his staff – Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan in the earlier film, Robert Mitchum, James Caan and Arthur Hunicutt in the later. Even when Mitchum develops a severe alcohol problem in El Dorado, Wayne puts up with his drunken bullshit and does his best to straighten the guy out. It’s impossible to imagine the same of Trump, whose four-year tenure in the White House has seen a parade of cringing and crooked underlings being recruited and then, the moment they displease their master, being dumped again. The loyal-only-to-himself Trump would have pointed a finger at Mitchum and sneered, “You’re fired!”
© Armada Productions / Warner Bros
Steve McQueen? McQueen’s most famous role was as the prisoner of war Hilts in The Great Escape (1963), which would have earned him Trump’s disgust immediately. As he once notoriously declared of John McCain, “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like heroes who weren’t captured!” In fact, McQueen breaks out of the POW camp in Escape but then gets recaptured when his motorbike fails to clear a barbed wire fence on the Swiss border, which I suppose makes him a double loser in Trump’s eyes.
In fact, Trump is devoid of the qualities I recognised in the masculine icons with whom I grew up: being loyal, being selfless, doing the right thing, playing fair, saying only things that are worth saying, sticking up for the underdog, being magnanimous in victory, being graceful in defeat. Then again, this is unsurprising when you see the Neanderthals who support him signalling their masculinity by gathering in mobs outside state legislative buildings, clad in combat fatigues and totting automatic rifles, to protest the implementation of safety measures against Covid-19. These would-be warriors are too wimpy to countenance wearing small pieces of cloth over their mouths and nostrils to protect their fellow citizens. Clearly, their notions of masculinity have nothing to do with the qualities I’ve listed above. Rather, they’re all to do with intimidating, bullying and hurting people.
If that’s what masculinity is about, I’ll be glad to see the back of it. And I’ll be especially glad to see the back of its biggest proponent, the one in the White House – who on January 20th goes from being the alpha-male to being the alpha-fail.