Friday, April 29, 2016


I often read David Brooks's column in the New York Times and wonder how he can square his insights into the human condition with his Republican views. The former seem right-on, the latter, way off. In today's column, he rightly disavows the Trumpism that now seems the destined path of the Republican Party (I refuse to call it "Grand," "Old" though it may be!) and proposes a new path of national "communitarianism." (Take out a few letters, and what have you got! That's an irony, no?)

He also has this useful insight:
We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.
Trump's major base of support, as we know, is white men--men who have come to understand, painfully, that the system is rigged against them, who have lost trust and hope, who feel, in a word, unmanned. After centuries of male entitlement--and whether they acknowledge it or not--great numbers of my gender feel threatened by the ascendancy of women in the course of the past hundred, in particular the last fifty years. What they have yet to discover is that the empowerment of others does not necessarily entail one's own disempowerment.

What might "a new definition of masculinity" look like? Having spent twenty years as an active participant in The ManKind Project, an organization of men seeking just this new definition, I believe that the greatest challenge is to come to a recognition of the way in which unconscious, and mostly unacknowledged emotional reactivity can govern our actions. The "rage" that has surfaced in this election cycle has been roiling for years. Successfully repressed for so long, it is all the uglier when it can no longer be sublimated or controlled, and erupts with the irrational violence we see at a Trump rally today.

Ellie and I caught up, last night, with The Confirmation, which aired first a few weeks ago. It's the story of the epic confrontation between then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and the University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, who charged him with sexual harassment. The docudrama faithfully recalled the detail with which she presented her case and the dignified demeanor that persuaded myself and many others, at the time, of the truth of what she said.  The threatened male egos that rushed to the defense of the perpetrator rather than the victim conspired to trash her evidence in their eagerness to support the essentially masculine status quo of both the Senate and the Supreme Court.

It pains me as a man to assert that this masculine insecurity plays out at all levels, not only of national politics but also on the world stage. I believe that the decades-long attack on Hlllary Clinton from the right is inspired in good part by the fear of feminine power. I believe that "radical Islam" and its dire effects on world peace has its roots in the same primal fear. It's a deeply buried emotional gene, and one that does indeed require "redefinition" at a time where one half of the world's population is no longer content to accept male domination. We need to learn how to live with women, how to acknowledge and respect their power without sacrificing our own, how to collaborate with that power to the benefit of the entire human race.

I'm not one to "blame" men for all the evils of the world. I have nothing but great respect for masculinity.  It just needs, as Brooks says, a healthy, thoughtful, and honest redefinition.

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