Having already used his tone-deaf anecdote about fancy lunch meats to talk about working-class resentment, New York Times dunderhead David Brooks this morning turns his attention to a subject about which he knows even less: masculinity. What brought on this gender panic? Either he got picked last again for company softball, or he just felt like rewording the column Peggy Noonan wrote for The Wall Street Journal last week.
Like Noonan, Brooks doesn’t care that Trump is trying to sabotage Obamacare or promising to kick transgender people out of the military or hinting at hostile escalation with Iran. What matters is that Trump’s not a man; he’s too far removed from the old ideals of manhood. (To be fair, I expect he would’ve said the same about President Hillary Clinton — and he leveled this exact dumbass criticism at Obama three years ago.)
The Trump administration is certainly giving us an education in the varieties of wannabe manliness.
There is the slovenly “I don’t care what you think” manliness of Steve Bannon. There’s the look-at-me-I-can-curse manliness that Anthony Scaramucci learned from “Glengarry Glen Ross.” There is the affirmation-hungry “I long to be the man my father was” parody of manliness performed by Donald Trump. There are all those authentically manly Marine generals Trump hires to supplement his own. There’s Trump’s man-crush on Vladimir Putin and the firing of insufficiently manly Reince Priebus.
With this crowd, it’s man-craving all the way down.
While I’m sure the Grindr community thanks David for the coinage of “man-craving,” there’s nothing here that hasn’t been better said before by a woman. So let’s get right to his “point,” which is that, uhhh, Greeks had manliness figured out 2,400 years ago?
The classical Greek concept of manliness emphasizes certain traits. The bedrock virtue is courage. The manly man puts himself on the line and risks death and criticism. The manly man is assertive. He does not hang back but instead wades into any fray. The manly man is competitive. He looks for ways to compete with others, to demonstrate his prowess and to be the best. The manly man is self-confident. He knows his own worth. But he is also touchy. He is outraged if others do not grant him the honor that is his due.
The Ancient Greeks also kept slaves and fucked children, but that’s none of my business. At least Brooks is on the cusp of a basic insight: “Masculinity” is only ever defined by the time, place, and culture you inhabit. Which means — sorry, everybody — setting the clock back to 400 B.C. Athens isn’t any more or less feasible than a return to 1950 A.D. Pittsburgh.
Here in 2017, by the way, Brooks is basically performing a Heritage Foundation cover of every pro-Trump post found on Reddit or 4chan. The trolls who created and then voted for a meme version of Trump consider him an alpha-male “god emperor” who has humiliated the nerds of the Republican party, known as “cucks” in current web parlance. These toxic dipshits work themselves into the same hot Grecian lather Brooks does.
Except wait, Brooks says. It’s not enough to be a principled warrior-bro (which I’m sure everyone in antiquity was) — you also need the virtue of magnanimity. Bit of a surprise that he didn’t trot out a portmanteau like “manmanity,” but let’s see where this goes:
The magnanimous man has a certain style. He is a bit aloof, marked more by gravitas than familiarity. He shows perfect self-control because he has mastered his passions. He does not show his vulnerability. His relationships are not reciprocal. He is eager to grant favors but is ashamed of receiving them. His personal life can wither because he has devoted himself to disinterested public service.
Translation: Trump should knock off his tough-guy bluster and handshake head-games in order to be more like… quietly dickish New York Times columnist David Brooks. Wow. Can you believe no staffer in the White House has yet suggested this personality makeover to the tweeter-in-chief? It’s unclear how Brooks would like to enact a change of that magnitude in the executive branch, or how it would help anybody, anywhere; the piece just nosedives by calling John McCain a hero for something his female colleagues did with far more courage and conviction. Good lord, what a sad waste of manpower.
But don’t worry, David. As a baby boomer with one foot in the grave, you are no longer tasked with mansplaining what it means to be a man. It’s the boys who are now in the process of becoming men who get to decide the future of masculinity, and here are a few little spoilers for you: They don’t buy the gender binary, they’re flexible on sexuality and they follow passions regardless of social expectations. You keep writing your historical fanfiction, and they’ll work on building a generation with no room for that bullshit.