Sometimes the little things are telling: the unconscious mannerisms, the conscious affectations.
Donald Trump’s hands were always interesting. From the beginning, the gestures reminded me of something. It took a while to figure it out. A old girlfriend from decades ago used some of the same gestures. The delicate meeting of finger and thumb in overly precise little circles, the movement of the hands themselves making larger circles with those tiny delicate signs, the overall little mincing motions.
His language itself seems an oddity, with overly repetitive adjectives. Tough guys are never just tough, or even very tough. They’re very, very tough, occasionally very, very, very tough. Jennifer Jones, a linguistic expert at the University of California did a study of how language is used.
Her research dealt with linguistic patterns, comparing men with women, then Presidents and candidates with each other. Donald turns out to be off the chart on the feminine side.
Today, that seems to be a harmless curiosity. But that would not have always been the case. Like our President, I was born during the Truman administration. Back when I was a kid, one boy telling another boy he talked like a girl would have been grounds for a street fight.
Children can be cruel. Parents are sometimes brutal. Donald’s father was a bare knuckle participant in Ku Klux Klan demonstrations, arrested at one point for brawling with police during a Klan outburst in New York City. What harsh reaction would such a father have had to the slightest hint of femininity?
Donald Trump, in his public presentation of himself, seems to put a premium on demonstrations of manliness. The rhetoric is obvious. Exhorting this audiences to rough up protestors, joining with supporters in his longing for the good old days, days when the hospital was the destination of dissent.
In Patchogue, NY, he became a bit more explicit. In sight of the parking lot where an immigrant walking home from work had been famously knifed to death by a pack of neighborhood toughs, he mocked the neighborhood for not being tough enough.
I can’t believe. I know some of the guys in this room. they’re so tough. Some of the tough guys I know.
On this occasion he did not simply offer the usual promises of restoring jobs, of getting rid of immigrants and refugees who were taking those jobs. He scolded community toughs for not handling it themselves.
I can’t believe you guys would allow that to happen. What the hell, are you getting soft?
They’re getting soft on me, I don’t believe this. Right?
They know what I’m talking about.
– Donald Trump, April 14, 2016
The rhetorical style went beyond the tough-guy words themselves. Donald Trump includes in almost every speech a signature growl, kind of like back when Alfred Hitchcock included a brief glimpse of himself in every movie he made. The Trump growl is somewhat high pitched, but it is unmistakable. I may be alone in thinking it sounds like Linda Ronstadt at her best. “You’re no good, you’re no good, Baby you’re no good.”
The timing of the growl is a bit of an oddity. He includes it at strange moments, when growling seems to add nothing to whatever point he is making.
In Patchogue, the night he urged tough guys to get tougher, he read a poem of sorts. It compared refugees to poisonous snakes. He growled in his squeaky sort of way about 10 times, by my count. At one point, he growled while narrating a “tender woman” trying to help the deadly snake.
But if I hadn’t brought you in by now, heavens, you might have died.
Listening to Donald’s little poem, I wondered how he thought the narrative was advanced by making that fictional naive woman growl at the snake.
It later came to me that the growl was for another purpose. He randomly feels the need to show off his manliness to his audience. That night he thought he saw a lot of tough guys his audience. After all, this was the neighborhood known for attacking and killing an immigrant. So he growled at them, often.
Pretty much everyone is familiar with the infamous tape of Donald Trump boasting about his sexual exploits.
I’m going to use some tic-tacs, just in case I start kissing her. I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. I don’t even wait.
It was jarring on a number of levels. If his claims on tape had been true, he would have been confessing to criminal sexual assault.
The future President later released a statement dismissing the tape and his own sexual boasts. “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.”
I don’t find it difficult to believe that he truthfully considered that sort of talk to be locker room banter. Half a century of so ago, in high school, I remember a few boys awkwardly boasting to other kids about how many girls they had enticed into sex. No “locker room banter” in those days would have included bragging about forcing a young woman to do much of anything. A rape attempt would not have implied sexual prowess.
And nobody back then boasted about kissing. Kissing? Seriously?
A kid would have been laughed into the hallway. Just start kissing them? Like a puppy dog licking a victim’s face? The belittling cultural image of little boys kissing little girls, uninvited, goes back centuries. It is reflected in children’s nursery rhymes:
Georgie Porgie, Pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
Part of the story Donald has woven about himself includes a propensity for schoolyard fighting.
Those childhood school fights are as important to President Trump as his unproven Wooten grades. “I’m a smart person, believe me.” Could those fights have been at the insistence of a battering parent? How about an extreme, conservative father with a tendency toward street fighting? How about an extreme, conservative father back in a much harsher decade?
Those fights supposedly resulted in his desperate father sending him off to military school in a last ditch effort to instill sadly lacking discipline. Is that really easier to believe than a vicious upbringing, a violent, intolerant father becoming enraged at the barest hint of ladylike behavior?
Military school may indeed have been a last opportunity to straighten out a tough kid. It just doesn’t seem to fit a parent proud of beating up on police while marching for the Klan. After all, some kids were sent to such schools to toughen them, to man them up.
Donald Trump would not be the only leader in history to feel the need to demonstrate manhood.
Authoritarian regimes often put a premium on masculinity, especially in military displays. Parades include the goosestepping, straight legged, individual drill, supposedly a demonstration of strength and manliness.
For a long time, Western Europe was part of that tradition. They stopped it as World War I ate up the countryside. Goosestepping wore out the troops and troops were needed for training and fighting. Now we associate those martial displays with old Nazi propaganda films and modern parades put on by dictatorships.
The late unlamented Soviet state frequently put on goosestepping parades along with rows and rows of military weaponry: tanks and missile launchers and such. We’re tough, we’re strong. Just look at our guns and goosesteps. Manly all the way.
Putin in Russia and Kim Jong-un in North Korea still feel the need to give the populace a show of manly force.
Donald Trump had wanted, had insisted on, a Soviet style military display during his inaugural parade. Tanks and missile launchers were to be taken through the streets of Washington as troops marched in a grand display of martial force.
Events on Inauguration Day didn’t go exactly as President Trump had wished. It wasn’t just the crowd size or the dishonest media who honestly reported it. It wasn’t just the negative reaction of the press, punditry, and general public to the inaugural address.
An inside source reported that the plan for a grand show of military might was shot down by the military. Seems the roads wouldn’t support the weight of trucks, tanks, and missile launchers. Apparently, making highways around the White House unusable for auto traffic after the parade was over was considered sub-optimal.
A shame. It would have been beautiful, a manly display of boastful strength.
And it would fit.
It would bring into alignment the tough talk to tough guys, the Linda Ronstadt high pitched growl, the delicate hand gestures, the relentless grasping toward masculine imagery, the awkward Georgie Porgie sexual boasts to strangers (I just have to be kissing them. I don’t even wait.)
The real source of his continuing quest for manliness is subject to guess. It may have nothing to do with the harsh reaction of a brutal father to any hint of feminine gestures, or a high pitched voice, or an effeminate choice of words.
Whatever the reason, the next four years will be an experience. The administration of national law enforcement, the control of an unparalleled military, the mincing finger on the nuclear button, will be constant reminders.
A minority of our country have given enormous power to an insecure individual anxiously grasping at every opportunity to prove his manhood.
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