I couldn’t really believe it when I watched the cable news clip. It looked like a comedy sketch starring two performers who were the greatest Kanye West and Donald Trump impersonators in the world. But, alas, this absurd moment was real. A pop star and a former reality television star were, indeed, holding an impromptu summit about whatever nonsense was rattling around in their heads. They sat across from each other at the Resolute Desk, where FDR once signed declarations of war.
West bragged. He charmed. He blew kisses at Trump, who blew them right back. Two bros, baby-talking.
But then West explained to the press how a lack of male role models, and “male power,” led him to embrace President Trump. And the President grinned with a cult leader’s modesty. He soaked up the praise like one of those brand name quilted paper towels that drink up blue liquid in the commercials.
It was a maddening exchange. Because male power abounds. Eighty percent of Congress and 95 percent of CEOs are men. There are twice as many men than women in the White House. To suggest that this country is not run by, and for, men is an unserious position at best, and a sinister threat response designed to cement male authority at worst. In either case, however, it is a lie. America is rich with male power.
West and Trump are a couple of clowns, and I mean that in the truest sense of the words. They are comic entertainers, their self-esteem buoyed by applause, but this exchange was telling: Jesters always tell the truth and the truth is men have given up. All men, it turns out, are islands whose treasure must be defended at all costs.
West is drawn to Trump’s cartoon masculinity because it is easy to understand. Like a comic book.
At one point, West said that wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” made him “feel like Superman.” West is drawn to Trump’s cartoon masculinity because it is easy to understand. Like a comic book. Fascism is “male energy” without mercy, kindness, hope, or righteousness. The president is, then, the perfect wartime leader for a war that doesn’t actually exist.
And he has help: An entire army of cultural temple merchants are constantly telling men that they are living the movie Dunkirk. That they need to close ranks and protect what is theirs. Which is, apparently, civilization because men invented civilization. Sometimes I think of today’s men as aging jocks who can never let go of their high school glories — and take credit for your dad and grandad’s high school glories, too.
I recently made the mistake of briefly watching a cable news segment about the “War on Men.” The host and guests were simultaneously hysterical and insincere. You could almost see the pancake makeup running. These are scary times to be a man, they claimed. But are they?
I do not feel oppressed. At least, I don’t feel oppressed by women. I am not the victim of a coordinated attack by an all-powerful cabal of secret witches. I have had to learn that there are new boundaries. I have had to accept that I am not the center of the universe, even when I get more than five retweets on Twitter. Yes, I have my own struggles. Every human being does.
And, yes, some of my accomplishments are the results of my talent and hard work. But there are others — neighbors, coworkers, strangers — who have overcome more. Who’ve had to work harder.
An entire army of cultural temple merchants are constantly telling men they are living the movie “Dunkirk.” That they need to close ranks and protect what is theirs.
I have also had to learn that forgiveness is not about being forgiven. It’s about asking for it, sincerely and humbly, after undergoing a deep and profound change, a personal reckoning, and never requiring, or expecting, that those you hurt ever have to consider the request.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine West and Trump’s playdate not as a somewhat melancholy publicity stunt but as a summit. One warlord swearing an oath of fealty to another. A battle looms (one that will never come). An alliance is made.
Yes, this is ridiculous, but so is the idea that there are no positive male role models. I have plenty of them. I was taught, by men in my life, that there is right and wrong, and knowing the difference is the entire game. I know there are virtues beyond drinking beer, chasing women, and acting like a clown.
But I’m asking to be humored: Pretend a “War on Men” isn’t an absurd notion. Men should lose that war. We have done nothing to deserve victory other than fighting — largely based on birth and bank account—to preserve our ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want.