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Monday, March 21, 2016

Tough guys in politics

There's been a lot of publicity recently over whether Donald Trump has encouraged violence at his rallies. My take is that the violence is mostly due to the demonstrators who have come to disrupt his rallies.

But Trump has said a few things that could be construed, on the surface, as encouraging violence:

On February 22, he said of a protester, "I'd like to punch him in the face."

On March 9, Trump said of some disruptive protesters, "See, in the good old days this didn't used to happen, because they used to treat them very rough. We've become very weak."

These words are unbecoming a Presidential candidate, but it's highly unlikely Trump actually wants violence. He knows that his crowds are fed up with the disruptive protesters and is, to a certain extent, playing to his base. But more than anything else, Trump was trying to appear to be tough himself.

Think of what he said: "In the good old days…" as if he used to be some sort of street fighter himself. You know, two-fisted Donald, who used to terrorize Queens and Brooklyn with his gang of thugs, beating the crap out of rival gangs.

The fact is, Trump is a rich man's son who parlayed his father's real estate empire into a much larger one. How many billionaires do you know of who are willing to risk losing teeth, or even an eye, in a brawl?

What the Donald suffers from is a disease that afflicts mostly upper middle class boys: the compulsion to pose as a tough guy -- because they're not.

The Bushes suffered from this affliction as well. Remember George W. Bush's famous "Bring 'em on," his challenge to any Iraqis who might want to attack US forces in that country? It was basically a schoolyard challenge by someone who wanted to appear macho. Bush didn't really want more American boys to die in war. He was just trying to appear manly (and possibly appeal to military pride as well).

Bush, who'd gone to Andover and Yale and was the son of a President and grandson of a Connecticut Senator, used to parade around in cowboy boots, as if he'd grown up busting broncos and stomping rattlesnakes to death. Even when he was dressed in a suit and tie, he would walk with his arms carried wide, as if they were too muscular to hang straight down.

Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, also an alum of Andover and Yale, famously said to a group of longshoremen after his Vice Presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, "We did kick a little ass last night." This was an awkward attempt by the patrician H.W. to relate to a group he was uncomfortable with, and the comment backfired.

President Obama said, while campaigning in 2008, that "if they [the Republicans] bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." (Evidently that's the way they took care of things at Punahou.) Obama's statement could easily have been interpreted as promoting violence. And the case can be made that his words were more reprehensible than Trump's, given Obama's antipathy to guns.

But any honest analysis of Obama's intent would have to conclude that he was merely trying to appear tough. (Given that Obama is gay, he may have even more to prove.) Obama was also shamelessly plagiarizing The Untouchables, but that's really all he was guilty of there.

None of these men are -- or were -- genuine tough guys. If they had been, they wouldn't have felt the need to pose as one. But the point is, neither were any of them seriously trying to promote violence.

Update, next day: An anonymous commenter just pointed out that George H.W. Bush was a war hero, and that I shouldn't have included him in this post. He's right; I was wrong to group him in with the others. 


Steven said...

He also said in the old days they'd be carried out on a stretcher and said boom boom boom as he mimicked throwing punches like some sort of Joe Pesci character.

I'm sure you're right that he was trying to appear tough, and the guy he was talking about had been misbehaving badly, but his statements were a level up from Bush Snr's and Obama's obvious metaphors.

This is a bit paltry for a Niall Ferguson article but he's definitely onto something.

Trump does seem to me the type of narcissist who is compensating for insecurity, the way he puts his name on everything.

John Craig said...

Steven --
That link doesn't work.

Yes, Trump's words were a step up from a metaphor, but he obviously doesn't want violence at his rallies. And remember, after that schizophrenic Jared Loughner shot Gabby Giffords and killed six others for no apparent reason, the liberal media tried to blame it on Sarah Palin because Palin had stated that several Democratic districts were "in her crosshairs" in the upcoming election. The Left is always ready to blame Republicans for such violence, while ignoring the real violence of some of the protesters from the Left.

Anonymous said...

So the Bushes are effete snobs feigning toughness? Hmmm. This is from the Wikipedia entry on George H. W. Bush:

"After Bush's promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) on August 1, 1944, the San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. Bush piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avenger aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima.[6] His crew for the mission, which occurred on September 2, 1944, included Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White.[1] During their attack, the Avengers encountered intense anti-aircraft fire; Bush's aircraft was hit by flak and his engine caught on fire. Despite his plane being on fire, Bush completed his attack and released bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits.[1] With his engine ablaze, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft;[7] the other man's parachute did not open.[1] Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, while several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback.[1] For the next month he remained on the Finback, and participated in the rescue of other pilots. Several of those shot down during the attack were executed and eaten by their captors.[8]

"Bush subsequently returned to San Jacinto in November 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines until his squadron was replaced and sent home to the United States. Through 1944, he flew 58 combat missions[7] for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to San Jacinto."

If that isn't genuine toughness, what is?

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're right about Bush Sr; I shouldn't have included him with the other guys who were trying to appear tougher than they are. With him, it was more a matter of trying to create rough edges that weren't there in an effort to relate to the longshoremen.

My comment on Jr. stands though; yes, he was in the National Guard as a pilot, but during the Viet Nam era that was a good way to avoid going over there. And that Texan act always struck me as an act.

Anonymous said...

You are conflating toughness with thuggery. Donald went to military school and probably was formally taught how to fight. The cultural marxism plague that we have suffered under has been pushing the narrative that toughness is thug-life. Of course unless it is dysfunctional people screaming swear words in the name of 'no hate'.
Thugs are for the large part not organized and more out of control than tough. People with little impulse control may have more guns and fire more often but tough people with discipline will actually hit their target.
In light of the current cultural crisis I find Mr. Trump's comments much needed. I know it comes as quite a surprise to all of us who were taught that we just needed to be tolerant and welcoming and all would be well. As it turns out collectively grabbing our ankles wasn't even appreciated and never enough to the point we are in grave danger. The bible says to every thing there is a season and a purpose under heaven. A time to embrace and a time to punch in the face.

Steven said...

No doubt the media are biased. If Trump supporters had gone to a Sanders rally and there had been a big fight, the Trump supporters would have been depicted as Jackboot wearing fascists, thugs breaking up an opposition meeting. But Sanders supports go to a Trump rally and its still the fault of Trump and his supporters.

No doubt there are some very unsavoury Trump supporters and Trump's rhetoric encourages them but the double standard is still a bit irritating.

I will paste the Niall Ferguson article below because it is directly relevant to this blog post. It is called 'the rise of caveman politics'.

Steven said...

Niall Ferguson:

In our time, women have been gaining political power as never before.

There are (by my count) 17 female presidents and prime ministers around the world today. Sixty-three of the world’s countries have now had at least one female head of government or state in the past half century.

But it’s not the fact of their being female that is important, so much as the feminine style today’s female leaders have brought to politics. The powerful women of the 1970s and 1980s — Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher — were iron ladies, famous (metaphorically speaking) for having more cojones than the average male politician. By contrast, the female leaders of our time are not just female; they are also feminine. The archetype is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose political style combines the gift of the gab, multi-tasking, never losing her cool, and emotional intelligence.

European and Turkish leaders spent last week wrangling over a plan devised by Merkel to restrict the movement of mainly Muslim migrants through Turkey into Greece and on to the rest of Europe. This is the kind of negotiation she relishes. The final round, she said on Friday, would be “be anything but easy.” You can almost see the thin-lipped smile at the prospect of yet another 3 a.m. deal. If ever a leader preferred jaw-jaw to war-war, it is Mutti (“Mummy”) Merkel.

But now ask yourself how Europe got into this mess. On German television last July, Merkel reduced a young Palestinian refugee to tears by explaining that her family might have to face deportation. “There are thousands and thousands of people in Palestinian refugee camps,” she explained. “If we now say ‘you can all come’ … we just cannot manage that.” The waterworks worked. Six weeks later, Merkel had opened the gates of Germany and was declaring: “We can manage that.” All kinds of historical explanations have been offered for her epoch-making change of mind, but to me it was the essence of feminine politics. Faced with Reem Sahwil’s tears, the chancellor’s reaction was an impulsive attempt to comfort her, followed by a massive and unilateral U-turn.

Likewise, all kinds of historical explanations have been offered for the rise of Donald Trump, but I now see a simpler one. He is just the latest standard-bearer of a world-wide revolt against feminine politics. Leave aside terms like populism and fascism: this is caveman politics — not just male, but aggressively, crassly masculine. Vladimir Putin is the Russian version. Narendra Modi is the Indian version. Xi Jinping is China’s macho man. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is Turkey’s. They talk tough. They strike tough poses. They would never, ever comfort a crying girl.

“What you find with Donald Trump is he’s a counter-puncher,” explained Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, on Thursday. “Someone punches him and he punches back, and he punches back much harder.”

When Trump said that Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” by Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries, Clinton accused Trump of having “a penchant for sexism.” Trump shot back that her own husband had scarcely been a role model. In the words of Lewandowski, “He punched back at her 10 times harder.”

Steven said...


This crude fighting talk is the essence of anti-feminine politics. Earlier this month, rhetorical violence turned to actual violence at a series of Trump rallies. You cannot imagine anyone throwing a sucker punch during a Merkel speech. Nor can you imagine Clinton threatening “riots” if she is denied the Democratic nomination. She wants to “Make America Whole Again” — a classic feminine slogan — not to punch a hole in America.

Note, too, that the caveman politicians are repudiating not just female leaders but also the “girlie-men” leaders of the post-Cold War era, who were young, went to the gym, sipped Pinot Noir, and had metrosexual policies to match. Politics, like the German language, has masculine, feminine, and neuter.

The irony is that, compared with the male politicians of an earlier generation, today’s macho politicians are not truly manly at all.

True, Trump was sent to a military school (after all other educational options had failed). But he has never seen action. Indeed, he has served his country less to date than the lowliest grunt. In that sense, there is something deeply phony about his machismo. A man who has to reassure the world about the size of his genitals is not macho; he is just insecure.

The good news is that a new generation is on its way into politics: Americans who served their country in Afghanistan and Iraq, a remarkable number of whom are now going into public life, seeking and winning election to state legislatures and (step forward Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton) Congress.

The even better news is that some of them, like Iowa’s Joni Ernst, are women. I just hope they turn out to be iron ladies.

John Craig said...

Anon of 11:09AM --
I agree with you about toughness vs. thuggery and with your general point about cultural Marxism and grabbing our ankles. But I don't think Trump should be encouraging anyone -- tacitly or overtly -- to be roughing up individual protesters. He has security to take care of protesters and escort them outside; encouraging people in the crowd to get rough just encourages anarchy, which is what the protesters want and results in a "moral victory" for them -- at least that will be the way it's portrayed in the media. Also, Trump may have had some formal training in hand to hand at military school, but I highly doubt that he was ever a brawler himself.

What I was talking about is a little different, the basic urge that guys have to present themselves as tough guys, or at least to talk tough, whether or not they are. (I understand it, because I feel that urge sometimes, and I'm definitely not a tough guy.)

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, the media's hypocrisy is incredibly galling.

Good article by Ferguson. He's essentially making the same point, while tipping his hat to the ladies. (Agree with him about Thatcher and Meir, but was Indira Gandhi known as an iron lady too?) And I wish he'd made the point that while Merkel fell for a woman's tears, what she got for her sympathy was a bunch of mostly young, male Arabs.

Steven said...

Elsewhere Ferguson has been a lot more explicit about what he thinks of the mass migration of Muslims to Europe. In his weekly article for the Sunday Times, he compared the Paris attacks to the Goths' sack of Rome in August 410AD.

The article started:

"I am not going to repeat what you have already read or heard. I am not going to say that what happened in Paris on Friday night was unprecedented horror, for it was not. I am not going to say that the world stands with France, for it is a hollow phrase. Nor am I going to applaud François Hollande’s pledge of “pitiless” vengeance, for I do not believe it. I am, instead, going to tell you that this is exactly how civilisations fall."

and later in the article:

"Uncannily similar processes are destroying the European Union today, though few of us want to recognise them for what they are. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defences to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith."

and later again:

"It is doubtless true to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent. But it is also true that the majority hold views not easily reconciled with the principles of our liberal democracies, including our novel notions about sexual equality and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities. And it is thus remarkably easy for a violent minority to acquire their weapons and prepare their assaults on civilisation within these avowedly peace-loving communities."

Wasn't you father also a Harvard historian John?

John Craig said...

Steven --
Great quote by Ferguson. He's one of the few conservatives at Harvard.

Yes, my father was a professor of Japanese history there.

Steven said...

and he met your mum during one of his trips to Japan?

I didn't know anything about Indira Gandhi but this bit of her wiki article answers your question:

"As the Prime Minister of India, Gandhi was known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralisation of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India's influence to the point where it became the regional hegemon of South Asia. Gandhi also presided over a controversial state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 during which she ruled by decree. She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards a few months after she ordered the storming of the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar to counter the Punjab insurgency."

I couldn't link the whole article because its behind a paywall (I only subscribe for Ferguson). But if you ever want to read one of his articles, I can paste it to your email.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, he was in the Army of occupation after WWII.

I stand corrected on Indira; I just didn't know that much about her, to be honest, and had only a fleeting impression.

Thank you.

Mark Caplan said...

Another Mr. Tough Guy stance of Trump's is his promise to torture suspected terrorists. He has repeatedly made that promise.

Most thoughtful people have concluded that if we torture enemy suspects, then our enemies would have less of a barrier against torturing our own men and women who fall into their hands. Also, after the war, we'd be unable to prosecute torturers for war crimes without convicting our own people of the same crimes.

American experts in interrogation techniques say there are effective ways to get information and cooperation from captives without resorting to torture. We also should faithfully maintain a sharp distinction between the Medieval religious barbarism of our Islamic foe and our own enlightened, Western selves.

(Steven's link to the Niall Ferguson article in the Boston Globe worked in my browser.)

John Craig said...

Mark --
I often have the urge to respond to commenters by saying, "Good point," but every time I get that urge it reminds me of a section leader I had for a course in college once, who would respond to every comment in class with those two words, so I usually squelch myself.

Anyway…..good point. I think what Trump is doing in large part is channeling the frustration that a lot of Americans feel with the way Obama has been running the government and leading the military for the past seven years. Obama famously announced that the US military would not go after any Taliban in places where there were civilians, letting them know that that was a safe way for them to hide. He announced ahead of time that we would withdraw by a certain date from Afghanistan, letting them know that they just had to hang on. And he has said he won't allow water boarding, while ISIS drowns people, burns them to death, throws them off tall towers, decapitates them, and has ten year old boys shoot them in the back of the head. Americans are fed up with fighting in such one-sided engagements, and Trump senses that. I suspect that if and when he gets into office he'll backtrack a little, once he actually talks to military leaders and the like.

Anonymous said...

Do you have an article analyzing 'toughness'?

Physical toughness could cover guys who can enter the octagon and handle themselves well, or be a fighting champion. It could cover the sort of ordeals endured by Navy seals during their extreme training. It could cover military men who were brave enough to be tunnel rats and have killed many men in hand to hand combat. I am not sure but suspect that although HW Bush was a war hero, he probably wasn't octagon / Navy seal / killing men in hand to hand combat tough.

Guys who throw words around but are way out of the 'toughness' league described above could be derided for not being able to 'walk the walk'.

There's no indication Trump has any of this physical toughness. But he has a mental toughness and boldness. He's able to stand up and put forth the common sense ideas that will improve life for rank and file US citizens, take the scathing attacks from both the Left and main-stream Republicans (which ends up encompassing nearly 100% of the press). For decades we've seen every Republican politician who even mention one of Trump's hot-button issues, cower in fear and apologize profusely after the political / media backlash ensued. The only other right-of-center Republican I can think of who has the toughness to put forth these sorts of ideas is Pat Buchanan (who is endorsing Trump). Buchanan is more intelligent and far more knowledgeable than Trump, and would have been a better statesman if he had become president. But Trump is the man of the hour - the only man who has been able to advance critical issues to the survival of the USA, and to the betterment of life for the common man.

People can bemoan Trump's coarseness, rudeness, and lack of statesmanship. I hear some conservatives I know say he's 'not presidential'. In my opinion the decline of the Presidency began with Obama - as a tiny example, sticking his nose into a tiny local dispute in Cambridge MA, culmination in a 'beer summit'. Along with Obama's 'win at all costs' (health care) approach, and rule by executive order, etc.

It would be better if Trump were a melding of Buchanan and Reagan. What I don't understand is the conservatives who say they won't vote for Trump due to his rough edges, after witnessing decades of Republican leaders who can't take any heat, fail to execute on the good policy ideas they actually run on, and are slaves to the neo-con war-machine.

- Ed

John Craig said...

Ed --
Yes, as a matter of fact I did do an article analyzing what toughness can mean, here:

(And you remember correctly, it's actually about a guy who was a tunnel rat.)

You make a lot of good points about Trump's resiliency in the fact of overwhelming political correctness. He hasn't cowered,or buckled in the face of all the admonitions he's gotten, and he tells the truth about things that we're not supposed to be honest about.

And yes, if coarseness is the price we have to pay for someone who's strong enough to stand up to the political correct establishment and neocon war machine, then it's a very small price to pay.