Tuesday, August 1, 2017

More Danes than Antique Romans

Thumb on pretzel, from AOL Lifestyle.

Former New York Times columnist David Brooks ("Before Manliness Lost its Virtue") has noticed that a lot of figures in the Trump administration have a thing about being manly in one way or another:
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.
The David Mamet reference is stolen from Kevin D. Williamson's admired National Review piece on the unlamented jerk Scaramucci (it really was pretty well done, though of course the subtext was that the White House's vulgarity proves that it's really a leftwing operation, because conservatives never say "fuck" when ladies are within hearing). I don't know why Brooks uses the hyphen construction in the second sentence instead of the quotation marks of the first and third.

As far as I know Trump only has one two authentically manly Marine generals to work with, John Kelly, who had to vacate Homeland Security so he could be Marine-in-charge in the West Wing (Flynn and McMaster, and Keith Kellogg of the National Security Council are all Army, and it's Admiral Mike Rogers who runs the NSA). The idea of "generals Trump hires to supplement his own" suggests that he also has some secret private generals as well, which is very weird, although it would explain that bizarre episode last week when he claimed that "his" generals had advised him to ban transsexual people from military service, though none of the generals in the administration knew anything about it:

Maybe, I thought, it was the generals inside his head. But I wonder if Brooks knows something else. (Kidding, it's just unedited bad writing.)

The authentic manliness of the generals (of whichever branch of the services) suggests that there's something inauthentic about the masculinity of the Emperor, and sure enough, Brooks is about to tell us that there's a right way to be manly, but on the whole lost to humanity, generals excepted:
It’s worth remembering, when we are surrounded by all this thrusting masculinity, what substantive manliness once looked like. For example, 2,400 years ago the Greeks had a more fully developed vision of manliness than anything we see in or around the White House today.
Manliness à la grecque is a five-part formula:
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.
Possibly borrowed from somewhere in Brett and Kate McKay's blog The Art of Manliness (associated with their 2009 book The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man), I can't be arsed.

As it turns out, though, Greek manliness had exactly the same problems as our awful postmodern varieies:
That version of manliness gave Greece its dynamism. But the Greeks came to understand the problem with manly men. They are hard to live with. They are constantly picking fights and engaging in peacock displays.
 So what we really need isn't manliness authentic or otherwise, but magnanimity:
On top of the honor code, they gave us the concept of magnanimity. Pericles is the perfect magnanimous man (and in America, George Washington and George Marshall were his heirs). The magnanimous leader possesses all the spirited traits described above, but he uses his traits not just to puff himself up, but to create a just political order.
I was able to find the major source from which this part is lifted, because it's by David F. Brooks: the Marshall chapter of The Road to Character. Would have been nice if Marshall had given some attention to getting us a just political order instead of lavishing it all on the Germans, but let's save that for some other time.

And then although "manliness has lost its virtue" according to the headline, it hasn't according to Brooks, since there are Pericleses among us today, such as Senator McCain and General Kelly, who's taking over the White House now, thank goodness, so it's all good:
Of all the politicians I’ve covered, John McCain comes closest to the old magnanimous ideal. Last week, when he went to the Senate and flipped his thumb down on the pretzeled-up health care bill, we saw one version of manliness trumping another. When John Kelly elbowed out Anthony Scaramucci, one version of manliness replaced another. The old virtues aren’t totally lost. So there’s hope.
What was it we were so worried about ten minutes ago?

I spent some time trying to find an illustration of flipping a thumb down on a pretzeled-up object, but failed. But I think the basic lesson here is why should I work so hard when Brooks gives me so little to work with? If the conclusion is "Look, there's a pivot coming!"

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