This morning, I read an essay in the New York Times that gives me a flicker of hope.
It is a Prince Valiant attempt to disparage the candidate, riddled with old fashioned ideas about men and women. But if David Brooks can change the vote of a single member of his reading audience, then it has value.
Brooks has objected to Trump before in a sometimes strained, other times spirited voice. In “No, Not Trump, Not Ever,” published a week ago, he declared that the candidate is “epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn.” As if in need of supernatural support in opposing this ungodliest of beings, Brooks adds a line or two from scripture to his commentary. Before concluding with his “No, Not Trump, Not Ever,” the columnist lambastes the businessman with another salvo.
Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible. In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all.
While this previous op-ed eviscerates Trump the candidate, Brooks’ newest piece goes directly to his misogynist asides and proclamations. Mind you, Brooks is no feminist hero. In “Sexual Politics,” he contends that we are living in a society where “both men and women are called upon to live up to the traditional ideals of both genders,” a remark that plainly refers to heterosexuality as the norm. His objection to Trump is premised on a romantic notion of male chivalry and civility. Brooks manages to deliver his attack without once mentioning “feminism” or “feminist” and this absence marks his ideological objection.
Instead he says:
Today’s ideal man honors the women in his life in whatever they want to do. He treats them with respect in the workplace and romance in the bedroom. He is successful in the competitive world of the marketplace but enthusiastic in the kitchen and gentle during kids’ bath time.
This new masculine ideal is an unalloyed improvement on all the earlier masculine ideals. It’s a great achievement of our culture.
This is David Brooks’ reality: a “culture” that immaculately birthed a “masculine ideal” rather than a feminist struggle for women’s inclusion and parity. The ickiness quotient for Brooks is the shredding of that cloak of etiquette, that genteel, romantic notion of how a man must treat a woman. But he does use a term that has bearings to reality: “misogyny.”
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a revolution in manners, a rejection of the civility codes of the educated class. As part of this, he rejects the new and balanced masculine/feminine ideal that has emerged over the past generation. Trump embraces a masculine identity — old in some ways, new in others — built upon unvarnished misogyny.
As if to buffer the horror of the term to his readers, Brooks’ packs the word with definitions; a ploy that is similar to the GOP’s claim that “rape” has various meanings. Trumps’ misogyny is not the “historical moralistic misogyny,” says the conservative. It “has a commercial flavor,” one that outdoes its rival sexists. The misogyny of Trump is built upon successful sexual exploitation and the acquisition of the beautiful trophy wife. It creates a hierarchy of disgruntlement among consumers.
In this way, Trump represents the spread of something brutal. He takes economic anxiety and turns it into sexual hostility. He effectively tells men: You may be struggling, but at least you’re better than women, Mexicans and Muslims.
Davis Brooks is defined by his perceptions. In his world, misogyny is less about its affect on women and more about a loss of courtesy among men. He reminds his readers that a vote for Trump is a vote against chivalry. It is poor taste. After all, men are the guardians of women’s honor.
Trump voters do need to be held to account. They are participating in a descent into darkness. They are supporting a degrading wrong. This is the world your daughters are going to grow up in.
Price Valiant speaks to his people. He pushes their buttons. He calls upon honorable men to reject this brutal monster called Trump. It is not a message that appeals to feminists. But it should not be outright rejected. If his plea can siphon one vote away from this woman-hating man named Trump, it is a qualified success.