Requiem for White Men

WASHINGTON — Once upon a time … in America, it looked as if white men were at long last losing their tenacious grip on power.

A black man had made it into the White House. A woman in hot pink claimed the gavel in the House. A Latina congresswoman with a Bronx swagger emerged as the biggest media star in the capital. Six Democratic women — five pols and one mystic — earned their spots on the stage in the first presidential debates.

Male candidates who might have jumped to the head of the presidential pack in earlier eras are finding it impossible to rise anywhere near double digits in polls.

When I asked a friend who once worked for Barack Obama why a smart and appealing Obama protégé, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, was having a hard time breaking through, she replied: “The bar is much, much higher for white guys these days. You just have to be especially special.”

White male privilege is out of fashion these days. Yet we are awash in nostalgia for it.

Donald Trump has built a political ideology on nostalgia. And Quentin Tarantino has built a movie ideology on nostalgia.

In The Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara observed that the moral of Tarantino’s new fairy tale, “Once Upon A Time In … Hollywood,” is, “Who doesn’t miss the good old days when cars had fins and white men were the heroes of everything?”

Dubbing the cowboys-versus-hippies movie starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio “nostalgia porn,” McNamara notes: “Watching two middle-aged white guys grapple with a world that does not value them as much as they believe it should, it was tough not to wonder if that something was the same narrow, reductive and mythologized view of history that has made red MAGA hats the couture of conservative fashion.”

In The New Yorker, Richard Brody called the movie, Tarantino’s biggest opening ever, “obscenely regressive,” a phrase that could easily be applied to the man in the Oval.

Both the Tarantino creation and the Trump creation feature scripted tough-guy dialogue, rough treatment of women and slurs against Mexicans. (“Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans,” Pitt warns an emotional DiCaprio in a tinsel town parking lot.)

But — except for the usual burst of violence that the director justifies the usual way, by leveling it at the most evil people ever, in this case the Manson Family — Tarantino’s time machine is a gentler ride. (This may mark the first time “Tarantino” and “gentler” have appeared in the same sentence.)

Bathed in a golden glow, Brad Pitt plays a world-weary stunt man and handyman to Leo’s Western star, Rick Dalton. Pitt’s character is a former war hero in the great midcentury tradition of American cinema. He reflects many of the values that America once proudly stood for:

  • toughness without belligerence,
  • charm without smarminess,
  • loyalty without question. He is
  • masculine yet chivalrous.

The iconic performance evokes other movie exemplars of the American male: Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke,” Steve McQueen in “Bullet,” Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” (Pitt’s significant other is a pit bull named Brandy — another contrast with Trump, who avoids dogs.)

Trump’s time machine is a vicious and vertiginous journey, all about punching down, pulpy fictions, making brown and black people scapegoats and casting women back into a crimped era of fewer reproductive rights.

Trump has inverted all the old American ideals, soiling the image of our country in the world and reshaping it around his grievances and inadequacies.

He is a faux tough guy who lets other people do the fighting for him, a needy brat who never accepts responsibility for his actions, an oaf with no trace of courage, class or chivalry.

Tarantino fashioned his nostalgic world out of love, while Trump fashions his out of hate.

His entitled and grabby ways illustrate why we need to leave that world behind. America is struggling to find a new identity with a more colorful mosaic, moving beyond our monochromatic past. More new heroines and heroes need to emerge, both onscreen and in life.

But first we need the credits to roll on Trump.

The Likeliest Explanation for Trump’s Helsinki Fiasco

Character, not collusion, best explains the president’s bizarre deference to Vladimir Putin.

Last week, I wrote that the best way to think about a Trump Doctrine is as nothing more than Trumpism on the international stage. By Trumpism, I do not mean a coherent ideological program, but a psychological phenomenon, or simply the manifestation of his character.

.. During a joint news appearance with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump demonstrated that, when put to the test, he cannot see any issue through a prism other than his grievances and ego.

.. Trump made it clear that he can only understand the investigation into Russian interference as an attempt to rob him of credit for his electoral victory, and thus to delegitimize his presidency.’
.. For most people with a grasp of the facts — supporters and critics alike — the question of Russian interference and the question of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign are separate. Russia did interfere in the election, full stop. Whether there was collusion is still an open question, even if many Trump supporters have made up their minds about it. Whether Russian interference, or collusion, got Trump over the finish line is ultimately unknowable, though I think it’s very unlikely.

.. Among the self-styled “resistance,” the answer takes several sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory forms.
  1. One theory is that the Russians have “kompromat” — that is, embarrassing or incriminating intelligence on Trump. Another is that
  2. he is a willing asset of the Russians — “Agent Orange” — with whom he colluded to win the presidency.

.. their real shortcoming is that they are less plausible than the Aesopian explanation: This is who Trump is. Even if Russia hadn’t meddled in the election at all, Trump would still admire Putin because Trump admires men like Putin — which is why he’s praised numerous other dictators and strongmen.

.. The president’s steadfast commitment to a number of policies —

  • animosity toward NATO,
  • infatuation with protectionism,
  • an Obama-esque obsession with eliminating nuclear weapons, and
  • his determination that a “good relationship” with Russia should be a policy goal rather than a means to one

— may have some ideological underpinning. (These policies all seem to be rooted in intellectual fads of the 1980s.)

 

For Trump, Power and Values Matter Less Than Dollars and Cents

Why would an American president offend allies and cozy up to adversaries?

If there was an answer in Mr. Trump’s tumultuous week on the global stage, it may be that he disregards the traditional preoccupations of American foreign policy — power and values — in favor of a more narrow worldview shaped by his experience as a businessman.

Mr. Trump’s bitter clashes with Canada and Europe over trade, as well as his solicitous courtship of North Korea’s brutal dictator, all reflect this mercantile perspective. In his transactional approach to foreign policy, considerations of financial profit or cost — often measured in ways that economists deem simplistic — can outweigh virtually any other consideration.

.. Trump, like a lot of businessmen, doesn’t pay much attention to Canada, or Europe, or Japan,” Mr. Bader said. “Businessmen pay attention to the growth markets: Vietnam, Brazil, India, China.”

.. A slick promotional video that Mr. Trump showed Mr. Kim sketched out a gleaming vision of a prosperous, nuclear-free North Korea, with swooping construction cranes and high-speed trains.

.. ”They have great beaches,” Mr. Trump said to reporters. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?’ And I explained, I said, ‘You know, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.’”

.. Mr. Trump considers it a prime location amid booming economies. “Think of it from a real-estate perspective,” he said.

.. “We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith — which both sides are!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

.. The president expressed particular spite at the B-52 bombers that the United States has flown over South Korea in missions from Guam.

.. a potent manifestation of the American commitment to protect its Asian allies. But to Mr. Trump, they burn a lot of fuel and serve little purpose

.. “I know a lot about airplanes,” he said. “It’s very expensive.”

.. Asked on Tuesday about his clash with Mr. Trudeau after the Group of 7 meeting in Quebec, he answered with a long list of grievances — some based on erroneous data — about the trade deficits the United States runs with Canada, Germany, and other allies.

.. “They don’t take our agricultural products, barely. They don’t take a lot of what we have and yet they send Mercedes into us. They send BMWs into us by the millions. It’s very unfair.”

.. If anything, experts said, this common history is a red flag to Mr. Trump.

.. A consistent theme of the Trump administration has been to downgrade the value of allies and alliances,”

.. “To the contrary, they tend to be judged as military free-riders or economic rivals or both. That many are assertive, independent-minded liberals that regularly challenge the president only makes it worse.”

.. In his single-minded focus on economic gain

.. “The bottom line,” said Daniel R. Russel, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs now at the Asia Society, “is that President Trump paid retail for a few warmed-over promises and appears to have given away both leverage and deterrence.”

.. “The containment doctrine has given way to the condominium doctrine.”