By Michael Jay Tucker
Three things have been kind of troubling me over the last week or so. First, I’ve been thinking about Trump’s vituperative attacks on the football players who knelt rather than stood during the national anthem at various games. The second thing I’ve been considering is how the same Trump has more or less openly embraced Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and so on.
Third, and last, there’s a memory I’ve had…or almost had…that’s been teasing me…flitting in and out of my consciousness…that has something to do with those other two. But I couldn’t quite say what it was.
And then, last night, finally, it all came together…and clicked.
It has to do with toughness…and the complete lack there-of.
Let me explain.
At first, I thought the answer to issues one and two was simple. Why was Trump making such a big deal about the football players? Well, obviously, because he’s playing to his base. His supporters feel threatened by black men…or, indeed, anyone who isn’t white, and here’s a way for the Dumpster to score a few points—to say, in effect, they are bad, but we are good, and in the end I’ll put you back on top.
(Not that they were ever really on top to begin with, but you get the point.)
Equally simple was his love affair with the Neo-Nazis. The same process was in operation. What could be more anti-Black than to embrace the Ku Kluxers? And what could be more “politically incorrect” (i.e., anti-Liberal) than to send Valentines to Hitlerists? What could, then, appeal more to voters who hate and fear dark skins and college degrees?
But, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that something was missing from my analysis. There seemed to be something wrong here. If Trump was only after political capital, then why was his fury toward the football players so visceral? So over the top?
And, let’s confess, he didn’t have to identify with Fascists. Indeed, he ran some real risks by doing so. There are not a few children of WWII vets among his voters.
In other words, his behavior didn’t seem as calculated and Machiavellian as I’d thought. There was something irrational about it.
Which brings me to my memory.
Ever since the demonstrations at Charlottesville, when Nazis paraded with their Tiki Torches, something has been teasing me…something I knew that I knew, but which I simply couldn’t quite place.
Then, a couple of days ago, it finally came to me. It was a scene from a book that I read long, long ago, when I was still in college.
Specifically, it was from Norman Mailer’s book, Armies of the Night. If you’re not familiar with the work, it is a kind of “non-fiction novel,” about a very large anti-war protest in 1967, the so-called “March On The Pentagon.”
It is a complicated book, and to this day it is controversial…even on the Left.
But there was a scene in it that really struck me at the time…and which, a day or so ago, came suddenly floating back into focus for me.
I may miss a few details (it’s been nearly 40 years, after all) but I’ll try to describe the scene. It takes place in a police van. The van is full of anti-war protestors who have been arrested…along with one pro-war protestor, a young member of the American Nazi party.
In the van, too, there is a policeman. Needless to say, the officer is not overly fond of his protesting prisoners—the long-haired Hippie freaks and peaceniks.
But, then, he and the Nazi eye one another.
The Nazi says (silently) that soon the policeman will realize that he, too, is a fascist, and they are natural allies. “Already,” he indicates (and here I paraphrase), “the wildest, freest men in America wear my symbol.” That is, the outlaw bikers who sport Swastikas on their leathers.
The policeman rejects the Nazi with disgust. He answers (again, silently) “compared to a wild, free man, you’re nothing but a bitch.”
Sexist? Yes. But what did you expect? This is Norman Mailer we’re talking about.
But misogynist or not, there is something potent in this scene…something important. Which is why, I think, the memory came to me, unbidden, and unexpected.
To wit, say what you like about the football players who knelt rather than stood… but they are tough guys. Maybe they weren’t First Responders at 9-11, or Marine Corps vets from Iraq, or Navy SEALS sending bin Laden to his much deserved repose in Jahannam…
But they’re tough. They are used to pain, and they’ll dish out the same should they need. It’s part of their job and they wouldn’t be there if they couldn’t.
Now, compare that to the Dumpster…who makes a cult of his own supposed strength, but who has never fought, never endured battle, never been on the receiving end of a violent sack from a man who weighs 300 pounds, and all of it muscle and bone.
Don’t get me wrong. You don’t need to be a big man to be a tough guy. In fact, you don’t even need to be a guy. Some of the toughest tough guys I know are gals.
And the toughest man I ever met was a boy I knew in school…a boy who was born deformed, and who suffered a variety of neurological disorders, and who was tormented by bullying classmates…but who endured it all without a hint of self-pity, and always retained an enormous dignity, right to the bitter end when he was only in his twenties.
But there is the rub. Toughness does not describe Trump. Not really. And I don’t think it really describes many of his most ardent and most threatening followers. When I look at the pictures of those men and women at the various Rallies, waving their Tiki Torches and confederate flags, I don’t see strength. I see frightened people who strike out in terror and weakness.
Thus, I think, my deep, dark subconscious mind may have been telling me something when it dredged up that memory of a book I hadn’t read in ages. I think it may have been explaining something about why Trump has denigrated football players and embraced white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.
I think it is something beyond mere politics.
You see, I think he knows. I think he, that man in the White House, knows all too well.
He knows he is not strong, in spite of what he says. He knows he is terribly vulnerable. He knows that outside his protected little universe of “bigly” deals and reality TV…if he were ever propelled into a truly natural world … he would be quickly devoured by something red in tooth and claw.
Thus his hatred of strong people…of football players… of real war heroes like John McCain… of the women who showed up in hordes in their Pussy Hats… and, of you, in fact, who read this and who oppose him despite the very real possibility of retaliation.
And so my memory. That was why it appeared. It was to remind me that…he knows.
That compared to a wild, free man…or woman…
He ain’t nothing but a bitch.