We are a nation on downers, with a president on uppers and a Secretary of State that is, as the kids would say, tripping.
Secretary of State and 56-year-old adult man Mike Pompeo threw a full-fledged tantrum Friday when NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly dared ask him tough questions about his role in the Ukraine scandal that led to President Trump’s impeachment. Pompeo was emotionally reactive throughout the interview, and afterward, according to Kelly, the Secretary of State led her into another room, where he screamed and swore at her for several minutes, demanded she point out where Ukraine is on an unmarked map (she did) and then threatened that people would “find out about this.” Even the most sycophantic Trumpian bootlicker would have a hard time defending this behavior, and yet, the reaction from other reporters who have interacted with Pompeo was: Yes, this all tracks for a very powerful Republican man. This is how he acts.
In conservative circles, there’s a consensus lamentation about the death of the “American man.” In their imaginations, men in America used to be like John Wayne characters: tall, stoic cowboy-providers who kept a stiff upper lip as they fended off the emotional chaos of women and flamboyant, gun-twirling bad guys. Real men never cry. Real men don’t lose their shit and scream at people.
We know that this ideal was always a Hollywood fabrication. The Marlboro man died of cancer and John Wayne was a drunken racist whose real name was Marion. But for the party of “real men” and women who brag about “actually liking” those men, the men sure can’t seem to control their emotions. Where have all the cowboys gone?
Credit where it’s due: Mike Pompeo isn’t the biggest tantrum-thrower in Washington. President Trump is. Whether it’s long, rambling telephone rants to Fox & Friends, or doing a bad impression of a gangster movie in order to talk about “tak(ing) out” former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovonavitch, snapping at reporters during joint press conferences with world leaders, encouraging powerful black and brown congresswomen who are American citizens to “go back” to their own countries, Trump is to throwing a fit what Simone Biles is to women’s gymnastics: eventually we’re going to have to start naming the tricks after him.
And as a fish rots from the head down, the emotional intelligence of an administration crumbles from the Oval Office outward. Enough people in Washington have figured out that a good way to impress the president (besides being a white man who has been accused of hurting women) is to have an emotional outburst on TV now that we’re living in a state of near-constant tantrum.
Purple-faced Brett Kavanaugh screamed about beer-liking and vowed partisan revenge at his confirmation hearing, and as a result of behavior that might get a boy sent to time-out in preschool, he was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Mike Pence made a show of storming out of an Indianapolis Colts skybox and a seat at Hamilton, in both cases over people of color exercising their free speech rights. Somehow, despite being dumb as a box of broken crayons, he’s still the vice president. Alex Jones and other paranoid, loud men with Keto breath and a microphone have risen from the depths of fringe right-wing media to win the president’s ear.
So many men in the Trump camp are utterly losing their minds at any given time that it’s congealing into a collective conservative male freakout of Brobdingnagian proportions. When it was once one at a time, now it’s all at once: Devin Nunes, Matt Gaetz, Lindsey Graham, Jim “Gym” Jordan, Duncan Hunter, Bill Barr and Bannon and Spicer and Stephen Miller and the Micks and the Mikes and the Matts and the Marks, Brian Kilmeade and all the ear-pickers at Fox News, Donald Trump Jr. and the other one, the slightly quieter brother with the facial hair that is the same color as his neck skin, all of them joining together in the cacophony of aggressive whining that’s somehow now guiding the future of the free world, all of them responding to critique of their ineptitude by shrieking and yelling and pounding on things, all of them embarrassing themselves, all of them embarrassing us. Most of them men.
It’s not hard to fathom how intolerant the American media would be to women behaving like men in Trump’s orbit behave, because women in the public eye are excoriated for being unhinged harpies the minute they stop behaving like Disney princesses. In a 2014 Fresh Air interview, Terry Gross pushed Hillary Clinton on her evolving stance on gay marriage. Clinton defended herself without raising her voice, but after it aired, political media characterized the interview as “testy” and combative. It wasn’t.
Now let’s take that about 1000 steps further and imagine, for a moment, an American government as dominated by women as it is currently dominated by men. And imagine, say, an Attorney General Kamala Harris pulling a male reporter into a side room and quizzing him on the location of Ukraine. Imagine Amy Klobuchar, Supreme Court nominee, yelling at the top of her lungs before the Senate Judiciary Committee about how much she loves vodka. Imagine President Elizabeth Warren’s adult daughter Amelia touring the country on a ghostwritten book called FUCK OFF, FASCISTS. Imagine Vice President Stacey Abrams storming out of a WNBA game because one of the players wore rainbow shoelaces, or out of Jagged Little Pill: The Musical because they have that whole song that misuses the word “ironic.” That’s not what it means! Or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley breaking into a SCIF in front of TV cameras to show off to MSNBC. It sounds ridiculous because it is. Nobody should act like this.
If to be a man is to be in control of oneself, then what does it mean to lose control, over and over again, in embarrassing ways? Why are the men acting like the imaginary hysterical woman beating on John Wayne’s chest until she gets the sense slapped back into her? Why is this behavior rewarded? Why are white male voters so steadfastly supportive of this? The hypocrisy almost makes this lady want to raise her voice ever-so-slightly, but not so much that I’m accused of being hysterical.