Brooks and Cohen

Bobo has decided to discuss the time “Before Manliness Lost Its Virtue.”  He gurgles that the ancient Greeks wouldn’t recognize the Trump administration’s concept of manliness.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have a response.  Mr. Cohen, in “Goodbye to the Scaramouche,” discusses a president with a codpiece and a former Marine Corps general trying to rein him in.  Here’s Bobo:

The Trump administration is certainly giving us an education in the varieties of wannabe manliness.

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. There’s Trump’s man-crush on Vladimir Putin and the firing of insufficiently manly Reince Priebus.

With this crowd, it’s man-craving all the way down.

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.

Greek manliness started from a different place than ours does now. For the ancient Greeks, it would have been incomprehensible to count yourself an alpha male simply because you can run a trading floor or sell an apartment because you gilded a faucet handle.

For them, real men defended or served their city, or performed some noble public service. Braying after money was the opposite of manliness. For the Greeks, that was just avariciousness, an activity that shrunk you down into a people-pleasing marketer or hollowed you out because you pursued hollow things.

The Greeks admired what you might call spiritedness. The spirited man defies death in battle, performs deeds of honor and is respected by those whose esteem is worth having.

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 prowessand 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.

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.

Take the savage feuding that marks the Trump White House and put it on steroids and you get some idea of Greek culture. The Greek tragedies describe cycles of revenge and counter-revenge as manly men and women wreak death and destruction on each other.

So the Greeks took manliness to the next level. 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.

The magnanimous man tries to master the profession of statecraft because he believes, with the Athenian ruler Solon, that the well-governed city “makes all things wise and perfect in the world of men.” The magnanimous leader tries to beautify his city, to arouse people’s pride in and love for it. He encourages citizens to get involved in great civic projects that will give their lives meaning and allow everybody to partake in the heroic action that was once reserved for the aristocratic few.

The magnanimous man has a certain style. He is a bit aloof, marked more by gravitas than familiarity. He shows perfect self-control because he has mastered his passions. He does not show his vulnerability. His relationships are not reciprocal. He is eager to grant favors but is ashamed of receiving them. His personal life can wither because he has devoted himself to disinterested public service.

The magnanimous man believes that politics practiced well is the noblest of all professions. No other arena requires as much wisdom, tenacity, foresight and empathy. No other field places such stress on conversation and persuasion. The English word “idiot” comes from the ancient Greek word for the person who is uninterested in politics but capable only of running his or her own private affairs.

Today, we’re in a crisis of masculinity. Some men are unable to compete in schools and in labor markets because the stereotype of what is considered “man’s work” is so narrow. In the White House, we have phony manliness run amok.

But we still have all these older models to draw from. 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.

Isn’t it odd that Bobo couldn’t come up with Barack Obama as an example of the magnanimous man…  Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

“The real lesson of the Trump administration is that it’s giving us a daily education in the fruits of the nihilistic Republican platform of unfettered greed complemented by infinitely cultured American stupidity.

What led us to this obvious catastrophe was 35-plus years of sustained psychopathic right-wing greed while simultaneously drowning the national IQ in a bathtub of God-Guns-Gays, hate radio, Fake News channel and Up Is Down stupidity.

The Republican political platform, fundamentally and comprehensively predicated on excess greed and excess stupidity, was bound to wreck something if left to blossom.

There’s nothing manly about greediness or stupidity, our Moron-In-Chief’s two shining attributes.

In the Art of the Idiot, our Idiot-In-Chief said:

“The point is that you can’t be too greedy.”

Dumber words were never written or spoken.

The fact that 60 million systematically stupified Americans thought it wise to place a lecherous, unlearned, lying Lothario and demonstrated Con Artist grifter in supreme power is evidence not of wannabe manliness, but of real exceptional stupidity.

The word ‘idiot’ means a “person so mentally deficient as to be incapable of ordinary reasoning”, “simple man, uneducated person, layman”, “ignorant person.”

That Trump is in the Oval Office wreaking national and international stupidity on an hourly basis is the manifest destiny of the Party of Stupid.

Perhaps collapsing the national IQ for cold cash wasn’t such a bright idea after all.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

So the Scaramouch, a stock clown figure of old Italian comedy, is goneas White House communications director. Anthony Scaramucci’s foul mouth was never going to pass muster in a White House run by a retired United States Marine Corps general. John Kelly, President Trump’s new chief of staff, duly took care of him.

Scaramucci was perfect right down to his name. The Scaramouch, to quote my Webster’s dictionary, was a “braggart and a poltroon” in the theater that emerged in 16th-century Italy. Boastfulness and cowardice are Trump trademarks, one the other face of the other. In his White House job, Scaramucci communicated stupidity above all.

Good riddance to him. After he’d unloaded his bile, Scaramucci askedus all in a tweet to pray for his family, which seemed a bit rich. Still, I do want to thank the Scaramouch. He came straight from Central Casting. In his total absence of dignity and decorum, his violence and his vulgarity, he was the emblem par excellence of the Trump White House. That reports of his wife filing for divorce surfaced during his brief apotheosis completed the picture. Fast-talking and fatuous, self-important and servile, he embodied the “commedia dell’arte” of Trump’s dysfunctional crew.

The commedia featured larger-than-life stock characters like the Scaramouch. They included deluded old men, devious servants, craven braggarts and starry-eyed lovers. The president, at 71, is clearly a “vecchio,” or elder. He is probably best imagined as the miserly Venetian known as Pantalone wandering around in red breeches with the oversized codpiece of the would-be womanizer.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, fits the bill as the “Dottore,” who, as Jennifer Meagher writes in an essay, is “usually depicted as obese and red-cheeked from drinking.” I’m tempted to offer the role of the belligerent, windy “Il Capitano,” or Captain, to Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Trump, who recently told the BBC that, “The military is not a microcosm of civilian society. They are not there to reflect America. They are there to kill people and blow stuff up.”

The lovers, of course, have to be Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — they of the almost bloodless perfection — whose doting father complicates their sumptuous lives by bestowing upon them titles and tasks for which they are unqualified. The lovers grow quieter and quieter but are so pale they are unable to blush.

Will Kelly close down the “commedia?” The White House is supposed to run the free world. It’s time for seriousness. The president, busy and colorful and burrowing as a chipmunk, appears to have awoken to some vague desire for discipline that Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus, was unable to provide.

It has to be said, in passing, that Priebus and “cojones” are utter strangers to each other. Ousted, Priebus confused taking the high road — territory unknown to this administration — with gelatinous loyalty to the president who knifed him. It is hard to keep up with these guys. If one tries too hard the urge to take a shower and scrub off the oleaginous ooze becomes overwhelming.

But back to Kelly: I doubt, however tough the new chief of staff may be, that the commedia is at an end. The Scaramouch was just a stand-in for the president he professed to love. The real “braggart and poltroon” sits in the Oval Office. The key to understanding him is probably that oversize codpiece.

What but some profound sense of inadequacy could explain the neediness and the nastiness, the pout and the pettiness, the vanity and the vulgarity, the anger and the aggression? This president gets off on the humiliation of others. He is inhabited by some deep violence to which self-control is a stranger. It is almost painful to watch the degree to which he pursues self-aggrandizement. He confounds masculinity with machismo. As J.K. Rowling put it in a tweet: “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man.”

In a single week, Trump reminded everyone — if a reminder were needed — just how mean he is. He tweeted an announcement that he had reinstated a ban on transgender individuals serving in “any capacity” in the United States armed forces, and suggested during a visit to Suffolk County Community College in New York that he wanted law enforcement to be “rough” on suspects.

The transgender decision (the one Gorka defended to the BBC by exalting the military’s mission to kill people) was, in the words of Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, “an engine of malice.” It illustrated how, “In the realm of moral leadership, President Trump is leading a race to the bottom.” The military promptly said policy would remain unchanged until the White House sends the Defense Department new rules. The police department in Suffolk County also pushed back; it would not tolerate brutality.

Multiple forces in American society are pushing back against Trump. But this is the president we have: turbulent, chaotic, boastful, cowardly and violent. He thrives on the commedia that brought the bilious Scaramouch to the White House. Kelly’s task is enormous. Because life is not comedy, much depends on his success: things like war and peace, for example.

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