While both anger and angst mount in the prelude to the presidential election in the U.S., pundits muse over polls, personalities, ideologies, platforms, and coffers. A penetrating ad here, a surprising endorsement there, a rally here, a virtual speech there…all of it engineered to capture both the imagination and the voting “X” of millions of voters.
And yet, from the perspective of an outsider, inexplicably and clearly irrationally glued to the many screens, there is an underlying dynamic driving the United States of America that, unless fully undressed, laid bare, declared anathema for the last time, grieved, mourned and then cast overboard, will continue to haunt the nation, and by proliferation, much of the world. That dynamic is paranoid patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and the venal seed of “intimidation” at its core.
For decades, it has been clear that how one perceives the male, both ideal and less so, has played a significant role in determining who occupies the Oval Office. In 2000, when advisers put Al Gore in a tan suit, as a way to soften his image as ‘preacher,’ in comparison with George W. Bush’s Texas swagger, something happened in my reporter’s gut that told me this was not a good sign for Gore, my clear choice for president. In 2004, when Kerry was pilloried in the swift-boat ads, once again the Republicans strutted their capacity, willingness and surgical precision to ‘go for the jugular’ of the Viet Nam vet and eventual war protester. Even in the midst of the Iraq war, yet still not recovered from the devastation of 9/11, Bush was victorious. And then came Obama, the Roman Candle of prophetic promise, the first black candidate with so much charm, charisma, intellect, grace and an almost mythical aura and after John McCain defended his integrity, authenticity and legitimacy in the face of a racist Muslim charge, he triumphed over the former prisoner of war. The over-reach by the McCain camp in selecting Palin contributed negatively to his demise at the ballot box.
In 2012, when Obama faced Romney, and outed his recorded embarrassment at a fund raiser, there was a tension between the masculinity/power/ of the corporate elite against the intellectual elite on the heels of an economic recovery on the horizon, following the 2008 collapse. However power is perceived by the people is an integral, if highly subjective and amorphous component, of the eventual outcome of the presidential race. Whether that ‘power’ is deemed to be strong enough to stand on the world stage in the face of world leaders, both allies and enemies, is more than a minimal determinant of the result. And should one candidate actually ‘score’ a lethal blow on the opponent, in the eyes of the people, as if the race were a re-enactment of the traditional western movie, his poll numbers almost invariable rise. That blow might come from an especially pungent ad, or from a debate line that stops the opponent in his tracks. The candidate who both “wears” the uniform of power in a manner than is congruent with the expectations, needs, aspirations and fears of the majority of voters and expresses and incarnates both the image and the words and the projected promise and hope of the people has an edge in the campaign.
The race for the White House is the apocryphal epitome of how power is envisioned, how power is about to be deployed and how that power is to serve, ironically and paradoxically, as a surrogate for the profound feelings of powerlessness of the majority of people. Naturally, this symbol of power, especially in a culture that is personality-addicted, star-gazed, gossip-driven, and even if merely cardboard-cut-out sketched, takes on to a large degree both the aspirations and the fears of the people.
Projection of both the ideals and worst fears of the mass of people are, of course, the stuff of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that pull levers, mark ballots, write cheques and staff phone banks for candidates. And projections are, by definition, unconscious, rendering the whole process much more than is ever depicted by the empirical data in which the national media tread water.
After seven decades of working for, beside, among, and sometimes with various male teachers, coaches, principals, bosses, CEO’s, bishops and archbishops, it is clear that the quality, the resilience, the androgyny and the sheer confidence and spine of the male leaders, and thereby their respective organizations, have been and continue to be in a struggle to either replace or to find for the first time their individual spine.
Males, over the last half century, in families, schools, churches, colleges and especially in corporations including the military, the justice system, and the medical profession have demonstrated a missing and balancing trait. Call it spine, or call it courage, or call it confidence, or call it equanimity. And we/they have built their little empires on the quick-sand of their paranoia. Of course, the degree and depth of this paranoia varies significantly. Yet the most significant aspect of its ubiquity is its denial by the very men whose deportment, attitudes and beliefs reveal it.
While the culture of the education edifice has tended to integrate both men and women, at least in the classroom, to a far higher degree than in many sectors, the culture of the military, the church and the corporation is so tilted in the direction of paranoid patriarchy as to justify the formal charge from a Canadian writer and law professor. Resurfacing in the website, The Ink (September 22, 2020), the website authored by Anand Girdharadas, Joel Bakan, author of the previously famous book and documentary entitled The Corporation, in which he called big business psychopathic, Bakan has resurfaced with The New Corporation in which he argues that the psychopaths have learned fraudulent kindness.
Picking up on a story from a woman attending a book signing, Girdharadas heard her words: What you are describing in your book-these moves by corporations to hurt society while making show of doing good—this is what abusive men do. They hurt you while telling you they love you. I know this because I survived one.
He then recalled those words, upon learning of Bakan’s latest project. His website pays tribute to Bakan in these words:
(Joel Bakan) has reported a sweeping story of how corporations began to recognize their reputation as abusers and began to hug their communities tighter while hurting them more and more. The hugs enabled the hurt. The promises that things would be different helped keep things the same.
The excerpt from the Bakan project on The Ink website focuses on the huge sums of money being spent on an industry that teaches corporations how to deal with the first signs of discontent among workers, in order to ward off any and all initiatives that might lead to worker organization, especially unions. In addition, it details the development of highly sophisticated technology that monitors every move of every worker, in a determined thrust to get more work out of every worker with, even chiding them for going too slowly. Corporations have even generated computer games in which each worker is placed in competition with his/her co-workers, on a screen displayed in a supervisor’s office. They have also installed vending machines with individual packets of pain killers on the workplace floor, so that workers can continue to work, while in pain.
Patriarchic paranoia is such a radio-active component of the North American culture, and is so embedded in the very ‘soil’ of that culture, that given the public discourse about all things visible, measurable, empirically verifiable, including poll numbers, profit and loss statements, share prices, class sizes, parish sizes and collection plate numbers, sales data, views and likes on any webpage, it is little wonder that it is rarely mentioned in polite company. There are other reasons for its meager exposure. The power structure is dominated by male figures, not only in numbers of persons, and in size of incomes for the same work, but so are the premises on which the culture operates.
These observations, while exposed in Bakan’s The New Corporation, have been carpeting the television and phone screens in epic proportions since the day trump slid down that escalator to announce his candidacy. One can reasonably assume a similar parallel culture in which he operated his business venture bore the same signature of paranoia, mistreatment of workers, tenants, potential purchasers, investors, and casino patrons. All the while seducing the customer with the promise of care, trump has become the master of not the deal, as he would have us believe, but rather the “seduction”. And there are millions of Americans, polls put their numbers as high as 40%, who have been steeped in the koolaid of this highly patriarchal, yet also profoundly paranoid, masculinity.
Promises that vastly exceed delivery, character assassinations that trumpet pugilistic muscle, pronouncements that prophesy premature end of COVID-19, and the warped-speed delivery of vaccinations, the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and ingesting bleach, encasing children in cages, trumpeting violence while masquerading as the law and order candidate…the litany will be the subject of doctoral theses for decades…all of this as evidence of an empty, frightened, paranoid man the worst representative of masculinity to have sat in the Oval Office.
And yet the travesty of this paranoid patriarchy is not confined to the Oval Office. Like COVID-19 itself, it spreads itself through masks, meetings, phone calls, video conferences, over dinners and drinks, across social media and into the stock markets, the corporate board rooms, and into the ecclesial offices of priests, bishops. It is not detectible by any known instruments to science, including even the most advanced technologies tracking the movements, and even the emotions of corporate workers. It is not measurable on the radar screens of aircraft controllers, nor on the MIR machines in the most advanced hospitals, nor through their CAT-scans. There is no therapeutic that mediates its influence, especially among cells of men that congregate around the images and the personages of power. There is no research project that is dedicated to producing immunity to its ravages, and there is little hope that the millions of men currently imprisoned in its leg-irons will even search for a key to unlock their own encasement.
The NRA while not totally funded by paranoid patriarchs, nevertheless, has a preponderance of paranoid patriarchs at its head as does the current Department of Justice, led, tragically, by one of the more surprising cultists. Clearly, the Department of Health and Human Services has fallen prey to the overt and covert seduction, as has the COVID-19 task force, along with the Republic male Senators who will confirm their hallowed leader’s nomination for the Supreme Court. According to the latest revelations from the inside of the Mueller Report, that group of investigators too fall victim to the self-imposed emasculation in failing to probe trump’s tax returns and to subpoena the ‘great man’ himself, in order to fully declare his obstruction of justice.
Self-emasculation, among males, is merely the opposite side of the same coin that carries the stench of the macho, narcissistic alpha male. And the emasculated men are themselves, like many women, victims of the paranoid patriarchy. They have become frightened that they will be exposed as wimps but those very men who are themselves, addicted to the masking of their own paranoia with bravado. And they give in to both the radical feminists and the paranoid patriarchs.
“Real Women,” are those evangelical Christians whose subservience to men is biblically based in their literal interpretation of scripture and who cheer-lead their patriarchs blind to the paranoia that infects their male identity. Radical feminists, on the other hand, so frighten many already emasculated men in positions of authority and responsibility that they can and do demand a kind of absolute, zero-tolerance set of rules and regulations as their way of securing the personal safety and sanctity of their sisters and their professional reputations and careers. Relationships between men and women, in all formal and informal organizations, at the individual level, take both parties to exist. And for the notion that inevitably and predictably, in each case in which a complaint is filed, the male is the perpetrator, without full investigation, is unconscionable. And too many men, whether emasculated or pontifical or more likely both, want to escape any messiness that would attend any investigation. Shame, embarrassment, public scorn and contempt is one of the primary, if not the sole, avoidance of paranoid patriarchs. And that shame can be either or both personal or organizational.
It would be unfair to the paranoid patriarchy to divide the emasculated from the pontifical given that each trait depends, darkly and sadly, on the other side of the coin. Domination as exhibited by men like trump only masks deep and abiding insecurity and fear, while emasculation prefers a more ‘contrite’ and potentially even more seductive an approach to the world, to their careers and to the women in their lives.
Only if and when men come to full acknowledgement of their/our fear, insecurities, and yes even paranoia, will they/we open to the gift of authenticity that needs no bravado, dissembling, false promises, and suffocating sycophancy. Nor with they/we depend on a mask of emasculation as our way of saying we are not like those others who currently govern the United States. Authentic masculinity, without doubt, is definitely on the ballot on November 3 and the world is watching.