November 14, 2016

SWAN | Expression in the Era of Trump and Pseudo-Masculinity

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When I was much younger, around four or five years of age, I played soccer on a YMCA little league team. Yet, as I’ve been subsequently told, rare was it that I actually joined in and played the game with the other kids. I possessed no interest in the ball and I instead preferred to run around carefree behind my team, acting out my own fantastical Power Rangers- or epic action-adventure. After soccer came a brief, two-year stint in little league baseball during elementary school. My brazen defiance of the rules in both of these sports indicated to my parents that organized sports were indeed not my forte (and around this time I began taking piano lessons).

Surely this story conjures a similar set of memories for many other young people. It was once a societal given, particularly in the United States, that young men be outwardly masculine and indulgent of such things as sports and general athleticism. Fortunately, this nuclear norm has been gradually disintegrating over the past couple of decades, so that any young person can choose to foster a love for things like creativity and artistic expression in addition to (or instead of) “traditional” male pursuits. I like the above story because I think of it as one of the first instances where I chose to entertain these more cerebral pleasures. It is certainly a precursive snapshot of the man that I currently am; one who plays the piano, one who hangs a Les Miserables poster in his room, one who finds the greatest pleasure in the elegance of Fitzgerald’s prose and one who writes self-indulgent columns for the Arts section of a college newspaper.

This type of expressive freedom is only possible in a culture that accepts its existence. I suppose this is largely a result of specific parenting techniques and traditions. Yet, it also has to be some testament to society at large and its given values, including the qualities and characteristics of the officials and government it elects. Such figures act as representatives of and role models for their broader constituencies, and so, needless to say, last Tuesday night has me rather alarmed, to say the least.

Before talking about Trump, I think it’s important to discuss the president that he’ll be succeeding. Politics aside, Barack Obama has indeed proven his credibility as a champion of the arts and general self-expression. Much of this is made evident through his use of music throughout his presidency. One instance of Obama’s personal musicality lies in the two playlists he curated on Spotify in August of 2015. The first one, “Day,” feels like a legendary sonic narrative of the daily strife Obama and other Americans must experience, while “Night” assumes a profound air of intimacy with some reflective love songs. There was also his incredibly poignant rendition of “Amazing Grace” following the Charleston Church Shooting, indicative of his own sense of humility as well as music’s power of bringing together any individuals across any divides. Is it all just political pandering? I’d like to think not, as Obama was not seeking any sort of reelection during these two events. Furthermore, the mutual admiration in his relationship with Michelle Obama that he displays to the public portrays qualities of sensitivity and respect. This clearly validates the glimpses of expression that we have seen from him.

Alas, sigh, all good things must pass, and so usher in the age of Trump, the pseudo-masculine, “tough guy” persona that he assumes and the various disgusting tidbits of his banter that have been blown to smithereens and punchlines by so many media outlets. Such an identity is only new to the realm of American presidential politics. Indeed, we have all seen other celebrities or know individuals personally who share similar views and act in identical ways, but never in a US president. A Trump presidency will likely validate this behavior among the group of males who voted for him, and this is one prospect of his executive tenure that scares me the most. Will there be a generation of young people raised under this lack of emotional sensitivity and expression? Will young boys feel pressured to adopt a Trump-like persona, young girls to abide by its implications? Must these gender and expressive norms once again become so black and white? I hope not, but only time will tell.

Trump’s public persona and demeanor represent the exact opposite of the compassion that other elected role models, like Obama, convey. During his presidency, it will be crucial to keep an open mind to love, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and self-expression.

Nick Swan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. His column Swan’s Song runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.