Donald Trump is a macho fantasy of a president
Donald Trump’s campaign manager has been charged with battery for manhandling a female reporter, some of his supporters are notoriously fast with their fists, and the candidate himself does not hold back from sending out tweets that are equivalent to a poke in the eye or a kick between the legs. This is a campaign made for mobsters.
Last week, tough guy Trump provoked his main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, into a fit of histrionic chest puffing when, via Twitter, he disseminated an image to millions of his fans that paired a photo of his own glamorous third wife with a distinctly unflattering shot of Mrs. Cruz. The message was obvious: “I am the alpha male with the hot babe in my bed; Cruz is a weak loser married to a homely shrew.”
Thanks to Trump, the 2016 campaign for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has descended to a primal level. Unlike Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who have contained their disagreements to quibbles over policy, Trump and Cruz are like two bull elk locking horns in a battle for domination of the herd. While polls indicate a majority of Americans are appalled by the spectacle, Trump supporters clearly love it. They are drawn to Trump less for his program — thin as it is — than for his imposing persona. They have bought into the idea that, as president, he would face down the Chinese, the Mexicans, corporate leaders, Islamic terrorists and Vladimir Putin and bully them into doing his will.
This vision of leadership is better suited to a gangster movie than to 21st century geopolitics, but it indicates how some people have a strong inclination toward viewing international relations as an elemental clash of warlords. For people who picture the world in such simple terms, the complex and nuanced diplomacy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel or U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry feels weak, unheroic and forever unresolved, while the brash aggressions of Putin seem bold, muscular and even admirable.
Hollywood has encouraged this conception of the president as action hero. In the nearly identical White House disaster films, “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down,” the president rises from the destruction ready for combat. In “Independence Day,” the president flies a fighter jet to lead an aerial attack on the invading aliens. In “Air Force One,” Harrison Ford plays a commander in chief who personally takes out the bad guys.
In real life, we have not had very many presidents with an action hero aura. George W. Bush had the swagger, but still seemed the hapless tool of his vice president. Bill Clinton certainly had the lively libido of a major league playboy, but still was just a doughy white guy who couldn’t resist a donut or a Big Mac. Even though he was an actual war hero, the first President Bush had to deal with “the wimp factor.” Ronald Reagan probably came the closest to matching expectations of a masculine war chief. He had the advantage of being a movie star, which means much of his manly style was artifice. Nevertheless, he was a capable horseman, and a leader on horseback cannot help but conjure up echoes of George Washington and Richard the Lionheart.
Arguably, only one other recent White House resident comes close to the criteria for a movie-worthy president. He has the unflappable cool of Clint Eastwood, the fluid stride of Denzel Washington and the smart, sardonic attitude of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. He is Barack Obama.
You don’t buy it? Fine, then stick with Donald Trump, the Tony Soprano of American politics.
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