FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Gendered Degeneration of American Politics

Christopher Lasch, in The Culture of Narcissism–American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, published all the way back in 1979, said:

“Success in our society has to be ratified by publicity all politics becomes a form of spectacle. It is well known that Madison Avenue packages politicians and markets them as if they were cereals or deodorants; but the art of public relations penetrates more deeply into political life The modern prince [an apt turn of phrase for the current member of the Bush political dynasty] confuses successful completion of the task at hand with the impression he makes or hopes to make on others. Thus American officials blundered into the war in Vietnam More concerned with the trappings than with the reality of power, they convinced themselves that failure to intervene would damage American ‘credibility’ [They] fret about their ability to rise to crisis, to project an image of decisiveness, to give a convincing performance of executive power Public relations and propaganda have exalted the image and the pseudo-event.”

And so today we come to the comic political opera of the Swift Boat tempest, with the George W. Bush publicity apparatus baited by the John Kerry publicity apparatus. Now the spectacle is a strident dick-measuring contest over military service records.

It goes without saying–or does it?–that the image of the warrior-king and the pseudo-events of political conventions have now decisively sidelined any meaningful public discourse about the actual situation in which the world finds itself.

I think we can salvage some meaning by looking more closely not at the electoral implications of this political dogfight, but at the cultural ones. Before the Democratic Leadership Council enjoined the political assassination of Howard Dean–whose insurgency within the Party was trifling, but important on one account and that was his stated opposition to Bush’s Napoleonic delusion in Iraq–there was a new energy, semi-conscious as it was, emerging inside the Party, and that energy was rooted in the mass movement that had materialized against the post-911 neocon lunacy, especially the plan to invade Iraq. Fearing a conscientized popular base every bit as much as the reptilian Karl Rove (remember Clinton’s Dick Morris?), the Democrat Party bosses opted not to risk a position on the war.

Instead, they would mount an ad hominem campaign using the zombie Kerry and his moment of alleged martial courage in an earlier failed occupation to paint AWOL-George as a chickenhawk.

I saw it coming like a freight train, and felt like taking a purgative, when John Kerry “reported for duty” at the Democratic National Contrivance.

They had tested the mood of a culture re-indoctrinated to military masculinity, with fare from Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down to the military-male-revenge fantasies of Steven Seagal films, with the CNN docudramas produced by embedded reporters, and with our collective memory of what Robert Connell has called “frontier masculinity” embodied in the mythologies of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. (The film The Alamo was just redone last year.)

Thus we see the inevitable declension of the “chickenhawk” indictment of Bush into its ultimate masculine absurdity. I have said before, and I’ll say it again–and this will hurt the feelings of some fellow veterans–we never should have gone there.

It’s one thing to call him out on his “Bring ’em on” bluster. He said that from an air conditioned office, and it would have made not a whit of difference if he had a leg full of shrapnel and chest full of fruit salad on his mothballed uniform. It was stupid and hypocritical under any circumstance. But reaffirming the sick premise that armed combat is some male right of passage, as this chickenhawk business tacitly does, is plain militarism at its gendered worst.

Robert Connell wrote Masculinities, a book I suggest every male read for his own good within the next week, and in it he showed, among other things, how martial masculinity evolved as an ideological reflection of empire-building. The battle of the Alamo, it must be said, was about expansionism and protecting slavery. Teddy Roosevelt built his reputation on the imperial subjugation of dark foreigners.

“Cowboys and Indians” is a male-child’s game of genocide. Connell writes, “With masculinity defined as a character structure marked by rationality, and western civilization defined as the bearer of reason to a benighted world, a cultural link between the legitimation of patriarchy and the legitimation of empire was forged.”

He goes on, however, to describe this same military masculinity in its more irrational fascist guise–reflected on the silver screen in psychosexual bloodbaths like The Rock, and a long list of revenge-fantasy films featuring the likes of Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarznegger, and Sylvester Stallone. “In gender terms, fascism was a naked reassertion of male supremacy in societies that had been moving towards equality for women. To accomplish this, fascism promoted new images of hegemonic masculinity, glorifying irrationality (the ‘triumph of the will’, thinking with ‘the blood’) and the unrestrained violence of the frontline soldier.”

Take note there is real content to the Swift Boat controversy after all.

These two brothers in the same grave-robbing fraternity (Skull and Bones claims to have Geronimo’s skull–an imperial war souvenir), who are now snapping at each other with bared teeth over questions of combat and courage, are connecting with the public in a most direct and visceral way. They are hooking up with the ennui of destabilized masculinity.

In case anyone is inclined to underestimate the force of this sexual anomie, I would point you to the sexual mutilation that was integral to every lynching campaign in US history, campaigns forged in the flames of white male sexual insecurity. This gender business has material force and immense political power.

Those who stake their feeble political hopes on John Kerry to mount his shabby defense of women’s social emancipation by appointing a couple of judges (He’s already said that positions on reproductive freedom will not be a litmus test for these appointments.) have not considered the enormous betrayal of women’s emancipatory project embedded in the big-dick strategy of “reporting for duty.”

The gender regulation of women’s lives by the state pales in comparison to the control exercised by the culture itself, reinforced by exactly the kind of trope inhering in the Kerry campaign’s shameless pimping of his military 201-file.

The direct supervisory violence against women has seldom come from the state; instead it has been a family affair–protected for many decades from public intervention by the state’s definition of privacy. While the fight for legal equality has always been important in the fight against male supremacy, the decisive battle is the fight against the cultural hegemony of masculine-feminine scripts.

There is a daily tidal wave of images of women every day in this society–images internalized by women and men from birth–that are degradingly subservient. That internalization IS hegemony, and it regulates more powerfully than any law ever could. Take this away, and legal inequality will scatter like a house of cards before the terrible wind of women’s latent political power.

John Kerry has held out this crumb of limited legal equality to women, and in the same breath embraced the culture of violent masculinity as a political weapon that will always–in the final instance–be aimed at women. This tactic may well backfire on Kerry, and not merely as the ham-handed attack ads sponsored by Republican surrogates nowadays.

The reactionary white male base of the Republican Party is not nearly as equivocal in its defense of male prerogative as many Democrats are, and consistency matters. Those men who are listening with their beset phalli to the subtexts of the political campaign will respond to the Party that has consistently opposed every threat to male hegemony–from opposition to reproductive choice to the call for a constitutional amendment imposing compulsory heterosexism on marriage to opposing ANY manifestation of women’s social agency. Gender has political juice, and for those to whom it matters, they don’t want theirs watered down.

War is to man what maternity is to woman. -Benito Mussolini

This is where Kerry has gone–Bush, of course, was already there–whether he knows it or not. And this is where the chickenhawk argument has taken us all. Like everything else with this election, we are seeing the important social movements sidelined to watch the big dogs go at each other and they are not our dogs.

STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee. His periodic essays on the military can be found at http://www.freedomroad.org/home.html. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is bthn@mfso.org.

Goff can be reached at: sherrynstan@igc.org

 

More articles by:
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail