The Atlantic had a couple of very pertinent articles in its most recent issue. The first, “Trump’s Intellectuals” by Peter Beinhart, discusses the recurrent desire of people (or is it just men?) to get rid of corrupt alpha males through the agency of an even greater alpha male.
In the contemporary iteration, anonymous posters on a short-lived website, “Journal of American Greatness” “made a highbrow case for overthrowing America’s existing political order and replacing it with the raw, dynamic, intoxicating energy of Donald Trump”, Beinhart writes. According to these conservatives, the American political elite is depraved, decadent and corrupt. Trump would ride in as the “saviour” to sweep it all clean so the “will of the people” could regain its sovereignty.
This is a belief in nothing but primitive and animalistic alpha male competition. Older even than the human species, it’s how the great predators operate. Have human beings really not advanced beyond this? After thousands of years of violence and killing, have we not yet figured out that a system in which the most brutal and powerful man rules is not a system beneficial to any but a handful of priviledged players?
It may be that the young, virile and powerful lion who takes down the pride’s male (and then kills all his predecessor’s offspring) is a perfectly normal lion, but in the case of human beings such an alpha male is a psychopath.
Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler are just a few of the most recent names that spring to mind (recent in the entire history of humankind). Each of them was more than willing to destroy millions of lives in the service of their personal mission to remake a part of the earth in their own image.
There’s a powerful myth at work here and it’s linked to the desire for male heroes. Both women and men seem to crave some powerful “knight in shining armour” to come to the rescue, kill the bad guys and restore order. Heroes let ordinary men off the hook, don’t they? But for some men, the desire to be a hero can become an obsession. It’s a terribly pathological desire, this need to be an idol.
When we talk about heroes, knights, alpha males and saviours, we’re also talking about charisma. And The Atlantic has a brief article called “The Charisma Effect” a few pages after the Trump article. Its author, Matthew Hutson, misses entirely any connection between gender and charisma.
He begins by noting that people want more than intelligence and integrity in a leader — they want someone with charisma. He says scholars have struggled to define the enigma of charisma. It seems to me pretty easy to distinguish the first and most important attribute of charisma. It’s masculinity. More men are more frequently called charismatic than women. Routinely these days political commentators are casually describing Hillary Clinton as having as much charisma as a turnip. Doesn’t this deserve questioning?
We don’t see women as heroic. We don’t see them as knights in armour, or as saviours. Because of that, we don’t see them as charismatic. Charisma, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Who we find charismatic says everything about us and very little about the object of our perception.
Personally I find Clinton very charismatic. But then I love intelligence, frankness, attention to detail and a restrained demeanour.
I don’t find alpha males remotely charismatic. My question is, are there enough people in America today who think maybe instead of replacing one alpha male with another, maybe they should shove them all aside and give a bunch of women the keys to the White House and all its associated corridors of power? That would be a real change, wouldn’t it?