Authors Look at Donald Trump as Vince Lombardi, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Wayne

From a story by John Harris in Politico Magazine titled, “Is Donald Trump a Manly Man?”:

The House impeachment and Senate trial of Donald Trump have offered good occasion to listen to and understand the minds of his defenders. Even people who dislike parts of his character or record invoke certain words again and again to describe the parts they do like.

In interviews and emails, these backers tell me they regard Trump as “strong.” His battles with adversaries reveal him as “tough.” What in a conventional light looks outrageous—the bragging, the insults, the defiance, the rule skirting, the shredding of familiar standards of how a president should act—in this more sympathetic light looks like charisma. It gives him the aura of “a winner.”

To put a fine point on it, his backers regard him as a real man—possessed of a virility that flows not in spite of his excesses but because of them. In these minds, Trump represents a certain ideal of male power in exaggerated form. . . .

For insight, I checked in this week with three well-known authors who in different ways have made themselves authorities on these old virtues. I worked with all three in my years at The Washington Post. All three have won a Pulitzer Prize.

David Maraniss wrote a best-selling biography of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. Rick Atkinson has written histories of World War II and the Revolutionary War, with emphasis on illuminating the characters of generals and average soldiers alike. Glenn Frankel has written histories of two classic Westerns—“The Searchers” and “High Noon”—and their iconic male stars, John Wayne and Gary Cooper. . . .

“The contradiction,” Maraniss told me, “is that the people who are so adoring of Trump’s breaking of every norm and code of honor will still uphold and believe in that model of a better and innocent past.”

That includes Trump himself. During the 2016 campaign, he gave an interview to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post in which he talked at length about seeing Lombardi in action as a young man. As recounted by Trump, Lombardi came in a room and gained the loyalty of much larger and more powerful players by terrorizing them with anger. . . .

World War II leaders like Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall, Atkinson said, in their core values were linear descendants of George Washington and other founders. They all believed in—even if they didn’t always live up to—a similar moral code: “belief in an ideal greater than self,” responsibility to others, “a becoming modesty” in self, and a “tendency to deplore braggadocio” in others.

In Trump, by contrast, Atkinson sees a “physical coward” who avoided Vietnam-era military service through a dubious claim of bone spurs yet has no compunction toward undermining the military code of honor in the Gallagher case and “disparaging people who served honorably.”. . .

Frankel notes that the screen heroes he wrote about were different than Trump in a key sense. They are usually “reluctant heroes” who find themselves in danger not by choice but by circumstance and “intuitively know the difference between right and wrong.”

“For Trump,” Frankel asserted, “there is no right and wrong,” only a transactional code that always leaves room to maneuver for advantage.

But he added that the Trump mythology is not entirely different than Hollywood’s Western mythology, featuring solitary figures who refuse to bend to conventional mores.

Beyond myth, he notes, is reality; the real-life John Wayne looked with disapproval at the rapid changes in American culture and likely would have felt at home in the Trump movement. Little wonder that in 2016 Trump made an appearance at Wayne’s Iowa birthplace and won the endorsement of his daughter.

“Wayne,” Frankel said, “had contempt for his enemies, too.”



  1. Barnard Collier says

    Trump is afraid for himself, not others, just as his followers are.

    The cowards follow Trump.

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