It’s what we say, isn’t it? When Trump does some insane, gross, shabby, cruel, unheard of thing — which happens pretty much several times a day, everyday — we remind ourselves that “this” isn’t normal. It’s a way of resisting what he’s doing, of refusing to “normalize” him; his greedy, grubby family; his anti-American administration; his regular violations of the Constitution. “This is not normal; none of this is normal,” we say to each other, tweet, post on Facebook.
Except that, part of it is. Part of it is entrenched so deeply in Patriarchy that we almost don’t notice it, kind of the way that fish don’t notice water. What part is that? Let me give you a list of names and see if you can identify what they have in common.
- Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners
- Fred Flintstone from The Flintstones
- Archie Bunker from All in the Family
- King Triton from The Little Mermaid
- Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- King Lear
- Your Uncle Who Ruins Every Thanksgiving Dinner
- That Boss You Had
Some of you may be too young to have watched The Honeymooners, but here’s Wikipedia’s description of Ralph Kramden: “Ralph is frustrated by his lack of success, and often develops get-rich-quick schemes. Ralph is very short tempered, frequently resorting to bellowing, insults and hollow threats.” Ralph is obviously less intelligent than his wife, Alice, who regularly has to deal with the results of Ralph’s crazy schemes. In almost every show, Ralph waves his balled-up fist at Alice, and yells, “To the Moon, Alice, to the Moon!” Canned laughter always follows this threat of wife-beating. Yet, Wikipedia assures us, as the show’s writers carefully did, that “Well-hidden beneath the many layers of bluster, however, is a soft-hearted man who loves his wife and is devoted to his best pal, Ed Norton.” Ralph was an insecure bully and a buffoon, but, because he was a man, those traits were completely forgivable. The audience had to accept him as soft-hearted guy who really loved his wife and friend.
Fred Flintstone? A stone-age version of Ralph, with just a little bit less spousal abuse thrown in for comedy. But lovable. Archie Bunker? Ralph with more emphasis on ignorant prejudices and a penchant for verbally abusing his wife, rather than threatening to hit her so hard she’d land on the Moon. But lovable. King Triton? Ralph without a wife but a terrible tyrant with cruel rules. But lovable. Big Daddy? Ralph in the South with an Archie-like penchant for verbally abusing his wife and children. But lovable. King Lear? A regal Ralph, a fool who misjudged people and caused all sorts of death and chaos. But lovable. Your uncle and your boss? Well, you fill in the blanks.
In fact, from cartoons, to tv shows, to Shakespeare, the idea of an ignorant buffoon to whom everyone must kowtow and whose messes others are regularly required to clean up — generally without letting said buffoon know that they’re doing so — is a staple of our culture. And we’re taught to love that buffoon and accept that, despite the buffoon’s behavior, the buffoon really has a soft heart and is, deep down, a good person. Well, as long as the buffoon is a man. No woman who behaved the way Ralph et al. behave would ever be seen as soft hearted, lovable, good.
So it’s not completely accurate for us to say that Trump — a blustering buffoon; a venal man, full of prejudices; a shyster in love with get-rich quick schemes that leave those foolish enough to trust him bankrupt and broken; a man who mistreats women; a boss who regularly messes up and needs his underlings to clean-up behind him — is not normal. He may be an extreme example of the trope, but we’ve been taught from childhood to accept men like him, to work around them, to look for the good in them, to keep believing that they’ll be better next time. And you can see this socialization in Trump’s supporters: the guys who say, “Aw, I know he talks a lot of shit, but I think he’ll help out coal miners,” or the women who say, “I didn’t think he’d deport my husband or take away my health care.” We can’t imagine how they can accept him, but their culture has taught them to accept men like him and to believe that, deep down, they’re really well-meaning.
All of which, in my opinion, makes it even more important for us to keep pointing out what Trump is doing and to insist that “This isn’t normal.” And we need to do the same when we read our children stories about kings who won’t let their daughters sing or talk to humans, when we see a play about a Southern patriarch who blusters and mistreats his family, when our uncle ruins Thanksgiving dinner.
Hat tip to Propane Jane @docrocktex26 for first pointing out the relationship between Trump and how our culture normalizes male pathology.