Vinayak S Rengan
Global politics is in top gear but the handbrakes are still engaged. The car is fast but it screeches as the braked tyres slide across the unpaved roads. Welcome to the era of the Brash Men – They are fast, they scream and shout, they are loud – very loud and they think everyone else is a fool. And yes they are all men. With a limited vocabulary and even more limited intelligence , the car often brakes unsure where to go. They are the new young Turks. Just that they aren’t so young either. When 60 decibels will suffice , they need to use 120 decibels. They lampoon the media but often seek their approval. Their source of information is often limited to late night TV debates on channels they hate. They swear often and their expletive ridden rants are lapped up by their supporters. Misogyny is in vogue now and so is infidelity. Welcome to the world of Duterte, Trump and Zuma.
The masses need an opium. Most often they are satisfied by religion but it often progresses to leadership. Leaderless religions with no one to follow such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the ancient Asian religions of Shintoism have always struggled to proselytise. The shepherd is an essential component of human psyche. Exhausted by the struggles of daily living in a modern world , unable to cope with need for increasing skill sets and higher education – man often wants another man to tell him what to do. Thinking often becomes a waste of time. A strong leader gives them hope. The Macho leader is an enigma. He is not an illiterate man. He is often a successful professional or a consummate businessman. His involvement in politics is often downplayed or non-existent before he becomes the leader. The concept of a incorruptible outsider who will destroy the current corrupt and inefficient political system is an idea that appeals to the ordinary middle class man.
The ordinary middle class man is a man from the majority community ( racial / religious ) who struggles to make ends meet in an increasingly demanding society. All his problems arise from those around him. The minorities have taken his jobs, his college seats , his streets and sometimes even his women. He lives out of his sense of victimhood. He believes that salvation shall arise when a strong male leader from the majority community shall stand up for his rights and teach everyone else a lesson. He is not very educated and complex words befuddle him. He believes that every other country is against his and his understanding of economics is rudimentary despite the fact that he is very good at using the computer to file his taxes. He thinks women need to sit back home and make him roast meat yet his boss at work is a woman.
A similar scenario arose in Europe in the interwar years. Germans stripped of their pre-war might immersed themselves in a vicious mixture of victim hood and exaggerated sense of racial superiority. In this perilous cauldron of self-pity arose leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. They promised them glory and salvation from everything they faced now. Economic issues assumed a racial tone and the great leader gave them hope. Rabble-rousing speeches extolling the virtues of jingoistic nationalism and racial/religious superiority are honey to the ears of the deprived middle class.
Rodrigo Duterte is a prime example of such machismo. He is an mirror image across the Pacific of Trump. The mirror however is mirror right out of R L Stine’s horror stories. A meaner and more politically incorrect version of Trump , Duterte is a successful lawyer who rapidly rose to become the President of Philippines despite being the last person to file the nomination. He has portrayed himself as a rank outsider despite the fact that he was the mayor of Davao for 22 years. The “Punisher” as he is called is a strong votary of death squads to punish drug offenders. Foul-mouthed with a quick temper he is proud of the fact that he has personally killed a few people. Misogynistic attitude is worn on a sleeve and rape jokes are a regular feature on his speeches.
Jacob Zuma, a serial sexual offender who believes that it is a man’s right to touch women without their permission was long seen as a moral successor to the much benign Mandela. His hyperinflated Zulu male pride combined with a perceived moral entitlement due to his role in the anti-apartheid revolution , Zuma proved to be pain in the neck for ANC in South Africa.
His initial popularity couldn’t compensate for rampant corruption and his personal excesses. Recently ousted as the President, Zuma exemplified what is wrong about this world. Each time he was accused of corruption , he blamed imaginary colonial forces who wanted to harm a poor black man. Playing on a sense of black victim hood, all the problems in South Africa apparently arose from the white man hating the black man for his apparent liberation. Dragged to court on rape charges , this serial polygamist has openly said that a woman’s primary role is to get married.
Trump is a softer version yet a more dangerous one by the virtue of being the so called leader of the free world. His faux pas and gaffes have made him the butt of liberal coffee table jokes but the reality is that he is here to stay. Pride, lust and gluttony may be 3 of the 7 cardinal sins but that hasn’t stopped the evangelical zealots from endorsing him. The tea party conservatives conveniently ignore his extra-marital excesses while self-righteously condemning everyone else. A man who said we couldn’t vote for Carly Fiorina because her face looked ugly is the man who has become the President of United States. When asked how he was going to change Miss USA pageant , he said “ Make the bathing suits smaller and the heels higher “. Americans have made him their president. In 2000, he made a list of women whom he would like to sleep with and in 2003 he made a remark about how he thinks his daughter is voluptuous and he would be dating her if she wasn’t his daughter. Americans have made him their president. He infamously tweeted once
The sad part is that a large chunk of America now fits the classical description of the victim card playing jingoistic white male. A man who resorts to blaming mental illness instead of banning assault rifles is not a man who is fit to lead the great nation. Putin was the beginning. The strong man image , the photo shoot with guns and pandering to the idea that the nation is under siege is now a part of a global leadership manual.
The trend isn’t confined to the those mentioned. Viktor Orban Hungary’s prime minister is busy upping populist anti-immigrant rhetoric while creating a alpha male strong man image. Erdogan in Turkey is doing the same. Do they give results? The answer often is a resounding no. Economic decline and unbridled corruption often are the endpoints of such regimes. Zuma’s rule was marked by near “state-capture” by the influential Gupta family. Strong men of European countries are often ruling over states with mountains of public debt.The macho men are here to stay for a long time. No one really knows what the world faces in the next few decades.
Vinayak S Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai, India with a strong interest in socio-political issues and medical technology. He writes on global politics and scientific trends in the world.