Eric Trump had an interesting excuse for his father’s remarks on the Access Hollywood tape.
“At the same time, I think it’s locker room banter,” he said, repeating his father’s description of it. “I think sometimes when guys are together they get carried away, and sometimes that’s what happens when alpha personalities are in the same presence.”
The “locker room banter” excuse for bragging about sexual assault has become the go-to lie of the Trump campaign. But the “alpha personalities” excuse is reminiscent of something Franklin Foer wrote about six months ago.
Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…
Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.
In a way, Eric is right to describe his father’s behavior as that of someone with an alpha male fantasy. That’s how Trump wants us to see him. It is similar to how Jane Goodall described her impression of him.
“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”
The question isn’t whether or not Trump sees himself as the alpha male. It’s whether or not someone with that approach to the world is fit to be POTUS. What we’re witnessing right now with Trump’s attacks against the Republicans who are distancing from him is the attempt at dominance from an alpha male. His stalking behind Clinton and threatening to jail her in the last debate was another example of this. Trump’s respect for foreign dictators stems from the fact that he actually admires them as alpha males. But I shudder to think of what he might do as president in a contest for dominance with one of them.
One of the reasons why Trump leads in the polls among men is that there is still an admiration for alpha males in this culture. As I’ve written before, it is this patriarchal notion of dominance that undergirds not only sexism, but racism and most of the other “isms” that continue to plague us. Unless something dramatically changes in the next month, Donald Trump is not going to be our next president. But it is our acquiescence to and admiration of alpha males that we need to grapple with in both our politics and culture.