By Marpheen Chann
B.A. in Political Science with honors from University of Southern Maine. J.D./MPPM Candidate at the University of Maine School of Law. Currently working in Washington, D.C.
I listened to Trump on NBC's Commander-In-Chief forum the other night. Which is surprising, given that my face usually ends up being smashed in by the prolific number of times I facepalm hearing him talk.
But one thought struck me as I continued to listen and connect the dots between what was said, how it was said, and why certain segments of the electorate would fall for such a buffoon.
I think this has to be America's obsession with the idea of a hyper-masculine, macho leader who doesn't give a hoot about what anyone else thinks. In the meantime, pragmatic leaders conscientious of the times, circumstances, and climate in which they live are not seen as the philosophical and principled leaders that they are, but are seen rather as "cold and calculating," "weak," or "feminine" (think back to Sarah Palin's comment about Obama's "mom jeans").
In fact, this is what both Obama and Clinton share, I believe. A pragmatic, calm, and cool approach to policy and politics.
With Hillary Clinton, the preference for the definition of a leader as "male" is blatant. When she makes a reasonable case in an assertive tone, she is criticized for appearing robotic, shrill, or, if critics were honest, not "womanly."
With Barack Obama, it is more subtle. It is veiled in Trump's and his supporters' new obsession with the leadership qualities of Vladimir Putin. Their obsession with his assertiveness. Their obsession with his shirtless wading through rivers on horseback. Their obsession with his unempathetic, cold stare.
I remember back when I was student vice-president at the University of Southern Maine in 2013-14. I wrote an op-ed expressing my disagreement with faculty and students moving too fast in a vote of no-confidence in then-USM president Theo Kalikow. For me, the issue wasn't about picking sides, it was about looking at the issue of budget cuts in the context of anemic state funding for its public universities. That, I saw, was the real culprit.
This was the approach I brought with me as I attended the #USMFuture protests. I did not join the protests, at first. I chose to observe. I chose to listen. I chose being conscientious and cautious.
When I did join the protests, I made it my mission to focus on what I thought was the real problem: a two-decade downward trend in state funding for public higher education. My main argument was that, in the early 1990's, the state of Maine subsidized 70% of the UMaine systems operations - which of course allowed the system to keep tuition rates low. That essentially flipped by 2014, with 70% of the system's revenue coming from the pockets of students (often paid by student loans) and 30% from the state.
One of the comments made to me by one of my close friends was that I was "trying to play both sides." Knowing the place from which I approached the budget cuts issue, this cut like a knife.
My goal was raise an issue that both sides could agree upon and work toward fixing - rather than demonizing one side or the other. To me, that wasn't "playing both sides." To me, it was a pragmatic approach that could achieve REAL RESULTS.
But in a sense I get why people are more drawn to a certain style of leadership. Demagogues like Trump are animated. They are unscripted, which somehow is seen as more "authentic," rather than reasoned. As a result, they often contradict what they say. But because they said what they said in such an animated, "authentic-esque" fashion, they are given a pass. They are seen as the hypermasculine, macho, and bullish personalities that define leadership, i.e. "Leadership" is defined as "male."
When a leader takes a softer approach. A quieter approach. A more conscientious and pragmatic approach... some how that is equated to "feminine" and unbecoming of a leader.
This is a problem for America.
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