Masks, Condoms, And Treaties

Some time back, I started a Twitter thread which I called “Adventures in Masculinity.” I wanted to bring attention to examples of masculine gendering where it was not needed to explain or talk about something but might go unnoticed. The thread is up to 86 entries now, with the last two example tweets having been deleted by their authors. I guess I need to do screenshots.

The Trump administration is masculinist and patriarchal in all things, with misogyny, racism, and xenophobia thrown in. It’s hard not to notice the photos of white men in suits sitting around tables or chatting with each other. I have tried to avoid such obvious things in my thread.

Recently, I’m seeing a throughline that may not be obvious that starts at macho self-presentation and links to the administration’s dislike of arms control treaties.

Fintan O’Toole saw part of it. He notes that Donald Trump is both a germaphobe and a risk-taker, which have contradictory potential for his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. O’Toole extends those characteristics to Trump’s political allies.

The right appeals to the fear of invasion, of subversion, of contamination. But it also valorizes risk.

Trump has also linked his germaphobia to the idea that some people are born losers. “To me, germs are just another kind of negativity.”He’s willing to manage the pandemic by letting people he believes are losers – the old, those with medical conditions – die. In his leering interview with Howard Stern, he compared the dangers of his sex life with the dangers of the Vietnam War and, in his telling, came out a winner.

Taking risks with disease is a manly thing to do. Real men wear neither condoms nor face coverings.

Condoms and face coverings protect both the wearer and others, in addition to being public health measures that protect the group by limiting the spread of disease. But in Trump’s formulation, the potential wearer’s preferences override all other values. He has not been as explicit about face coverings as he was with Stern, but his actions make clear his preference.

Long before Trump became president, conservatives were hostile to treaties. Their stated reason is that treaties decrease American sovereignty, and therefore every treaty represents a loss of American strength. A particular concept of America’s freedom of individual action is prioritized, even though that freedom of action is often theoretical.

For example, Republicans blocked ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Without ratification, the United States cannot participate in negotiations on the use of the seas and development of regulations. It limits the United States’ voice in, for example, the future of the Arctic Sea. Ratifying the treaty would increase freedom of action.

In a culmination of that conservative desire to remain unbound by treaties, the Trump administration has been trashing treaties, particularly in the area of arms control. Trump has called nuclear war “the ultimate catastrophe” but has also wondered publicly about why we make nuclear weapons if we can’t use them. His ambivalence is similar to his ambivalence toward women in his claims of heroism against venereal disease: great danger, but also pleasure.

Treaties, like masks and condoms, benefit all parties, as well as the broader community. In all three cases, Trump’s viewpoint prioritizes his perceived needs over those benefits.

Masks? Real men don’t need no stinkin’ masks! Nor condoms! Nor treaties!

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

One comment

  1. glhein · June 11, 2020

    I always viewed treaties as a way to reduce the chaos of uncertainty so that other opportunities and be pursued. Yes, you have to monitor treaty compliance, but that requires fewer resources. Some treaties provide a framework to solve mutual problems. Again helping conserve resources. A leader wants chaos to maximize resource utilization and provide diversions to enable self-gratification.


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