In a recent 60 Minutes interview with President Trump, Andy Thomas’ painting “The Republican Club” was seen prominently displayed in the President’s personal dining room outside the Oval Office.
Since then, the painting has been the subject of questions and debate – even mockery and scorn on Twitter, spawning from the latter various Photoshopped renderings of Trump sharing the table with Putin and Kim Jong-un.
When asked in a recent interview with The Washington Post what Trump is saying in painting, Andy Thomas responded coyly, “I have no idea. That’s the funny thing: We don’t know how they would get along.”
As a proponent of Enlightened Masculinity myself, I submit that Thomas’ painting presents, in pictorial/narrative form, the dichotomy and struggle between Enlightened and Toxic Masculinity as represented in Lincoln and Trump respectively.
Defining Enlightened Masculinity isn’t an easy thing. Google searches give frequent reference to The Good Men Project, a sort of dying breed of male-centric publications that might be thought of as Boy’s Life for the post-pubescent. They go so far as to proclaim on their About page: ““The Good Men Project® is a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century,” But, since the masthead of the movement has done a piss-poor job of even defining what the fuck they stand for (a search of ‘what is toxic masculinity’ on their site yields nothing even resembling a definition), I’ll attempt to define it in terms of its antithesis, Toxic Masculinity.
From the Wiki on Hegemonic Masculinity we learn:
“Terry Kupers defines toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence”. According to Kupers, toxic masculinity serves to outline aspects of hegemonic masculinity that are socially destructive, “such as misogyny, homophobia, greed, and violent domination”. These traits are contrasted with more positive aspects of hegemonic masculinity such as “pride in [one’s] ability to win at sports, to maintain solidarity with a friend, to succeed at work, or to provide for [one’s] family”.”
In plain terms, toxic masculinity tends toward bullying, promotes heteronormative stereotypes and male aggression, emphasizes competition over cooperation and extols stoicism/emotional distance as a virtue.
As it relates to President Trump, Jared Yates Sexton’s October, 2016 New York Times op-ed piece Donald Trump’s Toxic Masculinity summarizes it well: “His macho-isms, his penchant for dividing the world into losers and winners, his lack of empathy for anyone but himself.”
On the other hand, Enlightened Masculinity, though loosely defined, tends to encourage the sharing of feeling and emotions, is open to concepts of gender fluidity and open-ended gender roles, and emphasizes empathy and cooperation over competition.
Lincoln as early ambassador/endorser of Enlightened Masculinity
Since the release of psychologist C.A. Tripp’s book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln in 2005, the 16th President’s binary sexuality has been put to question. From the Wikipedia Sexuality of Abraham Lincoln we learn, “(Tripp) described Lincoln as having a detached relationship with women, in contrast to a close male friend with whom he allegedly shared a bed (this was not an unusual practice at the time). Dale Carnegie, better known for books on influencing people, wrote in Lincoln the Unknown (reissue 2013), that Lincoln chose to spend several months of the year practicing law on a circuit that kept him living separately from his wife. In 1928, a prominent writer had suggested that a close male friend of the young Lincoln was a possible lover, which was denounced as absurd at the time.
Lincoln as Precursor to Soy Boys and Hipsters
Soy boys and hipsters, those most likely to embrace Enlightened Masculinity and/or homo- or bi-sexuality, are said to even emulate their messiah of a more temperate manhood via facial hair and effeminate mannerism and style of dress. Philosophically and politically, Enlightened Masculinity arguably tends toward more traditionally liberal values. Whereas Lincoln sought to break racial boundaries through the abolition of slavery, Trump, conversely, promotes racial division through construction of The Wall.
So, though both technically Republican, a significant cultural/philosophical/cultural divide exists between Trump and Lincoln. And the former, steeped in toxic masculinity, rather than seeking conciliation, rebuts in typical “winner take all” fashion, through provocation, as seen in the painting.
Whatever the specifics that Thomas so egregiously avoids, it’s obvious from the smug joviality of all parties except Lincoln, who, by no mere coincidence is the only participant with his full back to the viewer (an obvious and willfully placed position/ representation of powerlessness, submission and lack of authority) – that Lincoln is being made the butt of some joke.
So I asked Thomas if perhaps they were responding to one of President Trump’s famous “grab ’em by the pussy” remarks to which Thomas replied, “Could be.” Then I asked if the former Presidents might be responding to Trumps’s wildly popular spastic retard shtick, to which Thomas replied, “Not likely.”
Given the universally accepted hilarity of mocking retards and the disabled (unlike Jews or blacks or women) I feel the retard case is a strong one to be made. However, upon deeper scrutiny, the fact that Lincoln, by analysis of body language, remains composed, suggests that whatever is being responded to isn’t a universal topic of hilarity. Further, all eyes are on Lincoln specifically, as if probing for a reaction. And why would mocking a retard elicit such attention toward Lincoln? He didn’t have autistic children, after all. Yet some argue that it may not be beyond Trump to poke fun at the death of 4 year old “Eddie” Lincoln, all in the sake of a good laugh. After all, what little remains of Eddie’s history, other than his premature death, is how he was kindhearted, as recanted in the story of his nursing a sick kitten back to health. Perhaps, then, a joke from Trump about grabbing pussy may have just been misconstrued on the part of Lincoln as a tasteless jab of the deceased Eddie.
But that strikes me as even too cold and calloused for our current President’s toxically masculine heart. Instead, I submit that the painting depicts President Trump delivering an insider’s joke of sorts, mostly likely riffing on the rumor of Lincoln’s bisexuality. Something like, “Did you hear the one about grabbing the pussy, Abe?” Now, any normal, toxically masculine man would find that humorous. But the man of Enlightened Masculinity might hesitate. I submit that with all eyes on Lincoln, his fellows are looking for that tell- the tell of his enlightenment and/or bi-sexuality.
*Note how Bush Jr. isn’t making direct eye contact, most likely from not getting the joke. Note how Reagan also avoids eye contact, the only one with the social grace to understand how you give away game with direct eye contact (like when a bro says, “look at dat ass” you don’t whip-neckedly gawk at it. A brother with game eases into the male gaze).
Art historian and Caravaggio expert Telly Whitehead suggest this is a completely plausible explanation.
“Yes, I can see the bullying going on here. All eyes are on Lincoln as if to say, “You agree, right?” What they are grasping for is if he agrees that the joke is funny or that the subject of grabbing pussy is funny, at least.”
And as we all know, bullying, whether physically or by means of passive/aggressive intimidation, is a hallmark of Trump and the toxic masculinity he presents.
Whitehead went on to show how Warren G. Harding remains in the background, most likely wanted no part of the bullshit. Had Lincoln been shown full-frontal, perhaps we’d see his gaze set on Harding, a visual plea to “bail me out of this shit, bro.” But Harding was a post-war proponent of disarmament – a cowardly cuck who couldn’t be counted on for support. But soy boys and cucks share similar sentiments, so the theory can’t be thoroughly dismissed since it makes complete sense that a cuck would extract himself from the fray.