This week we learned that between 2008 and 2015, our new secretary of State, a man who already bears the macho moniker Rex Tillerson, had, while working as chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, used the name “Wayne Tracker” to send emails related to climate change. This discovery was made as part of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s ongoing investigation into whether or not Exxon had misled investors and the public on the issue of climate change.
Already, much has been made of Tillerson’s choice of pseudonym, which is derived from his middle name — “Wayne” — and something having to do with his youth as an Eagle Scout in Texas — that’s the “Tracker” part. The result is a designation that sounds like it might belong to a Ken doll’s buddy from the Marines, or a character played by Bruce Willis in a Michael Bay movie about blowing things up. Wayne Tracker would be just a stupidly amusing piece of trivia — except that it fits so incredibly neatly into the pattern of performed hypermasculinity in this administration.
Our nation is currently being governed by lots of the kind of men who think it would be cool to have the name “Wayne Tracker.”
Trump himself, obsessed with the bigness of his crowds, his ratings, his fortune, and his penis, once invented an alter ego named “John Barron.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan once chose to pose, as a runner-up for Time’s Person of the Year, lifting weights, with his baseball cap on backward. Julia Ioffe has reported that Trump’s white-nationalist adviser Stephen Miller “assiduously cultivates” a retro-masculine aura, “smoking like a chimney and dressing in suits that earned him the nickname ‘Mad Men’ on the Hill.” Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, “Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. That’s power,” and said of his own role in Trump’s orbit, “I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.”
The impulse on the part of white male politicians toward Tough Guy role-play certainly isn’t limited to Trump or his cabinet, or even to the Republicans. Let us never forget Anthony — “Carlos Danger” — Weiner, who in addition to texting pictures of his penis also sent Ryan-esque photos of himself flexing in front of the House gym mirror, or his forerunner, New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who used the name “George Fox” to check into hotels to meet prostitutes.
But the Trump era has made the threatened white masculinity of America’s powerful politicians more obvious than ever before. As Trump’s national security aide Sebastian Gorka famously declared before Trump’s inauguration, “The era of the Pajama Boy is over January 20, and the alpha males are back.”
It’s a message that has been taken to heart by legislators all over the country: like the guy who banged his gavel so hard while trying to get a woman to shut up that he shattered the glass table; the one who called pregnant women “hosts” and created a bill that would force them to get permission from men to get abortions; the one who said women had been “up in [his] grill” about health care (and didn’t seem to recognize Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York last week); and, oh yeah, the one who told Elizabeth Warren to stop reading a letter by Coretta Scott King in opposition to Jeff Sessions, and his buddy, who did his best Ralph Kramden in declaring that the silencing of Warren was “long overdue with her.”
Meanwhile, Trump has stocked his administration with men — including his vice-president — he thinks “look very good,” and with women he advises to dress “like women.” “If I was doing a movie, I’d pick these generals,” he boasted at his inaugural lunch, while taking obvious delight in the nickname of General James Mattis — “You know he’s known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason,” Trump told the New York Times — and calling him “the closest thing to General George Patton that we have.” Trump’s friend Chris Ruddy has said that Trump picks people based on “the look and the demeanor and the swagger.”
Perhaps the Trump administration has taken this performative white manhood to new heights precisely because white-masculine authority is being threatened — by protesters, judges, lawyers, senators, presidents, and presidential candidates who are not white men — more than at any other moment in the country’s history. Some of these guys see this, as many Republicans unsubtly suggested throughout the campaign, and Congressman Steve King made even clearer last week, as white masculinity’s last chance for maintaining dominance.
And so these dominant white alpha asshats are showing us just how powerful they really are: by destroying the planet and robbing women of their health care and autonomy and keeping Muslims and immigrants and refugees out of the country, separating mothers from their kids and deporting young Dreamers who dare speak against them. These are the real-life consequences, the collateral damage, of their G.I. Joe cosplay fun.
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