Debate reveals Trump’s dated, dangerous masculinity – and how he just doesn’t get it

Donald Trump hovered behind Hillary Clinton for large stretches of the debate. Reuters/Rick Wilking

Donald Trump sells himself as a winner. In life, in finance, with the ladies. He’s been dealt a charmed hand and he flashes that (in)glorious deck to us at every possible juncture.

While we could devote a torrent of articles to pondering what “winning” actually means, if Charlie Sheen taught us anything it’s that the term is malleable. And, for Trump, it centres on a highly passé alpha masculinity.

Take no prisoners, never back down. Channelling his inner Ali MacGraw, to Trump winning apparently means “never having to say you’re sorry”.

Being a winner, therefore, is about flaunting qualities like greed and aggression and rudeness. To always be performing an unapologetic kind of showboat success. In 2016, though, it all just looks a little theatrically unhinged.

The second presidential debate was a fiasco of errors. In trying to help a public unsee and unhear the #TrumpTapes, Trump has ended up instead aligning himself – rather intimately – with misogyny and unelectability. Rather than simply leaving things at that Johnny Depp-esque, under-duress “apology” video, instead he committed to making things monumentally worse.

In pre-debate breaking news, he cobbled together a notably awkward and ill-advised hotel room press conference, seemingly filmed on an iPhone for that extra special element of desperate haste. And there he played the “sins of the husband” card.

Rather than fighting Clinton on her record and on her policy proposals, he tried once again to steer the debate towards the alleged conduct of her husband. Not only did this odd tactic fail to shift the dialogue, it underscored the very sexism he’s long been accused of.

Shock, horror, Bill isn’t running in 2016. By ignoring the fact that Hillary has a 30-year career of her own – by ignoring that she’s always been much more than a wife or daughter – Trump is reducing the value of her, of women, to the men they have in their lives.

The sole message to emerge from that press conference debacle is that just maybe there are men who’ve done worse than he has and – gameshow hostess sweeping hand gesture – here are four angry women who will testify to that.

One hell of a kooky strategy.

Then he walked onto the stage, and just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, oh my, how it did.

Trump’s version of winning meant that rather than being contrite and apologising for his Access Hollywood antics, he just doubled-down. Rather than saying, “I’m not the man I was then, that raising daughters has changed me, softened me, humanised me”, yadda yadda, he played the boys will be boys card.

Repeatedly, he referred to his tour bus verbal diarrhoea simply as “locker-room banter”. As though this somehow minimises it. And he did this without any awareness whatsoever that this is the bloody problem.

The idea that the are some places where such dialogue could possibly be appropriate is part of the very rape culture that those who find him completely unelectable are rallying against. By attempting to contextualise such aggressive and sexist comments as mere banter between buddies, Trump yet again associates himself with a masculinity that in 2016 looks oafishly anachronistic.

And it didn’t stop there.

He stalked the stage. Lion-like. Instead of standing still, instead of standing relaxed, he paced, he seethed, he sniffed.

Rather than distancing himself from the sexually aggressive caricature that was painted on that ill-fated bus ride, he made it simply effortless for the audience to imagine him popping another Tic Tac and hunting for a little more grabbable “pussy”.

And, being too chock-full of testosterone to actually prepare, he seemingly learnt nothing from the mistakes he made during the first debate.

Rather than watching over the tapes and realising how rude it looks to repeatedly interrupt a woman, and instead of learning that in such situations one needs to contort their face into something resembling “active listening”, he paced, he clutched a chair, at one point he even thrust against it.

All the while persisting on hissing out words like her and she.

Trump used the phrase “it’s just words, folks” to frame Clinton’s points as mere rhetoric rather than policy. In fact, the phrase also nicely frames Trump’s attitudes to sexism, verbal aggression and his repeated catch-cry of respecting women more than anyone. Just words.

And they’re words that he can’t, on one hand, say, while simultaneously demonstrating with his every sniff and steamroll that his respect for women only extends as far as to those he’s sired or shtupped.

Moderator Anderson Cooper repeatedly used the phrase “your time is up” to him. A sentence with ever-increasing relevance to one helluva floundering campaign.

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