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Living in An Old Boy’s World

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Lili Loofbourow sums up 2018:

But what’s interesting about Trump’s conduct is that while it’s unmannerly, it’s not rude in that classic hard-nosed, stick-it-to-’em, I-got-no-time-for-niceties way. His aren’t power moves that command respect. Rather, they’re puffy and decadent—the qualities associated with the kind of bratty, spoiled boy we met when the term affluenza was first used as a legal defense on the grounds that someone so ruined by financial privilege can’t understand ethics or consequences. Trump isn’t too busy for etiquette; he has nothing but time. He spent Barbara Bush’s funeral on Twitter denying that he called Jeff Sessions “Mr. Magoo” and Rod Rosenstein “Mr. Peepers.” There’s a crusty entitlement to this species of maleness that makes it feel at least as geriatric as it is juvenile. Though Trump’s petty malice puts him in (roughly) seventh grade, it has a doddering petulance, too. He is, in effect, an old boy. And when you step back and think about it, you realize America is full of them.

That America is an old boys’ club is a boring truism. The expression exists for a reason; we’ve seen the mutually exonerating mechanisms of boys’ clubs pop out into the open in a variety of ways this year. The sulky mulishness of many a Great American Man has long been kept decorously half-secret with the invocation of code words like uncompromising and choleric. Not anymore. The Old Boy needs attention as well as power, and with this presidency, the former has finally trumped the latter. The results are disconcerting. So is the troubling scope of the problem. From Trump to Brett Kavanaugh, from Les Moonves to Jeffrey Epstein: This year we saw with startling clarity that what many of the nation’s powerful men share is less talent and vision than arbitrary cruelty, pleasure in retribution, bullying, shouting, sneering, a sense that they’re above consequences, and an unusual dependence on golf—the traits of aging manchildren.

The Old Boy is immensely fortunate, but his core drive is greed. He has power and wealth, but it’s always less than he thinks he deserves. He’s bratty and cross and past his prime. He doesn’t feel good. He’s distant from conventional masculine markers in ways a suit usually helps to mask. His defining features are a puffy softness and a basic, uncultured greed that’s fed by status symbols. The Old Boy has a vile temper and makes others responsible for his moods. But he has allies.

The only thing the Old Boy hates more than being told no is being questioned. He is both fussy and smug—think of Paul Manafort seething, arms crossed, as he stared at underling Rick Gates in court, or Sen. Lindsey Graham theatrically yelling “This is hell” about a hearing process his own party devised.

The Old Boy is so essentially dishonest that his lies seem almost innocent. An Old Boy lies fluently and to your face, and he will explode in rage if you point this out to him not because you’re wrong (this is key) but because you don’t matter and neither does the truth; an Old Boy gets to say and do what he likes. The Old Boy recognizes some authorities. He smiles at those he considers fellow Boys—there’s a faintly embarrassing abjection to this performance when it happens. (See Kavanaugh bowing and scraping to Trump when Trump introduced him as his nominee, or how solicitously Trump acts around Vladimir Putin.)

The flip side is that the Old Boy considers his mere presence a gift to those he sees as his inferiors. As a result, any honor conferred upon him is no more than his due. So yes, he lies, but only because that’s what a blinkered world requires in order for him to get what he is owed. To bring about the correct outcome, he gets to lie, and you get to believe it. That’s your privilege.

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