It’s difficult to draw a direct line between politics and culture, though the two influence each other and represent different sides of the national personality. Trying to decipher the cultural semiotics, so to speak, of the Donald Trump campaign in the US could keep academics employed forever.
Nothing was quite as vexed as the Billy Bush video, which revealed Trump boasting of lowgrade sexual assault on women. It is not my purpose here to condemn Trump — I’ve done that lots elsewhere — but, rather, to reflect on the cultural interpretation these remarks provoked.
Rather a lot of American commentators said Trump’s words, and his demeaning attitude to women, reflected the typical 1950s men’s outlook. This is part, I’m afraid, of a typical defamation of the 50s, one of the great decades of artistic and cultural achievement.
A few linked Trump to the Mad Men TV series about Manhattan advertising executives set at the start of the 60s. This slander of the past is typical of our age, which knows almost nothing about the past. And it is nonsense. A certain percentage of men have always, and will always, speak crudely and abusively of women. They are wrong to do so. It is part of the human condition, the moral frailty of our characters, the fallen nature of man.
The modern sensibility is determined on a fantastic mistake in its settled conviction that the new way of relations between men and women is infinitely better than anything in the past, and that the past represents only backwardness and exploitation.
Indeed the modern official sensibility, the approved ideology, is at war with human nature in its dogmatic assertion that men and women are the same, and must be treated exactly alike. For while men and women are certainly absolutely equal, they are not at all the same.
One of the many civilising instincts humanity owes to religion is chivalry. The introduction of the devotion to Mary in the Christian churches was really the introduction of chivalry as a central component of the religious outlook.
The inane and deeply unhistorical modern caricature of chivalry is that it reduces women to a choice between two highly unsatisfactory identities — damned whores or God’s police, in the phrase of a notable book.
In reality, chivalry is a call to men to behave like men, which involves taking responsibility for their own behaviour and looking out for the welfare of the women and girls they encounter. This is not to imply women can’t look out for themselves. But it is to imply that men, like all other human beings, have special responsibilities of virtue.
Much of the modern and artificial push for women and men to be exactly the same seems to be a desire that women would behave as badly as men — that they should drink as much as men, smoke as much as men, commit assault as much as men. I have never really understood how that constitutes helpful progress.
And of course almost all men and women in reality live to some extent the principle of chivalry. If you hear an intruder in the house, do you send your wife to investigate? We rightly promote women’s sports, but we don’t want to see women battered in the NRL in mixed teams.
And is there a responsible father in the world, who has sons, who has never said to them a simple truth: it is never, ever, acceptable for a bloke to hit a woman.
I am old enough to remember the Christian Brothers teaching us elaborate codes of chivalry — if you are walking with a woman, always walk near the street to protect her from any danger that might come from the street. I remember my father, though born in 1930 absolutely a man of the 50s, always holding the door for my mother. Was he committing an offence against gender relations?
Men of my age tend to profanity among men and politeness in mixed company. These are not Trump-like characteristics.
Pope Francis commented recently that the Catholic Church would always have a male priesthood. Christ chose 12 men as apostles and the church must pattern itself somewhat after the Gospels. But these are arguments you will seldom hear.