Man up, Pilgrim

God-damn, I'm the stuff men are made of! -John Wayne

Man up, Pilgrim
I want to play a real man in all my films, and I define manhood simply: men should be tough, fair, and courageous, never petty, never looking for a fight, but never backing down from one either. - John Wayne
When I started, I knew I was no actor and I went to work on this Wayne thing. It was as deliberate a projection as you'll ever see. I figured I needed a gimmick, so I dreamed up the drawl, the squint and a way of moving meant to suggest that I wasn't looking for trouble but would just as soon throw a bottle at your head as not. I practiced in front of a mirror. - John Wayne

A few days ago, a couple of the Outlaws and I were having a conversation that a lot of us keep having over and over: what is it that keeps the MAGA nation loyal to Trump, in the face of <gestures wildly all around>? He was found guilty last week of 34 counts of falsifying business records to influence the 2016 election. And his acolytes doubled down on their pledges of loyalty - many of them donating, once again, to his campaign. Is there a common trait that they all share? What thread runs through the various factions that bring Trump voters together?

One of my writer pals suggested that it is racism that unites the tribe. This is a reasonable conclusion. White supremacists, the Proud Boys, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and dozens of other high and low-profile racist groups (including skinheads) support Trump. Racist leaders like David Duke (America's most popular bigot,) Andrew Anglin (Daily Stormer,) William Johnson (American Freedom Party,) and again, many other known and lesser-known racists call for their followers to support the former guy. And while there IS a serious problem along the southern border as immigrants enter the US in numbers that seem unsustainable, Trump warned his supporters not to support a recent bipartisan immigration bill. Probably imperfect, it was none-the-less a big first step in immigration reform. Trump and his MAGA allies made no secret that they'd rather have chaos continue at the border - it gave them a political cudgel to beat Biden with. The bill failed, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric continues. There is not a right-wing media outlet that doesn't scream "Crisis at the Border" every single day. The headlines, editorials, and talk shows promote the idea that immigrants are the source of violent crime waves. Immigrants are constantly blamed for "taking American jobs," though the unemployment rates are at historic lows, and there is actually a shortage of jobs traditionally covered by immigrants. Trump often refers to undocumented aliens as "rapists," "gang members," "drug lords," and "criminals."

When polled, black and Hispanic voters are still mostly Democrats. But there is some shift going on. Blacks are still firmly in the Biden camp, but many would have preferred another candidate. Hispanics especially seem to be moving around in their political alliances. Democrats have for years taken for granted the continued support from various minority groups and neglected outreach. Some observers suggest that there is a realignment going on, others note that blacks and Hispanics (especially men) have more core conservative values than Dems would like to admit - especially when it comes to security, the economy, and cultural issues. Republicans have also been canny in selecting high-profile blacks to join their media circuses and also run for office. Some of their candidates have been almost comical... shout-out to Herschel Walker and RIP to the late vaccine denier, Herman Cain. And now we have US Senator Tim Scott following Trump around like a lapdog. There's also Kanye West, Candace Owens, and who can forget Supreme Court Justice Clarence "Uncle" Thomas?

With high-profile black and Hispanic candidates and media stars wearing MAGA hats, it's difficult to call all conservatives, "racist." (The racist ones really hate it.) It probably IS fair to say, "Just because you're a Republican doesn't mean you're a racist, but if you're a racist, you are almost certainly a Republican."

“If you've got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.”
― John Wayne

Another Outlaw opinion held that it's the evangelical, fundamentalist Christians that are the through-line for the party. This is also a reasonable assumption. They are an influential get-out-the-vote machine almost as effective as the NRA. Though not a single organization, there are various conservative denominations, power-preachers, popular evangelists, religious media ecosystems, and parachurch organizations that work and lobby in tandem. Since the days of Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" and Pat Robertson's "Christian Coalition," evangelicals have been a massive force in politics. In what's known as the "Tyranny of the Minority," these evangelical groups - though they are made up of a minority of citizens in a given population - can mobilize their members to write letters and emails, make phone calls, and most importantly, VOTE. They constantly espouse a pro-life/anti-LGBT message. They pound their pulpits on how liberals are taking God away from America. (Remember the hysteria about the Democrats' "War on Christmas"???) Trump was only too happy to take up the cross, at least if there was a camera nearby.

Evangelicals were only too happy to partner with the amoral vulgarian (who can't even quote a Bible verse,) as long as they get a seat at the table. Beyond simple voting strength, they have had massive influence in Congress, state legislatures, and the Supreme Court. Abortion is now illegal in many states, and the Christian coalitions have made no secret that there should be limitations on birth control(!). There is a push to privatize education and funnel education tax dollars to private Christian schools.

But the hypocrisy of the staunchly fundamental church partnering with the lying, cheating, philandering Trump is breathtaking. Many of his followers cite Trump's "faith" as a reason they follow him. Some even claim that he is the new messiah. 69% say they attend religious services a few times a year or less, while 30% go at least monthly." -Pew

So even among the evangelicals, they don't tend to be all that devout. In contrast, all other religious groups have a majority unfavorable view of Trump. Voters who cite religious conviction as their motivation, continually find themselves tying themselves into pretzels defending his wretched behavior, his deceit, and his immorality.

So if pure racism alone doesn't account for the number of his voters, and evangelicals on their own can't drum up quite enough voters to cinch the election, what is it? What trait defines the average Trump voter? What motivates MAGA tribe, what unifies the neo-Nazis with the Southern Baptists?

I think it's John Wayne's fault. His representation of masculinity has been America's guidepost for male behavior for decades. The characters he played were always tough, aloof, stoic, authoritative, and quick to settle conflict with a fist or a gun. Wayne's bullshit view of masculinity that was derived from his on-screen persona and how it continues to be amplified is what draws the MAGAts together.

John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa. (With a name like Marion, no wonder he was tough.) He played in dozens and dozens of B-movie westerns before director John Ford saw a little spark in him and gave him a lead role in the classic film, "Stagecoach."

And btw, I'm blaming "Duke" here (somewhat facetiously,) but if I'm going to go down this wagon trail, it's probably John Ford who is more culpable for Wayne's on-screen persona. The mercurial genius Ford treated Wayne like a weakling for years, yelling at Wayne to stop skipping like a “goddamn fairy." He found him "soft" and gentle. Ford never let Wayne forget that he didn't enlist to fight in WWII (Ford shot several documentaries overseas, often in live battles. He produced training, documentary, and propaganda films as a Capt. in the Navy. Ford was wounded while filming the Japanese attack on Midway.) Unlike Wayne, Ford came to his masculine perspective while under fire from actual bullets.

Wayne in John Ford's classic, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."Lots o' shootin', Indian killin', fist fightin', and other manly endeavors. Note the very young Ben Johnson standing beside Wayne in this studio promo card.

Wayne would begin to believe his own press, and he became more and more conservative over the years. A history buff, he would direct and star in "The Alamo," the story of the iconic battle for Texas independence. His heroic yet mythical film version would become the history of Texas Independence passed along to generations of school kids and Texas politicians to this day. Hundreds of dead Mexicans, like the hundreds of dead Native Americans in his previous movies, did not have much of a say in the script. There was certainly no mention of the core reason for the Texians' desire to be free from Mexico - slavery was illegal in Mexico and Davy Crocket, Travis, and Bowie were willing to give up their lives so that Texas could be a slave state.

Wayne would use his conservative star power to support another doomed battle. As a fierce anti-communist, he would correspond with LBJ in support of the Vietnam War which eventually led to his making of "The Green Berets."

Hold off on drawing that line in the sand, Col. Travis... can we talk about the desire for Texians to buy and own slaves as a pretext for Texas "independence"?

As an authoritarian and as enamored with "traditional" masculine values as he was, Ford was at heart (and practice,) quite the liberal. Known for his westerns, he would direct several other memorable and award-winning films. He would make the iconic film of John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." He directed "All About Eve," and "How Green was My Valley," among others. When Cecil B. DeMille tried to force an anti-commie "loyalty oath" in the Director's Guild, Ford was courageously outspoken in his stand against the McCarthy witch hunt.

"Some people tell me everything isn't black and white. But I say why the hell not?" - John Wayne

And I wanna be clear and offer a more nuanced view... Ford and Wayne were masters of their craft, and most of their work holds up. That is if you give them a pass for being products of their own, unenlightened era - an era known for its racism and sexism. Their idea of masculine values applied also to our national character: freedom, integrity, courage, and perseverance. Importantly, their worldview expected personal honor, integrity and self-sacrifice. Yes, it was a white, patriarchal culture, but the characters, films, and myths that were their stock and trade were usually centered on honor and chivalry (on their sometimes violent terms) in service of a greater good.

Hollywood continued to elevate rugged masculinity. Humphrey Bogart was of the same era, often playing a gangster or a hard-boiled, cynical detective. Wayne begat Eastwood, Stallone, McQueen, Norris, Schwarzenegger, and more. The themes might center on justice or honor, but there was plenty of vengeance to go around. All the while, the tough-guys grew tougher, more stoic, sometimes vicious, and the bullet count kept rising.

When I was in college, (let's say the early 80s,) the multiplex might be showing a Dirty Harry movie, Rambo, Delta Force, and The Terminator all at once or within a few months of each other. I had a professor at the time who was discussing contemporary culture. In addition to the Testosterone-soaked cinema, video games were coming into their own. Pac-Man and Pong had advanced to Tank, Space Invaders. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Congressional hearings were called to demand ratings and parental warnings on video games. My professor remarked, "We're raising the most violent generation that this country has ever seen." All of us in his class rolled our eyes.

And here we are, professor. Violent, angry, resentful, and divided. And that's just Congress.

There's a bit of an overused term that I'm loathe to repeat... but if the tactical boots fit... It's "Toxic Masculinity." And it's toxic masculinity that draws together and binds the MAGA cult. Our kick-ass heroes become role models because they make it look so easy and cool.

Before we rip into men, keep in mind that Trump's vote share among women in the 2020 election improved from 2016, rising from 39 percent to 44 percent. (Pew.) There may be some shifting now due to Roe vs Wade being overturned, but there has always been a fair share of women who have supported Trump. Some may stay loyal to him for his faux "Christian" branding. Others are simply die-hard Republicans. A handful are personally in economic distress. And yes, many are happy to support the conservative interpretation of gender and family roles.

The recent speech given by Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker to the graduating class at  Benedictine College was greeted by applause. Butker called Pride Month a "deadly sin," put down diversity and equity initiatives, and suggested that women could find more fulfillment by getting married and having children than by pursuing careers. The female grads present were about to accept their degrees in a variety of professional majors. In his speech, Butker said, "Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.” I always thought that comedian Kinky Friedman said it better in his song, "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed." I guess it's all in the delivery.

Many complained about the speech, including the sisters of Mount St. Scholastica monastery (who are one of the sponsors of Benedictine College.) Most public reaction was swift and ugly. Others praised him for promoting his conservative Catholic values. It didn't take long for internet sleuths to discover that his mother, Elizabeth Keller Butker, is a medical physicist at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta and holds a degree in chemistry from Smith College. Sweet kid you got there, Ma.

Kansas City Chiefs kicker, Graduation speaker, future divorcee and AM Radio Talk show host

Note that it was a wealthy white guy delivering the inspirational sermon directing young female grads to toss their $200,000 degrees in the oven along with tonight's casserole and get themselves barefoot and pregnant.

Yet Butker is not all that atypical in promoting values from a bygone era, values that Trump's supporters feel have been taken away from them. Trump claims to be the only one who can kick out the invaders, put ladies back home where they belong, and restore honor and manliness.

Pew found that compared with never-married women, never-married men in the United States are 50 percent more likely to align with Republicans. One gauge of the rightward drift of young men: In 2014 men ages 55 to 65 were the most conservative group, according to the Glocalities data, while now young men are more conservative than older ones. -NY Times,

Younger men are falling behind in education, and are much less likely to get a college degree. As a result, they are lagging in the job market, and women (in specific fields) are now out-earning men. The popularity of women's sports is exploding. The money and TV time is nowhere near the same, of course, but interest is growing exponentially and women are successfully fighting for a better share of the dollars flowing into the sport. Title IX has allowed women to advance in collegiate sports (and scholarship opportunities) as well. Women earned the majority of doctoral degrees in 2020 for the 12th straight year and outnumber men in grad school 148 to 100.

45 percent of young men ages 18 to 29 say that in America today, men face discrimination. Older men are less likely to feel that way. How bizarre it is that the unemployment rate is at a historic low, yet men feel that they are discriminated against. Many of these men feel that they are being displaced by women, the gender that they have "naturally" dominated since the species walked upright. This dissatisfaction and anger can easily turn groups of men toward authoritarian support. They don't seem to grasp that brawn alone isn't selling like it used to...contemporary life requires brains, education, and a bit of emotional intelligence

Many women (moderate, liberal women) won't even consider a Republican, much less a MAGA hat wearer. And beyond political leanings, 50 percent of single people are not interested in a committed romantic relationship and they are not even interested in a date.

These men with less education, fewer (premium) job prospects, and a lack of social skills sit alone, scrolling on their phones, searching for attractive women (who have no interest in dating someone lower on the socio-economic scale.) These guys turn to solace via hundreds of YouTubers, podcasters, Tik-Tokkers, and bloggers who prey on their vulnerabilities. Like Trump's, the message is always the same - it's not your fault, it's the Deep State, it's the Democrats, it's RINOs that won't fight for our country, it's radical women, it's the dangerous illegals streaming across the border, it's DEI, it's CRT, it's BLM. You're a victim. Trump is a victim. The MAGA nation is the oppressed, yet righteous minority.

It's a doom loop for angry young men - less education leads to poor job prospects, leads to lower earnings, leads to rejection from women, leads to further isolation, leads to scrolling for uninterested dates, leads to taking advice from hyper-masculine MAGA hucksters. Rinse (or don't even bother to wash) and repeat. The ultra-right communication channels (podcasts, YouTube shows) are all sponsored by manly-man products: vitamin and testosterone supplements, boner pills, "tactical" gear, prepper (survival) supplies, and of course, more dating sites.

Humphrey Bogart, another iconic Hollywood tough guy and role model. Here in Casablanca,where his tough exterior is tempered with a sense of honor and sacrifice - he lets the girl go for the good of the cause.

Add it up. The evangelicals like the MAGA brand because Trump wags a Bible over his head and promises them that he'll not only kill abortion forever, but he'll work on birth control, too. Racists and xenophobes love the continuous 'build the wall' refrain with cages and cruelty provided for immigrants. They love the promise of privatized (read: segregated) schools. Tying it all together? Our legacy of one-dimensional heroes and stories that has passed down a crippling masculine mythology that remains attractive to young people longing for that imaginary, simpler time. When the myth proves elusive, this population feels victimized. They grow disaffected, angry, and can ultimately become violent. Politicians and media figures are happy to pour gas on this fire.

Marion Robert Morrison, John Ford, and Harrison Butker believe (d) in the myth of a time that never really existed. Tough, masculine fictional heroes keep coming - often with more testosterone and bigger guns.

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.” ― John Wayne

Let's hope so, Pilgrim.

Nice hat, Duke.
  • as a final trivia note: Here is John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conquerer. Generally agreed to be the worst movie he ever made, and one of the worst movies of all time. It featured Wayne in that weird condom-style-helmet, and a Fu Manchu mustache. He must have felt like the horse's butt he's pictured in front of although he had only himself to blame. The story goes that he found the script in director Dick Powell's office trash can, read it, and demanded the part. Powell and others tried to dissuade him, but playing the famed conqueror seemed perfect for Wayne's masculine, kick-some-ass image. When the reviews came in and the audiences didn't, he regretted it immensely. (Wouldn't he be proud of his takeover of China in today's political climate?)
    Worse still, it was filmed near Utah's "Yucca Flat," the spot where dozens of nuclear bomb tests had taken place in the 50s. And it was on the downwind side, so the cast and crew were subject to blowing, radioactive sand. The film's producer was Howard Hughes who was told the area was safe.
    People magazine did a count, years and years later, and found that of The Conqueror’s 220 cast and crew members from Hollywood, an astonishing 91 have contracted cancer, PEOPLE has ascertained. Forty-six of them, including Wayne, Hayward and Powell, have died of the disease.
    Wayne himself died of cancer. Most everyone pointed out that a 5 pack of cigarettes a day habit likely was the source of his terminal illness, it ended up killing so many people, one scientist at the Pentagon was quoted as saying, "Please, God, don't let us have killed John Wayne."

    Hughes would later spend 12 million to purchase every print of the film he could find to keep it out of the public eye, and out of guilt over the cancer cases.
Chris Newlin worked around Tee-Vee stations before he went out on his own and continued to work in the world of video and multi-media production. Then came iPhones and YouTube accounts, so now he sits around full of self-pity and too many Keystone Lights. He still enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a good bowel movement, at least every now and then.