Dr. Norma Mendoza-Denton, UCLA
Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2020 @ 4:00pm Eastern Time
Location: Online via Zoom
Title: Crying, Control, and Masculinity in the Language of Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s speeches as president provide many examples of narratives of masculinity where he elevates himself as the pinnacle of virility, strength, and toughness. Wallace Chafe (1998) and other scholars (e.g. Norrick 1988) have written about the ways in which repeated tellings of the same story open a window not only into patterns of language, but also into the workings of the self. In the case of Trump, a revealing example of a narrative of masculinity is found in a series of retellings that Trevor Noah of The Daily Show compiled into the satirical Christmas video, “Trump’s Mythical Crying Man Yule Log” (The Daily Show 2018). In this video montage, a stone fireplace frames the center of an old-fashioned cathode-ray TV where video clips of Trump are gently licked by flames. The clips are taken from Trump’s campaign stops, speeches, and conversations with reporters, documenting fifteen distinct instances of Trump retelling the same story with minimal variations. The structure discernible in Trump’s narrative series is formulaic, with each instantiation filling in variable details, and recycled on many public occasions. Sometimes, the man is a steelworker, or a miner, or a farmer. Sometimes it’s a group of men who are crying. Occasionally there is one holdout in the group who does not cry. This man-crying-before-Trump sequence is a great example of not only a narrative of masculinity, but also a “comedic gesture,” where Trump dramatically drags his hands across his face to show copious crying (Goldstein, Hall and Ingram 2017). While it is well attested that politicians recycle narratives and inflect them to suit their audiences (Fenno 1978), Trump’s narratives go one step further, often revolving around self-aggrandizement, situating him as both the pinnacle and arbiter of toughness. The recurrence of this leitmotif is precisely what renders it an organizing narrative of Trumpian masculinity.