“What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do.”
Tony Soprano, The Sopranos, Episode 1, Season 1, “Pilot”
The strong, silent type is a classic conservative hero, as embodied in the screen characters of those manly Republicans Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Never complain, never explain. Speak softly and carry a big stick. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Real men don’t whine.
And then there’s Donald Trump, who told CNN, “I do whine because I want to win, and I’m not happy about not winning, and I am a whiner.”
He blames leaks in his White House on Barack Obama, as if Mr. Trump himself, with his long experience as a manager, weren’t in charge. He blames the news media for his problems with the intelligence community. He blames his generals for the death of a Navy SEAL.
A key element of the strong, silent type appeared on a plaque that Ronald Reagan kept on his Oval Office desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” But Mr. Trump often takes credit for other people’s accomplishments.
And yet Mr. Trump, the braggart, the blame-shifter, the self-described whiner, is a conservative hero.
Conservatives aren’t the only ones who support people who violate their principles. Liberal Democrats like me supposedly support women who are vulnerable to abuse by powerful men, but we stood by Bill Clinton when he wrongly called Monica Lewinsky a liar. We deplore racism, but we revere Franklin Roosevelt, who set up the conditions for Japanese internment camps. We think that the Vietnam war was at best a vile mistake, but we like John Kennedy, who increased America’s activity in the war.
What’s more, not all conservatives like Trump. And of course, the strong, silent type isn’t the only kind of conservative hero.
Nevertheless — and maybe I’m just being naïve — it still amazes me that many people who do admire the strong, silent hero also consider Trump a hero.