Checkpoint: The Female Jacobins

The best opportunities tend to reveal themselves at the worst of times. We live in the age of intellect - in the epoch of small-mindedness. We live in the age of information - in the era of fake-news. It is the period of the individual - it’s the time of the crowd. It’s the time of progress - it’s the time of desperation. In short, this is a time in which our souls are being tried. The sudden-jerk rise of the regressive ilk of Trump is intimidating, but in fact symbolizes the desperation and weakness of the entire template of power. It may sound portentous to say, but today, in President (pending inquiry) Trump’s America and around the world, we live in a period of great opportunity, one that history tells us comes very rarely. This is a period in which a power will rise, and that power’s name is woman.  

In chess, it is said that the right move to make isn’t necessarily the best ‘chess move,' but rather, the move your opponent wants you to make least. Trump is an egomaniac, the very mention of his name billows his grotesque form, serving to excavate more space for itself to expand into - the exponential ego. Traditional weapons such as evidence of hypocrisy, scandal and intellectual disrepute are ineffectual because they only serve to inflate the ego by emphasizing its own handiwork. The move the ego least wants us to do is hold up a mirror, and show how truly weak the king really is. This power is not esoteric and known only to chess masters; it’s the game’s fault, obvious to even the most juvenile observer – it’s the power of The Queen.

In early March, Mary Beard: Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge gave a lecture on behalf of the London Review of Books. The lecture, entitled Women in Power: From Medusa to Merkel, saw the brilliant classicist recount, centrifuge and deride false apparitions of female power, while elucidating history and its relation to the status quo, which is to say, highlighting their resemblance. The premise Beard rightly argued was that the very template of power “remains resolutely male.”

This template, despite all the revolutions and empires, remains manifestly, albeit imperfectly, intact. In fact, there has been one really propitious opportunity in modern political history for the recasting, which is to say ‘rebirth’ of our template. It was the culmination of The Enlightenment and it brought revolution, most notably in America and France. These revolutions despite their good press, failed to consummate the Age of Reason that enabled them. Thus, both societies were cast with inherent systematic faults, most notably: slavery, and the oppression of women.

Both revolutions were too mannishly stubborn to concede, despite the rebukes of those that intellectually founded them, such as the likes Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft - that their great and pure creations were born in fault, and with such fragility, condemned to inevitable systematic failure. Slavery brought the American experiment to its knees during the Civil War, and the French Republic conceded the famous slave-rebellion in Haiti - the effects of which led to the demise of any semblance of the revolution’s pure origins, as well as the rise, and subsequent fall of Napoleon.

In Charles Dickens’ masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities, he tells the story of the original sins born in this period of opportunity. In the novel, just as all hope for the purity of the revolutions was to be severed by the guillotine, a great sacrifice was made to save the life and love of liberty in Charles Darnay. Dickens’ sought to provide some hope to the masses: the poor, the enslaved and the oppressed, those who saw their opportunity for a place on the template of power snatched away. It is this Dickensian hope that political philosophy and literature has patiently held close, awaiting that sign of weakness in the imbalanced template’s defenses to signal the second age of opportunity. As the great C. L. R. James wrote in his pioneering history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins: “When history is written as it ought to be written, it is the moderation and long patience of the masses at which men will wonder, not their ferocity.”

Wollstonecraft pointed out the other major inherent systematic fault in her seminal work, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman. A masterpiece prompted by the position of the new French National Assembly that women should only receive a domestic education. Alas, her reasoned argument, like many others, was not heeded, and the long patient wait of the last two centuries began. Political philosophy, literature, and thought have been withstanding the pitiful, agonizing, and tempestuous commotions of man on that Dickensian promise - that the chink in the king’s defenses would rise again.

The desperation of Donald Trump and his ego is that chink, but how can it be exploited? In Beard’s lecture, she raises the point of Melissa McCarthy’s parody of White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live. It was reported by people inside the White House that the skit struck a nerve, and that the President “doesn’t like his people to look weak.” Trump can inexplicably refute and argue against empirical evidence, logic, and reason because being the center of attention is the extent of his thought. And yet, on the weekend of McCarthy’s performance, Trump was shaken to Twitter silence. For the first time in his life he very nearly had a good idea – that perhaps there is a world outside the defensive walls of his own ego, and out there he glimpsed a grand power reigning down.

McCarthy’s sketch was effective because it took advantage of Trumps egoistic need to hear his own name, encouraging him to peer over the template’s defensive walls. What he saw couldn’t be construed to serve his own delusions of grandeur: he saw a woman wielding her power, and his benefactors (the male template) knew it to be their worst fear, the patient but ominous all-powerful queen. Trump, indicative of the template, has incredibly confined ideas about the world. His thoughts can barely ebb away from his square on the board, making for a very small radius inside of which - women have a set place. McCarthy’s act invaded this space and threatened to dilate it by force. This is not to say that McCarthy is a singular Joan of Arc type figure, rather, she is symbolic like Trump, of a notable shift in the perceptions of power.

This chink in male power throbs with irony, usurps the godliness of men, and challenges, if only in the minds of those who think otherwise, the primacy of power in womanhood. In Greek myth, Achilles himself defeated the savagely female Amazons. Today, the revanchist machismo of the Trump ilk, reveals its Achilles heel, the insecurity of their egoistic imagined self-importance. It is female power that can exploit this fear and save us all, and this time, it is not men Aristophanically parodying them, but quite the other way around.

This is not a farewell to arms for men. It is the acceptance that the power we thought we had was a mere fragment of what humanity is capable of. If we can harness this power, Trump will represent the pathetic final evasive maneuvers of the chess king and his template - the weak and desperately erratic moves that can only think one small dying square at a time. For many men this shift will prove a great challenge, but it is as Dickens wrote, “a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”