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Angry Sons: Trump vs. Mom

Who voted against what Philip Wylie called "Momism"?

Mike Mosher

Surprised at the Presidential election results, I am still endeavoring to understand the anti-Hillary Clinton sentiment in this land.

Oh, not the opposition to her as a politician. Republicans disagree with her policies: pro-choice, pro-union; the majority of Republicans, however, still also embrace fictions of Benghazi malfeasance, and morally crippling messiness to the Clinton Foundation. Her critics to the left, which includes this author, were skeptical of her hawkish foreign policy, and have a hard time forgiving her for voting for the Iraq invasion of 2003, yet voted for her.

I found clues to the irrational rage towards her, though, when I reread a book I had picked up in my twenties, about forty years after it was written, Generation of Vipers (1942, New York/Toronto, Rinehart & Co.) by Philip Wylie. I'd first read a skeptical piece by Wylie on UFOs in Popular Science magazine when in junior high, and then a couple of dramatic science fiction novels about atomic war and interplanetary travel. But this was supposedly his most influential and famous book.

It gave me understanding of resentment against Hillary Clinton, the motivation of men (and perhaps some women) who supported Trump. They are resentful of women they have known in petty authority, mid-level management: school teachers and principals, bureaucrats and functionaries, the mom-level of society. The women who work on behalf of families and children. How many of Trump's men voted to strike against their mothers?

Wylie wrote "I give you mom. I give you the destroying mother....We must face the dynasty of the dames at once, deprive them of our pocketbooks when they waste the substance in them, and take back our dreams which, without the perfidious materialism of mom, were shaping up a new and braver world...we will first have to make the conquest of momism, which grew up from male defeat."

"Mom is an American creation", and Wylie declares himself a foe of "momism" in America. He begins with marveling that a squad of soldiers were drilled to spell out "mom", after which he believes "she has now achieved, in the hierarchy of miscellaneous articles, a spot next to the Bible and the Flag, being reckoned part of both in a way."

"It is the moms who have made this war."

I believe Wylie wrote this in a style he hoped would be termed acerbic, comparable to the newspaperman H. L. Mencken in the 1920s, about fifteen years before (and perhaps as influential on his generation, for better or worse, as Lester Bangs and Hunter Thompson were on mine). Of the generic American mother, presumably white and middle-class, he writes of her physical attributes "She is a middle-aged puffin with an eye like a hawk that has seen a rabbit twitch far below. She is about twenty-five pounds overweight with no sprint, but sharp heels and a hard backhand which she does not regard as a foul but a womanly defense. In a thousand of her there is not sex appeal enough to budge a hermit off a rock ledge."

He sneers at "her hide full of liquid soap", her tendency "to stamp and jabber in the midst of man, a noisy nester of natural defeault or a scientific gelding surrounded by science, all tongue and tear and razzmatazz." He cites offhandedly Freud's discovery of "mother-love-inaction" origin in incestuous perversion, and running through the history of culture. "The spectacle of the woman devouring her young in the firm belief that is is for their own good is too old in man's legends to be overlooked by any but the most flimsily constructed society."

"Our land, subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crossing it than railroads and telephone wires." Nobody, "no great man or grave...pronounced the one indubitably most-needed American verity: 'Gentlemen, mom is a jerk."

Women's clubs and organizations are lambasted. "Only by nosing can she uncover all incipient revolutions against her dominion and so warn and assemble her co-cannibals." He goes on to grumble "Mom's first gracious presence at the ballot-box was roughly concomitant with the start toward a new all-time low in political scurviness, hoodlumism, gangsterism, labor strife, monopolistic thuggery, moral degeneration, civic corruption, smuggling, bribery, theft murder, homosexuality, drunkenness, financial depression, chaos and war. Note that."

Perhaps we underestimate the isolationism that preceded WWII, for Wylie is skeptical of mothers offering up sons "if a war comes". This often reads as if parts of this book was written before Pearl Harbor brought this nation into the war already raging in Europe and Asia. "I have seen the unmistakable evidence in a blue star mom of envy of a gold star mom [one whose son died in military service]". This is truly weird...but think of Trump's contempt for bereaved father Khazir Khan.

"Like Hitler, she betrays the people who would give her a battle before she brings up her troops...Traitors are shot, yellow stars are slapped on those beneath notice, the good-looking men and boys are rounded up and beaten or sucked into pliability, a new slave population continually goes to work at making more munitions for momism, and mom herself sticks up her head, or maybe the periscope of the woman next door, to find some new region that needs taking over. This technique pervades all that she does."

"Her boy, having been 'protected' by her love, and carefully, even shudderingly shielded from his logical development through his barbaric period, or childhood (so that he has either to become a barbarian as a man or else to spend most of his energy denying the barbarism that howls in his brain--an autonomous remnant of the youth he was forbidden), is cushioned against any major step in his progress toward maturity." Think of the Trump rallies, the raging and foaming soft men, you saw televised as you read this.

Wylie then fills out the chapter telling of work as clerk in a department store, describing shoppers' behavior during sales "which loosen hair, knock both hats askew, and set the costume jewelry clattering." An early chapter "A Specimen American Attitude" on sex mores and hypocrisy around them, in prose as purple as satin throw pillows in Prince's boudoir. He goes on to critique academics, eternally a favorite target of "common sense" conservatives. The book's final chapter, "The Man on the Cross", is a summary by the Methodist minister's son that reads rather like New Thought spirituality and openness to all faiths. He may rail against Mom, but here he's not calling to ban Muslim refugees.

For all the ecumenism and moments of critical lucidity, Wyle's memorable and slightly disturbing rant against Momism found its echo in the long-running campaign (even pre-Donald Trump) against Senator Clinton. A week or two before the 2016 Presidential election, comedian Louis C.K. appeared on Conan O'Brien's show with a heartfelt, profane rant about how he supports Hillary because America needs a super-mom.

And I suspect that to have one as Chief Executive was precisely the fear of many of Donald Trump's supporters.

--November 12, 2016

Artist Mike Mosher teaches art and media when he's not drawing or writing something, probably political. Graphic © Bad Subjects 2016, based on the Diana of Epheseus fountain at Villa d'Este, Tivoli, near Rome.