Gary Cooper, Woody Allen, and Trump (Oh My!)

Wherein Noonan writes an odd column that reaches the right conclusion.

Donald Trump ShrugPeggy Noonan channels the 1970s to critique the President (Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor):

The way American men used to like seeing themselves, the template they most admired, was the strong silent type celebrated in classic mid-20th century films—Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. In time the style shifted, and we wound up with the nervous and chattery. More than a decade ago the producer and writer David Chase had his Tony Soprano mourn the disappearance of the old style: “What they didn’t know is once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings they wouldn’t be able to shut him up!” The new style was more like that of Woody Allen. His characters couldn’t stop talking about their emotions, their resentments and needs. They were self-justifying as they acted out their cowardice and anger.

But he was a comic. It was funny. He wasn’t putting it out as a new template for maleness. Donald Trump now is like an unfunny Woody Allen.

Ok, yes:  Trump whines and complains a lot–no argument there.  But the rest of this is rather bizarre.  It really did remind me of the kind of weird slams I would hear in a my youth about real men (John Wayne!) and not-so-real men (Woody Allen!).  I am surprised there was no mention of Allan Alda (a reference of a certain age, to go along with this column).

I find it problematic to identify competent leadership with being a man and whining and complaining in public with being a woman.

The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife.

Trump is both a terrible role model and example of leadership regardless of his gender.  I suppose Noonan’s retro-approach here is all the more striking given that Trump’s opponent in the election was female and regardless of what else one might want to say about Hillary Clinton, one has to admit that had she been elected the White House would not be in chaos and she would not be on Twitter constantly complaining about things.  For that matter, while she has made a few remarks about her loss that some has criticized as blame-shifting, the reality is she has not spent the last six months whining and complaining.  That description belongs to the dude who was elected.

The issue here is not one of shifting versions of maleness, it is about competence to hold the office to which one aspires.

Trump’s lack of Gary Cooper-ness is not the problem.  Even if Trump were “the strong silent type” he still wouldn’t know what he was doing–it just wouldn’t be confirmed via daily Tweets and weird speeches.

Incompetence is incompetence, whether it is boisterous or silent.

I will agree with Noonan’s conclusion:

Meanwhile the whole world is watching, a world that contains predators. How could they not be seeing this weakness, confusion and chaos and thinking it’s a good time to cause some trouble?

However, what that has to do with a specific view of masculinity is another matter entirely.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    I find Noonan’s penchant for whimsy–and the concomitant rambling wordiness–intensely irritating, but what she might have been doing here is undercut the Trump-worshipers’ portrayal of their man as the ultimate alpha male, the strong tough guy who always fights back.

    Of course she’s right: He’s a whiny little weakling with a massive but fragile ego. And that’s a recipe for disaster.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I agree with @CSK. First off, Noonan always writes about presidents this way, she’s very hung up on somewhat aged-out notions of masculinity. She seems to judge presidents as husbands and lovers.

    But I also think she is using imagery the Trump voters – old white people in the countryside – will understand.

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’m more annoyed by the shift of manly going from debonair, suave, and sophisticated to boorish, uncivilized, and brutish.

    My idea of the ultimate man is something like James Bond. Yeah he can kick ass, but he can also show up at a formal dinner party and fit in perfectly. The Trumpkins’ idea of the ultimate man seems to be Bluto Blutarksy, which I totally don’t get.

  4. @CSK: @michael reynolds: A fair point that I had not considered.

  5. James in Bremerton says:

    Few people I’ve chatted with this morning even know who Woody Allen is. He’s on the very edge of my own awareness, and I’m not sure he would be considered “funny” today.

    Then again, neither would Blazing Saddles, a film that could not possibly be made today, yet crammed full of teachable moments.

    The hiring of Kelly heralds the end of the road is soon upon us. When he fails, there’s no one left to blame.

    Would it kill Robert Mueller to find the warp drive? Yeesh…

  6. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Crude, stupid, boorish, violent: A true patriotic American.

    Worldly, intelligent, educated, civilized: Effete European metrosexual pansy.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It started I think with Bronson and Clint Eastwood. John Wayne was always seen on the Left as some kind of cardboard macho bully but his persona on-screen (and off) was conservative but hardly one-dimensional. His characters expressed emotion, protected women, even showed some vulnerability.

    The rise of Eastwood in spaghetti westerns was the end of nuance or emotional depth in male characters. Bronson and Eastwood gave rise to dozens of macho thugs whose re-defined action heroes as emotionless, steroid-bloated killing machines. I see it as a rather pathetic male response to the feminist challenge. The real heirs to the Duke are the more recent generation of male stars, guys like Chris Evans (Captain America) or Chris Pine (Young Captain Kirk.)

  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m a big fan of the MCU movies, and while RDJ’s performance as Tony Stark gets the most discussion, I actually find Chris Evan’s performance the most most impressive. Tony Stark is the kind of character it’s very easy make entertaining. He’s snarky, cynical, funny. Basically Jon Stewart/Setphen Colbert with muscles. Captain America, on the other hand, is the kind of character that is hard to make to do without coming across either as self-parody or an annoying square. Chris Evan deserves a lot more credit than he gets for managing to make Cap cool.

  9. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Trump is the end product of the anti-intellectualism and anti-cosmopolitanism that’s always existed in American popular culture. Hollywood, in its earlier days, certainly had a hand in promoting this, churning out movies in which the simple country folk were the good guys and the city slickers the bad guys.

    Pat Buchanan gave the notion a real push back in 1992 when he gave his “peasants with pitchforks” speech.

    Trump’s hardly a simple country fellow–and he’s no cosmopolite, either, just a rich thug from the outer boroughs who, incidentally, hates simple country folk–but he is an oaf, a boob, a boor, and a bully, all of which have become hallmarks of virtue, God help us. Sarah Palin was his yokel predecessor.

  10. Franklin says:

    Note to self: Gary Cooper is a different person than Gary Coleman.

  11. Tyrell says:

    “I couldn’t get anybody” : Gary Cooper, “High Noon”

  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    Noonan’s column was fun, but Ross Douthat’s of 7/26 was more eviscerating and gives the added pleasure to the reader of knowing that Donnie, wouldn’t get it. Too many 25 cent words.

  13. teve tory says:
  14. Mr. Prosser says:

    Wonder if Trump will ever have to sing the High Noon theme song.

  15. Mister Bluster says:

    Hey, don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.
    Alvy Singer

  16. teve tory says:

    Speaking of trump and what a Real Man is like, do you remember when Obama agreed to have a Health Care Summit in Feb 2010, and all the GOP congresscritters were like “Yeah, we’re going to clean that darkie’s clock!”, and the summit came, and Obama extemporaneously shot down, on TV, every half-witted Fox News Talking Point they’d memorized, and the GOP complained later than it shouldn’t have been televised because it made them look bad?

    That’s what a Real Man looks like.

    Can you imagine an interviewer just asking Trump basic questions about how the Health Care System works?

  17. teve tory says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Noonan’s column was fun, but Ross Douthat’s of 7/26 was more eviscerating and gives the added pleasure to the reader of knowing that Donnie, wouldn’t get it. Too many 25 cent words.


    This blame-Sessions perspective is warped, since it was Trump’s decision to fire James Comey (an earlier monumental folly) that was actually decisive in putting Robert Mueller on the case. But regardless of whether he has his facts straight, Trump’s logic is a straightforward admission that he wants to eject his attorney general because Sessions has not adequately protected him from legal scrutiny — an argument that at once reveals Trump’s usual contempt for laws and norms and also suggests (not for the first time) that he has something so substantial to hide that only omertà-style loyalty will do.

    Which, of course — now we’ve reached the peak of the tower of folly — he probably will not get if Sessions goes, because no hatchet man will win easy confirmation, and until Sessions is replaced the acting attorney general will be Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in the first place!

    So it’s basically madness all the way to the top: bad policy, bad strategy, bad politics, bad legal maneuvering, bad optics, a self-defeating venture carried out via deranged-as-usual tweets and public insults.

  18. Mister Bluster says:

    @teve tory:..Can you imagine an interviewer just asking Trump basic questions about how the Health Care System works?

    Trump answered any and all questions about women’s health care when he said: “You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.”

    (Where is Eagle Scout James Breed to defend his pervert president on this?)

  19. teve tory says:

    the conclusion of that Douthat column:

    Trump hasn’t had a stroke or suffered a neurological disaster, and his behavior in the White House is no different from the behavior he manifested consistently while winning enough votes to take the presidency.

    But he is nonetheless clearly impaired, gravely deficient somewhere at the intersection of reason and judgment and conscience and self-control. Pointing this out is wearying and repetitive, but still it must be pointed out.

    You can be as loyal as Jeff Sessions and still suffer the consequences of that plain and inescapable truth: This president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better.

  20. Kylopod says:

    It sounds to me like she’s trying to troll Trump, comparing him with one of the more unmasculine movie icons just to get on his nerves. The analogy makes little sense. Woody Allen’s character isn’t always 100% sympathetic, and in fact there’s at least one film–Deconstructing Harry–in which he’s depicted as a borderline sociopath. But even then, there’s nothing particularly Trumpian about the character. The essence of the Allen persona is that he’s a man practically drowning in self-doubt. Not exactly the prototype of someone given to saying things like “if I decide to run, you’ll have the great pleasure of voting for the man that will easily go down as the greatest president in the history of the United States.”

  21. CSK says:


    Ah, but the kind of Trumpian statement such as the one you just quoted proves that Trump is indeed drowning in self-doubt, insecurity, inadequacy, and self-pity. Only those wh aren’t tough have to proclaim heir toughness to the skies.

  22. Kylopod says:


    Ah, but the kind of Trumpian statement such as the one you just quoted proves that Trump is indeed drowning in self-doubt, insecurity, inadequacy, and self-pity.

    I respectfully disagree. He’s made many, many statements along these lines. (I collected a few more in a recent blog post, but believe me, they’re the tip of the iceberg.) I understand the temptation to interpret these remarks as an overcompensation due to feelings of deep inadequacy. That might be a reasonable explanation if they came from a sane man. I think it’s likelier they constitute what psychiatrists call grandiosity delusions. When Trump told the press that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” he wasn’t overcompensating, he was revealing the way he actually sees the world, where he’s literally unable to comprehend the possibility that he’s more ignorant than other people. I really do think he lives in a fantasy in which he’s as awesome as he claims.

  23. teve tory says:

    Donald Trump ranked himself 2nd on a list of most ‘presidential’ presidents

    “It is much easier to act presidential than what we are doing here tonight, believe me,” Trump assured his audience. “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.”

    So more presidential than George Washington.

    Anybody who supports trump is a complete idiot. But I’m not saying anything new.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory: I think we just found a means of convincing Republicans to impeach him.

    He just said he was more presidential than Saint Ronnie!

  25. CSK says:


    I see your point, but Trump probably isn’t sane. Certainly not mentally healthy.

    @teve tory:

    Trump might want to cool it with the praise of Lincoln. In the south, in those circles that most admire Trump, Lincoln is regarded as a villain.

  26. Kylopod says:


    Trump might want to cool it with the praise of Lincoln. In the south, in those circles that most admire Trump, Lincoln is regarded as a villain.

    Republicans have been playing a bait-and-switch game on this matter for decades. They want to have it both ways, on the one hand pandering to the neo-Confederates and on the other basking in Lincoln’s exalted legacy. (The latter makes sense, because after Lincoln the number of Republican presidents with esteemed reputations is pretty thin: you have the moderates TR and Eisenhower, and then you have Saint Ronnie, and that’s pretty much it.) At the 2008 GOP Convention, for example, Mike Huckabee made the curious remark:

    “Centralized governments may care for you from cradle to grave, but they also control you…. Abraham Lincoln reminded us that a government that can do everything for us can also take everything from us.”

    To this day, for the life of me I can’t figure out if Huck was praising or damning Lincoln here. If you choose to read it as pro-Lincoln, then Huck would seem to be characterizing Lincoln as a small-government conservative–which is wildly ahistorical. On the other hand, he could be denouncing Lincoln as a tyrant, the man who utilized the oppressive federal government to “take everything from” the states. That wouldn’t be an unusual outlook for a Southern governor who has defended the Confederate Flag, but it’s not something politicians with national aspirations are normally frank about. It seemed like Huck was deliberately trying to make his statement ambiguous so that it would be interpreted differently depending on the audience.

  27. MBunge says:

    Good grief, I’ve had to spend the last 25 years putting up with Clinton myth-making. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to survive the ahistorical avalanche of Trump criticism. I mean, have we flushed Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Valdimir Putin, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and about a jillion other politicians who had about as much in common with Gary Cooper as they did with Gary Glitter down the memory hole? I’ve given up on any of you realizing that Trump isn’t the problem, but I know some of you are old enough to remember the most Gary-Cooperish President of the modern age may have been George H. W. Bush…and how did that work out for him?

    Whether it’s Noonan, Douthat, or anybody around here, any criticism built on the unique awfulness of Trump is so fatally flawed that it’s not only useless but actively harmful.

    And since amateur psycho-analysis is all the rage now, I’d say the compulsive need to emasculate Trump says a lot about the critic’s own shortcomings.


  28. de stijl says:

    @teve tory:

    I heartily endorse your hearting Wonkette. Fan since Ana Marie Cox days. I love that they’ve dubbed her Dame Peggington Noonington and given her a Manuel a la Fawlty Towers.

    @CSK: , @michael reynolds:

    I love that her columns are essentially identical: Disappointed rumination on the political news of the day, more disappontment, compares situation to Reagan, and then it just peters out. No call to action, no bookending, no conclusion. It just stops.

    My absolute fave is when she’s on “The Shows” on Sunday morning. She is soooo lugubrious. She is utterly disappointed in us. Throw in a Reagan anecdote and go to break. Hilarious.

    This person has a Pulitzer.

  29. @MBunge: I must confess: I have no idea what your point is here.

    Note two things:

    1) The post is predominantly a critique of Noonan, not Trump, per se (though his shortcoming are certainly part of the conversation).

    2) Yes, I think most of us understand that Trump is not the sole problem.

  30. teve tory says:

    I heartily endorse your hearting Wonkette. Fan since Ana Marie Cox days. I love that they’ve dubbed her Dame Peggington Noonington and given her a Manuel a la Fawlty Towers.

    Ditto. And I miss Kaili Joy Grey. She’s at ShareBlue now, but it’s not the same.

  31. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The rise of Eastwood in spaghetti westerns was the end of nuance or emotional depth in male characters.

    Read more:

    I’ve gotta disagree there. Sure Eastwood had some clunkers in his early career but the Sergio Leone westerns with Clint had fascinating characters. Not fascinating on the good/bad spectrum normal in American movies but along completely different axis. And “Unforgiven” is as self aware deconstruction of the Western genre as has ever been made. It basically took every stereotypical horse opera character and said “what would that be like if they were actually real?”

  32. teve tory says:

    Spaghetti Westerns started in the mid-60’s. Unforgiven didn’t come along til 1992.

  33. teve tory says:

    Spaghetti Westerns didn’t invent the anti-intellectual righteous brute who smashes the bad guys anymore than Gordon Gekko in Wall Street or Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross invented the Reagan-era money-grubbing psychopathic businessman. But they did perhaps give voice to and amplify that set of traits.

  34. Mister Bluster says:

    @MBunge:..I’ve given up on any of you realizing that Trump isn’t the problem,..

    “…And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
    “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

    He’s not?

  35. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: Trump is someone who will subsume everything else for support of his ego, regardless of whether it destroys US institutions and economy or not.

    It’s always ME ME ME ME ME ME.

    What’s even more scary is that so many Americans support him. I can only chalk this up to fantasy wish-fulfillment. How many people wouldn’t like to act like a rich brat all the time, whine about how UNFAIR the world is whenever something doesn’t go their way, and cheat on their spouse when said spouse starts to look a little shop-worn?

    Shows what morals said fools actually adhere to….

  36. Franklin says:


    I’ve given up on any of you realizing that Trump isn’t the problem

    Hmm? I thought we all knew the real problem was not Trump himself, but rather the type of people who put him in office.

  37. teve tory says:

    @Franklin: Trump is the proximal problem, his idiot voters are the distal problem.

  38. teve tory says:

    If we can get some rich liberals to pool their money and pay 850,000 other liberals to move from california and new york to texas, it’s game over 😛

  39. teve tory says:

    Alternately you could pay 50k liberals to move to Wisconsin and michigan, but WTF wants to live in either place?

  40. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    2) Yes, I think most of us understand that Trump is not the sole problem.

    Yes. A lot of the problem is that there are so many Mikes out there. And they constitute the majority in a majority of the states. We may never have sane people running on one side of the spectrum ever again.

  41. slimslowslider says:


    Is this your application to replace Mooch? Spin on, spinner!

  42. Franklin says:

    @teve tory: Ouch, you hit home there.

  43. Kylopod says:


    I’ve given up on any of you realizing

    That just might be the single most ridiculous, most un-self-aware thing you’ve ever said here. And that’s saying something.

    You haven’t “given up” trying to persuade us of anything, having to do with Trump or having to do with any other subject. Giving up implies you once made a sincere effort to achieve a goal. In all your years here, you’ve never made any serious attempt at persuasion. You don’t listen to what anyone’s saying, you engage incessantly in caricature and strawman, and you refuse to debate anyone.

    When you described Trump as “one of the most accomplished non-military men to win the Oval Office in American history,” you received several responses exposing the absurdity of your statement, including a particularly detailed and eloquent one from HarvardLaw92. Like usual, you ignored them all. When you referred to last year’s election as “the greatest polling failure in history,” I pointed out several worse polling errors in past elections. As usual, you ignored my comment.

    Those are just two examples, but I can offer a bucketload more. It’s what you always do: Whenever people correct you, whenever they point out the flaws in your arguments, you neither apologize nor dispute what they’re saying. You just do one thing: ignore, ignore, ignore. Then before long you’re back in another thread with a new idiotic post that the other commenters proceed to pick apart, and you ignore them too.

    Let’s be clear: a person who never does anything more than asserting their views, who ignores rebuttals as if they don’t exist, is the absolute last person who is in any position to lecture others about being dense and closeminded. That’s what’s so unintentionally ironic about your posts. You don’t seem to realize how much your denunciations of us are pure projection. Much like the man you’re defending, you possess a superiority complex disproven by your own behavior. You demonstrate over and over that you’re pathetically incapable of defending your point of view against challenges from people you depict as clueless fools. Besides Jack, no commenter here is more comically oblivious to the fact that the only thing you ever accomplish here is getting your ass handed to you, again and again and again.

    Of course, like the average bratty teenager, you think the mere act of getting other people upset at you is itself an achievement to be proud of. And to that, I salute you. You have to get something done when you put your mind to it.

  44. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: Are you saying that our friend MB is whining and weak? Remind you of someone?

  45. teve tory says:

    @Franklin: Dude, I’d probly rather live in WI. After 6 lovely months in WA state, my company boned thousands of employees, including me, and I had to suddenly move back to North Florida.