An Opportunity to Talk About Chivalry, and an Observation
September 29, 2020 · C.E. Carter
Tonight’s presidential debate was, well, hardly a discussion of ideas or a battle of intellectual wills between two men. My dad put it best when he said, “Trump lost, but Biden didn’t beat him”. I couldn’t have said it better. I really wasn’t expecting anything grand or impressive from Biden. He performed about as I thought he would: he stuck to the middle, tried his best to avoid the more abrasive Democratic talking points, and generally followed the rules of debate, but mostly bumbled his way through trying to appeal to the median voter. All Trump really had to do was shut up and keep sharp enough to answer the questions. When he’s not being belligerent, he answers them better, and he has better answers.
Now, of course, it’s fashionable to pick on Trump, and his supporters have almost unanimously agreed that he needs to shut his trap more. I won’t belabor the point. There are times for screaming matches, just like there are times for brawls and times for great physical exertion of the will; a man who cannot manifest aggression when he needs to be aggressive is severely lacking in a vital aspect of masculinity. On the other hand, a man who can’t compose himself and become gentle for the sake of a situation which requires civility is equally lacking in another vital part of masculinity. The union and synthesis of these two seemingly antithetical qualities is known as chivalry, and the man who is balanced across these things is nothing short of a work of art. He walks over the bellies of his enemies when at war, and is a perfect gentleman to the guests of the King’s banquet in times of peace. Debate is war, won by intellectual exertion, self control, poise, etiquette, winsome tartness, poetry, and biting syllogism. It requires both a warrior’s will and a gentleman’s conduct to do well.
Understand as well that Trump is no idiot. I’d imagine he can be quite winsome when he needs to be. Part of what we saw tonight was a glimpse into how the sausage is actually made. We’d like to think that democracy is all that we learned of it in high school: “the free exchange of ideas and the pooling of public opinion to pick the best candidate…”, yada yada. Most people aren’t won over by someone with great ideas; they’re won over by someone because they make them feel good. You just have to make the right sausage. Anyone who wants to win the culture today will first have to observe that, right now, everyone (on both sides of the aisle) is angry about a fairly well-defined set of things. Play ball.