Donald Trump and Ted Lasso walk into a bar …
How would you finish that sentence? What would be the outcome of a meeting between someone like Donald Trump and someone like Ted Lasso?
If we think of masculinity on a spectrum, then there could hardly be two more different versions of what it means to be a man in our current culture than Donald Trump and Ted Lasso.
No, I am not saying that Donald Trump is broken as a man and the fictional Ted Lasso is not. The truth is that both men are broken. The difference is in how the men deal with their brokenness. One sees only strength in himself and enjoys pointing out the weaknesses in others. The other acknowledges the strengths in others and admits the weaknesses in himself.
Perhaps two imagined snapshots will make my point better than philosophizing on the subject of male formation and deformation. The first is any photo of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Donald Trump doesn’t just fit into the picture of enraged men storming the Capitol. We now know that he wanted to lead that assault.
Now try to photoshop Ted Lasso’s image into that same Jan. 6 photo. It’s all wrong. It’s impossible. No universe or parallel universe exists where Ted Lasso would be smashing windows and doors of the Capitol, where he would be smearing human excrement on the walls of those chambers, where he would be calling for the heads of Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence.
The second imagined snapshot is of Donald Trump serving as the coach of Richmond Football (Soccer) Club. Again, no universe or parallel universe exists where Trump as coach would say that his goal is not so much to win matches as to guide boys to become men of character.
If you are a faithful fan of the two seasons of “Ted Lasso,” you will recall that there were Donald Trump types on the club when Ted Lasso became the coach. The better players humiliated lesser players and even one another. In defeat, the players turned on one another, creating a scene in the locker room that was worse than anything that happened on the pitch. The club was an example of what damage men do to one another and to women. Toxic masculinity — that was Richmond Football Club.
What I appreciate most about the two seasons of “Ted Lasso” is that the series debunks the idea that Trumper men will always kick the butts of the Ted Lassos of the world. In the series, the opposite happens. Ted’s concern for his players, for his fellow coaches, for opponents, and even the media that lampoons him is contagious and slowly transform nearly all the Trump types on and around the club.
The irony is that there would have been no Ted Lasso without Donald Trump. In the Trump era, we saw and still see the worst of American maleness: rudeness, objectifying of women, turning on others (even friends), racial slurring and vicious hate speech. But the pendulum had to swing back at some point, and the desire and need in our culture for a different male role model produced Ted Lasso.
Those who study and write about male psychology and spirituality, such as Father Richard Rohr, have pointed out that when men rely too heavily on the “warrior” notion of manhood, that reliance blocks the emergence of the real goal of life — to become a “wise elder.”
Birch Bayh, Richard Lugar and Lee Hamilton — wise elders indeed. And when they served us, the system worked. Ted Lasso isn’t a wise elder yet, but he is headed in that direction. Wouldn’t it be great if we could say the same about political candidates?