Sleeping Bears?! What Would Papa Say?

Ernest Hemingway on safari, 1934


What’s with the GOP and its obsession with killing animals? At the moment I’m thinking of their new law, passed by Congress and signed by Donald Trump, allowing hunters to kill hibernating bears and wolf cubs in their dens, not to mention going after both with helicopters and wire snares. Margot Macomber would not be impressed.

I have in mind, of course, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” But before going further, here’s what’s been going on:

Hunters in Alaska can now shoot hibernating bears and use aircraft to track their targets, after the Trump administration repealed Obama-era wildlife protection laws.

The state of is home to 16 US national wildlife refuges, covering 76 million acres of land.

Under the previous law, hunters were prohibited from aggressive tactics such shooting or trapping wolves while at their dens with cubs, spotting grizzly bears from aircraft, killing hibernating bears, trapping bears with wire snares and luring bears with food to get a point-blank kill.

The president of the Humane Society has reacted with fury:

The vote in favor of H.J. Resolution 69, authored by Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, was 225 to 193. Those 225 members voted to overturn a federal rule – years in the works, and crafted by professional wildlife managers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – to stop some of the most appalling practices ever imagined in the contemporary era of wildlife management. Denning of wolf pups, killing hibernating bears, spotting grizzly bears from aircraft and then shooting them after landing, and trapping grizzly bears and black bears with steel-jawed leghold traps and snares. The stuff of wildlife snuff films.

The hunting in Hemingway’s story might not win the approval of the Humane Society, but at least there’s more of a fair fight. Hunters get charged by lions and buffaloes and sometimes barely make it out alive. It’s all part of Hemingway macho.

And it’s about emasculation fears. Mrs. Macomber despises her husband because he runs away from a lion. Then, in the much debated ending, she shoots him—maybe accidentally but maybe not—when he shoots a charging buffalo, thereby reclaiming his masculinity.

I find the story painful because of how it portrays the wife. On the other hand, after watching all the women who voted for a serial sexual assaulter in this past election, I’m wondering if it doesn’t have some accuracy. Apparently certain women only respect alpha males.

In any event, the new laws aren’t about alpha males. They’re about wannabe alpha males who dream from a distance. I think of Dick Cheney blasting away at quail in a special reserve and of the Trump sons hosting luxury safaris and proudly displaying leopards, lions, and elephants that they’ve shot. While I’m at it, I think of Trump fantasizing about winning a purple heart and dropping $60 million worth of Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airport.

I’m not saying that any of these men should be more macho. I’m no Margot Macomber. Rather, I’m critiquing them for embracing the macho poise in the first place. And for thinking they can be “real men” on the cheap.

The problem is that people in power do real damage when they’re strutting around, and it doesn’t help that Trump received applause for his Syrian escapade. Trump critic Fareed Zakaria gave Trump his first positive press in weeks when he said that “Donald Trump became the President of the United States,” and others followed suit. Wannabe alpha male Brian Williams, once fired from NBC for making up a story about being under small arms fire, called the bombing “beautiful.” What have they unleashed with a man who craves adulation?

In Macomber’s case, his shame prompts him to take reckless chances with a wounded buffalo. But at least his decision affects only him.

In light of the recent law, it’s interesting that Wilson—the macho lion killer who initially wins Margot’s admiration—violates the hunting code by hunting buffalo from his car. “It seemed very unfair to me,” the disillusioned woman says, “chasing those big helpless things in a motor car.”


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