Close to Skelhp where I live, there is a Steller rookery, a haul-out on the McRae Islets where the local population of more than 100 pinnipeds lounges and collectively demonstrate various types of dominance behaviour according to their age and gender. The reigning alpha bull is a sight to see – easily five times larger than the assembled females who sleep and sunbathe with their young on a lower ledge of rock beneath the male domain.
Up above the females and juveniles, younger males skirmish continually to establish dominance relationships on the granite pinnacles. Their roars and bellows can be heard five kilometres away, and the smell of their salmon, squid and octopi breath is detectable farther away still, especially on the freshening west wind.
Collectively, the Steller sea lions are an ocean colony of attitude and entitlement, and they know it.
Most noticeable in this spectacle is the dominant bull. The ruler of the breeding beach spends much of the day yowling, preening and threatening from a smooth rocky perch at the peak of the islet.
He is the first Steller visible as you approach by boat, unmistakable in his size, attitude and even colour. Somehow he has a more orangery hue to his shining coat, and his huge head is constantly moving as he checks for threats. His look is one of mockery and disdain for all below him on the food chain, the mating chain, and the testosterone chain.
Once you’ve seen him, you’ll never forget his machismo. In the patriarchal Steller society, he is the undisputed patriarch.
These observations rose in my consciousness when I watched the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The debate conjured up visions of McRae Islets in my imagination as I watched Trump’s scowls, sneers of derision and theatrical male posturing as he lumbered into the debate. Clinton’s demeanor was, by comparison, of another world. She seemed to be watching Trump’s antics from a higher perch, with amusement, analysis and forethought.
In the natural world analogy, she was a Golden eagle looking down from a tall Douglas fir upon the flightless king of the rut.
While the natural analogy has great merit for Trump, it ultimately fails for Clinton. She is part of an emerging new order that even the most nimble Stellers will never attain. She has grown up in a patriarchy, but is now poised symbolically to replace it, at the very least, with a form of bilateral descent of societal power and privilege in the president’s office. Over time, as women continue their emerging dominance in advanced education, entrepreneurship and the professions, we may even see a matriarchy form in our society.
In this societal change, there are new rules of engagement emerging in debate and decision-making. To plough on as if the patriarchy remains unchallenged is to be profoundly disconnected with this process. That is Trump’s ultimate undoing.
He never got the change memo. He thinks that six-foot-three of stooped blue suit, instant tan, orange hair, and business bluster will win the votes of a majority of American voters, more than half of whom are women. He thinks that a record of “hanging around beauty contests” (as Clinton said in her first debate commentary), and persistently referring to women with profane language is acceptable. He just doesn’t get it.
Consequently his base will erode, most conspicuously with the departure of young women, who have seen and had enough of the behaviour with which Trump’s personal brand is now so well identified. Given the stark choice between yesterday’s man and today’s woman, Clinton will win the coming election.
Out on the McRae Islets, it’s changing too. The once enormous runs of Chinook and Sockeye salmon (the Steller sea lions’ mainstay diet) are in steep decline in B.C.’s Salish Sea. Interestingly, new whale research has shown that orca ‘grannies’ are leading their pods to new food sources to replace the Pacific salmon species in decline.
Orcas have always lived in matriarchies, which are proving fast respondents to change. The patriarchal Stellers are so far unresponsive to salmon decline. They should wake up, because the orca grannies have placed them on their new menu. Trump should take the hint.
Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery.