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Obama, Biden, And The Power Of Positive Public Male Friendships

19/01/2017 17:20 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 17:26 GMT
Susan Walsh/AP

It may have been a week ago, but the mental image of Joe Biden tearfully accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to him by his commander-in-chief and best bud, Barack Obama, still leaves a dent in my heart.

Yes, because it represented one of the few public appearances we had left of Obama as president, but I think the reason the ceremony continues to resonate is that it reminds us of a cast-iron friendship that has seen two men through eight gruelling years in power.

We hear a lot about the sisterhood and bonds between women that help in times of need, yet hear comparatively few about the friendships that carry men through. Barack and Joe's willingness to lean on each other, and their happiness to display that to the world, is inspiring.

That two of the most powerful men in the world would be so publicly and unironically emotionally available to each other should cause men young and old across the world to reflect on how they relate to their fellow men. Too often are male friendships defined by firmness, coldness and competitiveness: honesty bad, stoicism good. Sincerity bad, light banter good.

As a man who has struggled to develop male friendships, I've found the genuine 'bromance' between Biden and Obama among the most compelling stories of the Obama administration.

Whether it was sharing ice cream on the campaign trail, jogging round the White House for a public health initiative or Obama's devastating eulogy at Biden's son Beau's funeral, there's no lack of examples of both men just being there for each other. At last week's ceremony, Biden told how Obama offered significant financial aid to his family as Beau went through treatment for the brain cancer that took his life.

obama biden beau

Joe Biden and Barack Obama embrace at the funeral of Beau Biden, 6 June 2015

I can think of few better examples to show our young men of modern masculinity. Their friendship illustrates how men can raise each other up, how we succeed best when working together and for each other. How greater things are possible when you can rely on one another for support.

The two also sit in stark comparison to what will come next.

Donald Trump is not a kind man. You see it in his lack of compassion for others, in particular towards those he betters, and those with whom he disagrees. You can see it in his wanton sexual abuse of women or his utter lack of empathy for refugees or migrants who flock to America in pursuit of better.

Contrast Obama's 2008 appeal to the country to unite and promise to serve all Americans with Trump's inane ramblings about the "losers!" and the "haters!", and the bleary-eyed dawn Twitter vendettas against whoever most recently spoke against him.

Trump's entire pre-election brand was all about 'the deal'. By all accounts he defines himself by his ability to get the best of other people. Note his borderline sociopathic categorisation of almost all around him as 'winners' and 'losers'. Think of the total absence of warmth, and the haunting void where most humans contain their levity and sense of humour. As Trump biographer Gwenda Blair told POLITICO, the President-elect operates with an "emphasis on being combative, being killers - as his dad famously instructed his boys to be".

His vice president, Mike Pence, is not a kind man. He is a man who seeks to overturn a woman's right to abortion in America, going so far as to say Roe vs. Wade must be "consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs". He is a man who believes marriage equality will bring about "societal collapse".

Can we imagine these two unkind, compassionless men in a warm embrace, eight years from now, unabashedly celebrating their deep respect and emotional reliance on the other? I fear we will instead return to a cold, toxic masculinity that sets the tone for the rest of the Trump administration.

So, yes, the Joebama memes have been a highlight of the last stretch of the Obama presidency, but the sincere importance of this unforgivingly loving, respectful and supportive relationship must not be forgotten. As the world watches two intolerant men sworn into leadership of the free world this week, let us remember and celebrate the bromance.