Toxic Masculinity in American Politics
“Hegemonic masculinity was a major factor in Trump’s political success.”— Theresa Vescio and Nathaniel Schemerhorn, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
In my book, Macho Men: How Toxic Masculinity Harms Us All and What To Do About It, I describe in detail the growing virus of toxic masculinity in America, and particularly within the Republican Party.
According to Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne, a book about white evangelicals and masculinity, aggressive macho politics can contribute to political dysfunction. “Trump’s identity is rooted on militancy, and militancy needs adversaries, therefore his foes are both internal and foreign,” she said.
Trump chose conflicts with other political, business, and international leaders both during his election campaigns and after he was elected. Of course, the mainstream media is his preferred target. Trump, according to Du Mez, proved that “compromise is a sign of weakness.”
In addition to picking confrontations with adversaries (real or imagined), Trump often used degrading, if not abusive, rhetoric, such as “Crazy Nancy Pelosi” or “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.”
Trump is infamous for calling people “little” or “liddle” before their names, as he did with California congressman Adam Schiff, Senator Marco Rubio, former Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, and other figures (for example, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg).
There is a trend to Trump’s insults though: He frequently disparages women’s appearances or refers to them as hysterical, but likes to denigrate male opponents as weak by calling them “cryin’,” “little,” or “low-energy.” In addition, he has a history of criticizing black women, including Vice President Kamala Harris.
According to Du Mez, race is inextricably linked to this manly posture. According to her, “These heroes [Confederate Generals, for instance] that are praised tend to be white male military heroes that promote this narrative of white masculine strength as actually being the center of American history, the center of the American tale.”
Reshaping Republican Politics
Other politicians, mainly in the Republican Party, have picked up Trump’s macho attitude. For instance, former Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler tweeted a video of Trump physically wrestling the coronavirus to the ground and beating up on it, or Texas senator Ted Cruz tweeted that “many leftist guys never grow balls.”
For the “tens of thousands” of “traitors” who, in his opinion, stole the election from former president Donald Trump, a news anchor on the conservative One America News said that execution might be an appropriate penalty. American citizens “have an obligation to use” the Second Amendment, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) of Congress said, “to continue an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.”
In pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to help him overturn the results of the election, Trump reportedly questioned Pence’smasculinity by saying “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy,” according to the New York Times.
“We got to get rid of the weak Congresspeople, the ones that aren’tany good, the Liz Cheney’s of the world,” Trump said, calling out the House Republican Conference Chair who would ultimately, days later, vote for his impeachment, and become Vice-Chair of the January 6 Congressional Investigative Committee.
Trump did not keep the Presidency by the rebellion on January 6, but it did demonstrate to Republican supporters the viability of using violence to gain control. The danger of violence and its actuality are closer than we realize, and they are directly out of the script for authoritarian and autocratic leaders, as we know from the history of authoritarianism.
Americans say that Republicans employ aggressive rhetoric more frequently than Democrats, according to a PRRI poll (42 percent to 23 percent respectively).
“I think Trump’s exaggerated hypermasculinity, if you could call it that, has, if it’s done anything, it’s driven women away from the party,” said Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster who has been critical of Trump.
Matthews added: “I think the Trump era has attracted a different kind of Republican woman who may want to run for office — somebody who may have a little backlash to the women’s marches.
“When I was sort of looking at some of the Republican women running for government in the 2020 election, one thing I saw was how many of them seemed to be portraying themselves as not only Second Amendment supporters, but photographs of themselves with firearms — enormous guns,” says Matthews.
More than one-third of Republican women running for Congress, according to Matthews’ study, had campaign posters that prominently featured them holding firearms. This includes Congresswomen Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green as well as South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.
Hegemonic Masculinity and Donald Trump
Both men and women who favor “New research shows that people who embrace “hegemonic masculinity” are more likely to support President Trump than people who do not.
“This analysis demonstrates that masculinity is more than just an ideal that men aspire to. It’s something our culture values, “said the study’s principal author, Theresa Vescio, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University who also specializes in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.
“The appeal of masculinity as a cultural concept is that, despite subordinating women, we can persuade them to participate in and support it. Despite its underlying subordination, we can persuade men of color, guys from low socioeconomic level, and men who identify as LGBT to support it,” added Vescio.
Over and above whatever sexist, racist, or homophobic sentiments a voter could have, around half of seven research studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed acceptance of a strong male hierarchy predicted a positive appraisal of Trump.
Professor of political science and psychology at the University of Minnesota Christopher Federico said, “This is an interesting study, and the results are relatively convincing with respect to the idea that ‘hegemonic masculinity’ predicts voting and candidate attitudes even after controlling for other variables that we might expect to predict political behavior.”
“The underlying notion is that masculinity is more brittle than femininity and must continuously be earned and upheld in front of others. Trump seems to receive more support among guys who feel (or have been made to believe) that their standing as males is insufficient “explained Federico.
“One explanation is that Trump emits an excessive domineering masculinity, at least in the persona he presents in public. Therefore, backing him could be a method to adopt that ethos or to show that one is a man by backing a “masculine proxy,” he argues.
Trump reportedly said, “the United States could mark its F-22 planes with the Chinese flag and ‘bomb the s — — out of Russia,’” according to The Washington Post, during a recent GOP gathering. Then they start fighting, and we just stand by and watch, we say, ‘China did it, we didn’t do it, China did it.’
These extravagant military ambitions are not exclusive to Trump, despite its childish inanity and the weak argument — he was only joking!
It Spreads Like a Virus
Putin should be shot, said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who is always looking for a tough guy to associate himself with. A no-fly zone was urged by several elected Republicans who were seeking to portray themselves as tougher than President Biden, which would increase the likelihood of a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia. These Republicans play war like little boys and don’t bother to consider the ramifications in the real world (war with an unhinged dictator with nuclear weapons).
This phenomenon is not brand-new. During Trump’s presidency, the maxim was that the objective was cruelty, or the blatant assertion of power over the helpless. It is still. Republicans’ actions have been characterized by tough masculinity that takes the form of bullying, whether they are separating children from their parents, spying on and violating the privacy of women who do not want to be forced to finish their pregnancies, or threatening to take away transgender children whose parents seek appropriate medical care.
Additionally, they are enforcing their will with all available governmental power. All to support the hysterical claim that “men are men, women are women,” as was outlined by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in a an 11-point program. When was the last time that a major party that made such a direct appeal to male insecurity?
The MAGA followers found their perfect parody of toxic masculinity in Trump. Trump gave the MAGA mob the vicariously thrilling experience of being tough guys at a distance by supporting war crimes, encouraging police to hurt suspects, defending white vigilantes, and standing behind individuals accused of abuse. On January 6, 2021, thugs attacked the Capitol and put politicians’ and his own Vice President’s life in danger, to his delight. As he said, he “loved” these kinds of men.
It’s not shocking that a Trump fan like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) would sell the Jan. 6 mob a mug with a picture of him pumping his fist. His remarks criticizing the attack on “traditional masculine characteristics” exemplified how masculine insecurity can pass for manliness. It may sound absurd to claim that Republicans would lead a “revival of strong and healthy manhood in America” while the left has been actively eroding masculinity. However, with today’s GOP, the MAGA crowd believes it with a passion.
Bo Hines, a congressional candidate from North Carolina, produced a campaign video showcasing his physique. The image depicted him ferociously lifting weights and performing pullups at a gym decorated with a large Back the Blue banner. An intimidating voice over rock music declares that Hines will bring “North Carolina gridiron values” to Congress.
Hines’ advertisement is a particularly ludicrous example of a right-wing cultural tendency that should alarm all Americans. This trend is the spread of toxic masculinity within the Republican Party, notably as a result of right-wing populism’s expansion into more and more areas of conservative politics. More and more GOP politicians, who are highly reliant on the support of men, present an unbridled, aggressive masculinity as the solution to defeating the liberal-left.
Bo Hines is hardly the only politician that prioritizes power and physical attractiveness in his public appearance. Republican politicians are imitating Donald Trump, as they do with most everything. With pledges to reinstate “waterboarding and things a heck of a lot worse than waterboarding,” the former president energized Republican voters.
Trump, who was exempt from military duty due to “bone spurs,” was able to develop a reputation for toughness by association by associating with bullies like Putin. His and other Republicans’ admiration for autocrats (the Saudi monarchs, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Kim Jong Un) reveals their throwback view of what it means to be a man. It is no accident that support for the MAGA cult figure is strongly correlated with a belief in “traditional” gender norms. Republicans overwhelmingly agree with the claims that society punishes males for being men (60 percent agree) and that it has grown too soft and feminine (63 percent agree), according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 values survey.
The MAGA crowd’s obsession with making America a predominantly White, Christian nation has been the focus of the press, historians, and political analysts on their right. Remember that toxic masculinity plays a part in that equation. This kind of masculinity preys on those who are seen as defenseless at home and propels the US into perilous and extreme national security positions and domestic policies that victimize people.
Misogyny is the dark core. We observe it throughout the GOP, where misogyny is pervasive and even having been raped no longer automatically elicits sympathy from the party leadership. Abrasive and extremely belligerent populist lieutenant governor Mark Robinson held rape victims accountable for the harm they suffered. He said, “That is Darwin,” as if being the victim of sexual assault meant one had failed the evolutionary race. I am unable to assist you.
Insecurities among the male supporters of the Republican Party are to blame for the emergence of toxic masculinity in that party. The less educated white male working class makes up the majority of the GOP coalition. A growing number of Latinos and even some Black males with culturally conservative tendencies are joining these working-class white men. Too many conservative males have reacted in a sexist rage rather than changing their behavior and value systems to accommodate the rise of women. Why? The growing knowledge economy has been more kind to educated women than to less educated men.
The GOP is a remarkably male-dominated organization. There are just 12 women in the Republican caucus in the US House of Representatives; 86 percent of the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly is made up of men. Although it affects policies and represents a failure to represent half of the American population, homogeneity by itself does not necessarily make the GOP a risky organization. The GOP’s failure at one of the fundamental responsibilities of any civilized society is what makes them the party of toxic masculinity. For a society to remain peaceful and productive, male violence must be curbed.
Republicans have made masculinity a defining issue, led by stars of the New Right like Missouri senator Josh Hawley. For instance, Hawley asserted that the leftist progressive movement is attempting to “deconstruct” the American man in a recent address at the National Conservatism Conference. Regardless of your opinion of that statement, it’s important to consider its appeal and how it’s affecting our politics.
The Era of Lawless Masculinity Has Begun
The latest anime-style film that Republican Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona released exemplifies the sense of empowerment that comes from being a part of a group that has made illegal action acceptable. The video weaves a masculine dream of being praised for killing a female rival. In it, an idealized Gosar defeats President Biden with swords and assassinates Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to rescue the country. While Democrats have demanded Gosar’s removal from Congress and approved legislation on Wednesday to formally condemn him, the GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s deliberate silence offered tacit acceptance to this public display of a sitting lawmaker’s murderous misogynist wrath.
In an advertisement for his campaign, Eric Greitens, the controversial former governor of Missouri who is now running for the Senate on the GOP ticket, can be seen going after “RINOs” (Republicans in name only).
A shotgun-wielding man said, “We’re going RINO hunting.” Before entering a residence with the guys in tactical gear and one of them throwing what seems to be a flash-bang grenade, Greitens, who is carrying a revolver at his side, makes a statement. “Obtain a RINO hunting license. It doesn’t expire until we save our country,” he says at the conclusion of the film, which asks viewers to donate $25 in exchange for a “RINO hunting” sticker.
Greitens, who resigned as governor in 2018 after a sexual misconduct investigation and a felony charge related to campaign finance that was ultimately dismissed, is seen saying earlier in the tape, “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia-based Republican congresswoman and well-known conspiracy theorist, told white supremacist podcaster Steve Bannon in November that “the only way you win freedom back after you’ve lost it is with the price of blood.” The next month, Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn told a reporter that the country was moving toward “Second Amendment remedies.” Steve Lynch of Pennsylvania, a far-right contender for Northampton County executive, pledged to assemble “twenty strong guys” to pressure school board members into leaving.
The New York Times noted that “threats against members of Congress had surged by 107 percent compared with the same period in 2020,” , according to the Capitol Police.” surveying the rise of violent threats in public life.
Multiple GOP 2022 candidates running for Congress in 2022 have domestic-violence allegations in their background.
In the last century, authoritarianism has changed, and now electoral autocracies coexist with traditional dictatorships. However, there is still at least one constant: When more gender justice and emancipation give rise to concerns about male power and status, extreme political solutions frequently gain hold. Toxic masculinity, disguising as a “return to traditional values,” coincides with the development of authoritarianism and the rejection of the rule of law and political responsibility. The removal of controls for activities regarded unethical in democratic situations (lying, stealing, even rape and murder) is equally crucial to its operation and attractiveness.
It is therefore not shocking to see the GOP, which embraced an authoritarian political culture under the Trump administration, cultivating a culture of lawless masculinity. As evidence of their rejection of democratic norms, the Republicans supported the January 6 coup attempt and perpetuated the lie that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 election. They have also normalized and deliberately spread disinformation and lies about election tampering, with violence as a remedy.
Hyper-masculinity has frequently been associated with authoritarian policies, which are motivated by the desire to control and exploit people’s bodies and minds. People may make fun of Mussolini and Vladimir Putin’s pectoral-baring displays and the rape jokes made by Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, but their strongman style of leadership defends patriarchal privilege and men’s rights to indulge in their “natural” male desires in response to perceived threats to male authority.
Early on, Trump declared his loyalty to this custom. In January 2016, he claimed, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and kill someone and I wouldn’t lose voters.” His abusive behavior toward women came to light in October of the same year as a result of the release of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. Anything is possible, Trump remarked. )Despite widespread expectations that the leak would spell the end of Trump’s campaign, it instead served to highlight his macho image.
Given that he only held office in a free society for four years, Trump’s skill in producing “mini-Trumps” is striking. While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s 2018 campaign persona as a “pitbull Trump defender” has become so entrenched three years later that he frequently imitates the former president’s hand gestures. Mike Pompeo, who violated ethics standards as secretary of state and yelled obscenities at a female journalist, boasted about leading through “swagger.”
Trump recruited supporters in the traditional authoritarian manner by easing restrictions on men’s freedom to pursue their inclinations without fear of repercussions. In 2019, his administration limited the definition of domestic abuse to physical harm in order to partially decriminalize it (which effectively legalized sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological actions or threats of actions). In addition, Trump filled prominent government positions with individuals, such as Steve Bannon, who were accused of sexual harassment, domestic violence, or inappropriate workplace behavior. Trump also defended men accused of sexual harassment and assault, such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. How appropriate that Sean Lawler, his chief of protocol, walked around the office with a horsewhip to frighten staff members.
Whether or not Trump runs for office again in 2024, the GOP has absorbed his hyper masculine style. After all, doesn’t a real man not have to pay a price for taking what he wants when he wants it, whether in the bedroom, the office, or politics. Abuse, exploitative, and illegal behavior are being increasingly encouraged and condoned as the Republican effort to dismantle democracy grows. The dangerous marriage of toxic masculinity and authoritarianism is clearly creating havoc in America.