Trump and Macho Masculinity in American Politics

Ray Williams
13 min readMay 2, 2024

“Hegemonic masculinity was a major factor in Trump’s political success.”Theresa Vescio and Nathaniel Schemerhorn, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The current trial of Donald Trump over a “hush money coverup” with an adult porn star and accompanying two campaign finance charges feature daily outbursts by Trump in the media, often displaying him in an aggressive, angry “masculine” way. This male aggressiveness has been a hallmark of Trump’s behavior throughout his life, and it has spread in politics.

There is a rise in support for authoritarianism which has clear connections to toxic masculinity in American politics, particularly in the Republican Party as I describe in my book, Macho Men: How Toxic Masculinity Harms Us All and What To Do About It.

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 in 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,” or “Crooked Joe Biden.”

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

Kirk Swearingen, writing in Salon about toxic masculinity in the Republican Party comments: “This hyper-focus on anything and everything sexual extends to the right’s self-proclaimed tough guys, the seeming adults who so much enjoy playing dress-up. Tucker Carlson’s bluster about masculinity (including his risible special ‘The End of Men’ whose promo included a fair amount of plausibly-homoerotic imagery.”

As historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat noted in an article for the Atlantic: “Illiberal political solutions tend to take hold when increased gender equity and emancipation spark anxieties about male authority and status. Conquest-without-consequences masculinity, posing as a ‘return to traditional values,’ tracks with authoritarianism’s rise and parallels the discarding of the rule of law and accountability in politics.”

Jennifer Rubin also wrote a blunt editorial in the Washington Post which argued amongst other things:

  • “In their head-spinning transition from apologists for Russian President Vladimir Putin to proponents of World War III, Republicans reveal not only their utter lack of principle but also their obsession with toxic masculinity. Winston Churchill’s favored saying ‘The Hun is always either at your throat or your feet’ neatly sums up the Republicans’ abrupt shift . . . “Both expressions of wish fulfillment — admiring Russian ruthlessness and going to war — are features of a party in constant need of masculine affirmation.”
  • “This is not a new phenomenon. As the saying went during Trump’s administration, cruelty — or the raw assertion of power over the powerless — was the point. It still is. Whether they are separating children from parents, spying on and infringing on women who do not want to be compelled to complete their pregnancy, or threatening to take away transgender children whose parents seek appropriate medical care, manliness manifesting as bullying has been the Republicans’ defining feature of late.”
  • “And they’re using the full force of the state to impose their will. All to enforce the frantic assertion — as Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) laid out in a ludicrous 11-point platform — that ‘men are men, women are women.’ Does anyone remember a national party running on such a naked appeal to masculine insecurity?”

Rubin noted that following the Capitol insurrection, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) went on to “sell a mug depicting his fist pump to the Jan. 6 mob,” and “his speech decrying that ‘traditional masculine virtues’ are under attack illustrated precisely how masculine insecurity masquerades as manliness.” She added “Declaring that the left has been systematically destroying masculinity and Republicans will stage a ‘revival of strong and healthy manhood in America’ might sound comical. But in today’s GOP, this is red meat for the MAGA crowd.”

As an indication of the Republican Party’s focus on masculinity, The Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 values survey found, “Majorities of Republicans agree with both the statement that society punishes men just for acting like men (60% agree) and that society has become too soft and feminine (63% agree).”

Other politicians 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.”

A news anchor on the conservative One America News outlet commented that the thousands of people who stole the 2020 election from Trump were “traitors” and 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’s masculinity 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.

Trump has demonstrate dto 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.

According to a PRRI poll, Republicans employ aggressive rhetoric more frequently than Democrats, (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: “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.” This includes Congresswomen Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green as well as South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

Hegemonic Masculinity and Donald Trump

“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, “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.”

“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.

It Spreads Like a Virus

A no-fly zone in Ukraine, enforced by the U.S., 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.

During Trump’s presidency, expressions of the use of power over the weak and helpless was common. 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.

The MAGA followers found their perfect example 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, mostly angry white men attacked the Capitol and put politicians’ and his own Vice President’s life in danger. Trump has repeatedly said that he “loved” these kinds of men, who he regards as patriots.

Trump’ enthusiastic supporter, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), markets a mug with a picture of him pumping his fist. Hawley’s remarks criticizing the attack on “traditional masculine characteristics” can be seen as an example of how masculine insecurity can pass for manliness.

The MAGA movement believes with a passion that Trump and the Republicans would lead a “revival of strong and healthy manhood in America”.

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.

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, often depicted as weak and not very masculine.

Trump, who was exempt from military duty due to “bone spurs,” was able to develop a reputation for toughness by association by associating with autocrats like Putin. His admiration for autocrats like the Saudi monarchs, Viktor Orbán, Tayyip Erdogan, and Kim Jong Un, reveals Trump’s admiration for aggressive masculinity.

Republicans overwhelmingly agree with the claims that society punishes males for being men (60 per cent agree) and that it has grown too soft and feminine (63 per cent agree), according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 values survey.

Misogyny often is a fundamental element of toxic masculinity. Misogyny is pervasive in the GOP. Abrasive and belligerent populist North Carolina lieutenant governor Mark Robinson held rape victims accountable for the harm they suffered as part of his comments supporting an abortion ban. He said, “That is Darwin.”

Toxic masculinity appears to be spreading in the Republican part. The less-educated white male working class makes up most of the GOP coalition. Many conservative males have reacted in a sexist rage rather than changing their behavior and value systems to accommodate the rising power of women. Why? The growing knowledge economy has been more kind to educated women than to less educated men.

According to a new report from New American Leaders, of the current 7,383 state legislators in the US more than 81% are White and over 71% are male. The GOP is a remarkably white, male-dominated organization particularly at the state level. For example, 86 percent of the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly is made up of men.

Republicans have made masculinity a defining issue, led politicians like Missouri senator Josh Hawley. He asserted in his recent book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, cast liberals and progressives as the enemy of masculinity and that the Democratic progressive movement is attempting to “deconstruct” the American man.

The Era of Lawless Masculinity Has Begun

A video that Republican Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona released exemplifies GOP toxic masculinity. 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. Gosar was censured by the House and stripped of committee assignments, but he has never apologized.

In an advertisement for his campaign, Eric Greitens, the controversial former governor of Missouri who is ran for the Senate on the GOP ticket, but was defeated, can be seen going after “RINOs” (Republicans in name only).

A shotgun-wielding Greiten 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 per cent compared with the same period in 2020,” according to the Capitol Police.” surveying the rise of violent threats in public life.

Add to the above, Multiple GOP 2022 candidates who ran for Congress in 2022 have domestic violence allegations in their background.

Rising Authoritarianism

In the last century, authoritarianism has changed. Today, electoral autocracies coexist with traditional dictatorships. Toxic masculinity, disguised 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 guardrails for activities regarded which have been considered unethical in democratic situations (lying, stealing, even rape and murder) has become more pronounced.

In that way it’s 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, advocating violence as a remedy if they are not victorious.

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 former leaders Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Still, 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 masculine invulnerability. He claimed, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and kill someone and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Killing his political rivals has been a theme with Donald Trump for years, and now that he’s promising to be a “dictator on day one” and to engage in “revenge” and “retribution” it’s past time to take him seriously. Trump violated judge imposed gag order by posting a video of President Joe Biden hog-tied with an apparent bullet hole in his forehead, laying dead or helpless in the back of a pickup truck. Just a few weeks later, his lawyers told the Supreme Court that he could assassinate his political rivals during a second term, because, they argued, the President has absolute immunity from prosecution.

Trump has shown no remorse over a Manhattan federal jury which found that Donald Trump sexually abused E. Jean Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room in the spring of 1996 and awarded her $5 million for battery and defamation. Subsequently, a jury awarded $83.3 million in damages to Carroll, who sued the former president for defamation for calling her claim that he had sexually assaulted her a lie.

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 imitated 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 masculine 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. Sean Lawler, Trump’s former chief of protocol, walked around the office with a horsewhip to frighten staff members, most of whom were women.

Whether or not Trump regains office 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.

Many people don’t take seriously Trump’s threats of what he’ll do if re-elected again, infused with authoritarian toxic masculinity. People had the same reaction to Mussolini and Hitler too. How did that turn out?



Ray Williams

Author/ Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others