The election of Donald Trump to the oval office is a dark reflection of how a toxic combination of entitlement and scapegoating now pervades a specific expression of masculinity.
A particularly nasty and common part of gender roles for men, as seen in many contexts, is the stress experienced by men who have to constantly struggle to express ‘manliness’ to an ‘acceptable’ amount. One consequence of this push to always measure up to other men is an idea that masculinity is under attack by society.
“Sissified ‘modern culture’ has ruined real men!” many men (and sometimes women) may cry. “It’s impossible to be a real, manly man with muscles and guns and emotional dysfunction!”. These quotes may be from strawmen, but the narrative of male gender roles being under attack has been criticized by multiple feminist theorists and masculinity scholars. More specifically, they criticize the fact that to many men, their masculinity must be constantly proved in their behavior, in opposition to femininity.
If men seem to be constantly struggling with their own and others expression of masculinity, this can easily be seen as the fault of the larger society around them.
The idea of a ‘new man’ coupled with a return to proper masculinity is something that many fascist and populist societies focused on in the interwar period. In Romania, fascist societies during the interwar period ran specific training camps that promised to bring ‘true masculinity’ to the young men who participated in them. Trials to prove manliness are nothing new but the immersion into a new form of masculinity that is separate from the corrupting influence of the society around them is present in this thinking. In many, less radical discussions is the idea that masculinity is under attack and men can no longer be men also there.
How does the election of Donald Trump fit into all of this?
From the start of his campaign, he appealed heavily to a sense of nostalgia. This is pretty obvious from his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again!” and this strategy gained criticism for not outlining when exactly America was great. To Trump and his supporters, the focus of the nostalgia doesn’t actually matter. It appeals to this feeling that things are bad now and once, they were great.
Often times, the vague feeling that things are bad now can be shifted to blame a marginalized population. I.e. things are bad now because illegal immigrants are stealing all the jobs. Things are bad now because gay people are destroying the family and no one goes to church anymore. While Trump is less blatant than this (most of the time), all of his campaign promises tied to the nostalgia he deliberately tries to provoke backs up this narrative of specific people being to blame for the state things are now.
Clearly, this ties to an idea that true men are becoming rarer specifically because of nefarious forces. Antifeminist hubs online, such as Return of Kings, A Voice for Men and specific Reddit forums have shifted since their conception from focusing the brunt of their anger on women to expanding into gathering spaces for various alt-right internet people. In fact, according to the chronicler of ‘men’s rights activists’, WeHuntedtheMammoth cites that “one of the most notorious participants in the racist Charlottesville march last year-a man jailed for his assault on a counterprotestor- was a former contributor to AVFM” in an article detailing for both Return of Kings and A Voice for Men have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Both sites heavily supported Donald Trump in the election.
Donald Trump, to men who fear their emasculation (and in a greater sense their loss of power in a more egalitarian society), is the embodiment of a true, masculine man who will return things to the way they were supposed to be. He is tactless, power hungry, deeply insecure and an accused sexual assaulter with incredibly few qualifications for the job he has been elected to do. Yet, all of this made him more popular to a core group of supporters.
There is a much longer op-ed that could be written about how much of this backlash is because of how America elected a black president and the other candidate was poised as the first woman president.
Unfortunately, the insecurity over the perceived emasculation of America that many men felt now has far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world.