Politics & Policy

Trump’s Counterfeit Masculinity

(Roman Genn)
From the April 25, 2016, issue of NR

Some Americans believe that Donald Trump is the answer to feminism. He’s the fearless man. He’s the strong man. He’s the man who laughs in the face of the social-justice warrior and demonstrates the appeal of pure, unadulterated aggression and virility. In reality, however, he’s a great gift to feminism: the man who will revive a failing ideology.

To understand why, one has to understand the true object of modern feminism. The modern feminist doesn’t so much hate biological males as hate the very concept of manhood as a distinct and valuable aspect of the human experience. Masculinity, to the extent that it exists, is toxic and must be suppressed. Classically male virtues such as bravery, strength, loyalty, and an intellectual and physical sense of adventure must be de-gendered (after all, who’s to say that any given woman can’t share those traits?), while traditional male vices, including tendencies toward unjustified violence and superficial, obsessive sexuality, are to be regarded as essentially masculine.

The result is a world where masculinity is understood to be inherently destructive. If women can’t penetrate traditional male spaces, such as fraternities, locker rooms, or infantry platoons, then those spaces are dangerous, and abolition or gender integration isn’t just a matter of social justice but, indeed, of public safety. “Bro culture” at its best is privileged; at its worst, it’s predatory.

The result is that untold numbers of men simply shun the masculinity that  they’ve been taught is wholly bad, embracing (or settling for) the de-gendered life. In their modes of speech, their conduct, and their interests, they become similar to the women around them. Sure, a guy might like superhero movies slightly more than his girlfriend, but these shreds of distinction represent just the faintest echo of true manhood.

Many more men are left confused, aimless, and often angry. They simply can’t and won’t conform to a genderless society. Absent exposure to those few American subcultures that still retain an understanding of distinctly virtuous masculinity, they live in a state of frustration, with many ultimately embracing negative stereotypes, living a life in full reaction against feminism. While not rapists, they are predators — seeking serial sexual conquests. While not criminals, they are bullies — using threats and swagger to get their way. Life is about winning, and women and money are the ways in which they keep score.

The masculinity of Trump is exactly the caricatured, counterfeit masculinity of the feminist fever dream.

And Trump is their hero. To enter the world of the pick-up artist — or of segments of the so-called men’s-rights movement — is to enter the world of the Trump fanboy. Trump has “tight game,” to borrow the phrasing of Château Heartiste, a popular website for frustrated male Millennials. He’s the “ultimate alpha.” Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros channeled this mindset when she declared: “The Left has tried to culturally feminize this country in a way that is disgusting. And you see blue-collar voters — men — this is like their last vestige, their last hope is Donald Trump to get their masculinity back.” Fox’s Stacey Dash memorably called Trump “street” — and meant it as a compliment.

The masculinity of Trump is exactly the caricatured, counterfeit masculinity of the feminist fever dream. It takes the full energy of manhood and devotes it to sex, money, and power. It’s posturing masquerading as toughness and anger drained of bravery. (Is the man who recoils from Michelle Fields and obsesses over Megyn Kelly really going to take down ISIS?) Trump represents aggression channeled into greed. Apologies are for the weak, and self-sacrifice is for suckers. Trump is a kind of man that many people can recognize but none should emulate. He is the indefensible man.

And he breathes new life into a feminism that is so extreme, so hysterical, that even a majority of women reject it. Yet the more that frustrated men and their conservative female cheerleaders flock to Trump, proclaiming him the answer to the feminizing of America, the more they grant the intellectual, cultural, and moral high ground to a movement that has been degenerating into self-parody.

In Trump, feminists have a true cultural bogeyman, and he is actually dangerous. Trump is commandeering the debate over masculinity and providing the cultural Left with a lifetime’s worth of dissertations, think pieces, and television tropes on the evils of “manhood.” And Trump will have helped define their terms.

He has brought out of the woodwork a bloc of people who apparently believe that the answer to political correctness isn’t truth and virtue but rather becoming what the other side most hates. If the other side polices language, then the answer is vulgarity. If the other side embraces diversity, then the answer is flirtation with white nationalism and white-identity politics. If the other side tries to cast men as dangerous, sex-obsessed bullies, well then hoist the middle finger, glory in Trump’s apparent sexual and financial success, and relish the whining of feminists and “betas” everywhere.

Trump’s masculinity is a cheap counterfeit of the masculinity that’s truly threatening to the cultural Left: man not as predator but as protector, the “sheepdog” of American Sniper fame. This is the brave man, the selfless man who channels his aggression and sense of adventure into building a nation, an economy, and — yes — a family. This is the man who kicks down doors in Fallujah or gathers a makeshift militia to rush hijackers in the skies above Pennsylvania. Or, to choose a more mundane — though no less important — example: This is the man who packs up the household to take a chance on a new job, models strength for his family when life turns hard, teaches his son to stand against bullies on the playground, and lives at all times with dignity and honor.

The masculinity that threatens the Left is the masculinity that embraces the manly virtues while minimizing the traditional manly vices. Teaching a boy to be a man doesn’t mean teaching that strength, bravery, loyalty, and a sense of adventure are exclusively male or even always found in men, but it does mean cultivating those virtues in our male children.

#related#It is difficult enough to navigate this course, even in culturally conservative circles. Feminized churches teach men that emotionalism is a virtue, and they celebrate strength in mothers while constantly mocking fathers as bumbling and inept. Dads call moms “the boss” while retreating to “man caves” and confining masculinity to the few recreational pursuits they’ve reserved for themselves, whether it’s following Southeastern Conference football or sneaking away for the occasional fishing trip with the guys.

Men locked in their cultural ghetto hear the siren song of Trump. He speaks to the eternal adolescent and awakens in him his secret envy of the high-school punk who always seemed to get the girl. Pajama Boy is appalled, and the angry man smiles at his discomfort. But the angry man needs to grow up, to put away childish things, and to see that every moment that Trump commands the national stage is another contribution to feminism’s ultimate triumph.

The answer to feminism is and always has been manhood properly defined. It is not — and never will be — the toxic masculinity of the arrogant. The answer to the predator is the protector. One of the great tragedies of this year’s Republican primaries is that for months the predator prowled and his opponents were too timid and too calculating to act as protectors. For want of a sheepdog, the wolf will devour the flock.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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