The Corner


Defending Donald Trump Isn’t a Sign of Masculinity

President Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 11, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Last year I wrote an essay describing the emerging “tough-guy Right” and the almost-comical tendency of Trumpist conservatives to equate their man with toughness, their tweets with combat, and their movement with masculinity. In their minds, Never Trumpers aren’t just wrong, they’re also wimps. They’re beta males. It’s not uncommon to see throwaway phrases in essays condemning Never Trumpers like Emerald Robinson’s description of some conservatives as “low-testosterone” and “dilettantish” or Kurt Schlichter’s condemnation of so-called fussy fredocon gimps. Or, when they describe their own writing, they’ll use vivid war imagery — like Jesse Kelly’s recent loving description of “scalping” his ideological enemies.

I’ve written a lot about our culture’s attacks on masculinity. I’ve discussed a man’s duty to defend the weak and the vulnerable. I’ve even decried the apparent increasing physical weakness of men and boys and argued that men were meant to be strong. Yet not once in the modern fights over masculinity had I thought for a moment to include — as markers of male toughness — the ability to deliver spittle-flecked tirades on cable news, to tweet like a punk, or to circle the wagons around a man who avoided service in his own generation’s war and who compared sexually transmitted diseases to his own personal Vietnam.

It’s just so very strange to even bring masculinity — much less “toughness” — into the political debates over Trump. After all, we’re mainly talking about people writing competing think-pieces or confronting each other on television. There’s no battlefield or boxing ring anywhere in sight. In fact, to the extent virtues like courage and perseverance come into play at all, I’d argue that it takes a degree of moral courage to say what you believe regardless of the tribal consequences. It takes a bit of political bravery to refuse to conform to the economic, cultural, and social pressures imposed by your political peer group.

Yes, some Never Trumpers are polite, mannerly folks. George Will is a gentleman’s gentleman. But there is steel in his political spine. And I completely, utterly reject the notion that dedication to good manners is in any way incompatible with masculinity. In fact, I think manners are imperative to true manliness. As a son of the South, that’s something I’ve been taught from day one.

Some of the accusations of weakness seem to rest on the unsupportable conviction that, say, people like me or my colleagues are just desperate for the approval of a certain set of elite opinion-makers — that we’ll twist ourselves into pretzels just to make sure we get a coveted party invite or a sliver of space in the New York Times. My own view is that when you stop arguing ideas and instead start presuming motives, you’ve lost the debate. For example, in May I wrote an essay in the Times arguing that conservatives should consistently oppose corporate censorship — we should confront Google when it fires men like James Damore, and we should confront the NFL when it censors speech we don’t like. I tried to articulate a general principle that we should fight for the rights of others that we’d like to exercise ourselves.

My points were debatable, certainly. There are differences between Damore’s expression and Colin Kaepernick’s. I don’t think the differences are substantial enough to justify protecting speech in one case and prohibiting it in the other, but let’s have the discussion. Or maybe not. You could instead accuse me of joining “Task Force Pearl Clutcher” and wetting my panties.

My friends and colleagues who’ve held true to conservative principles both before and after Trump — men like Jonah Goldberg, Ben Shapiro, Charlie Cooke, and many others — have shown real moral courage. In some cases, threats against them are so great that they’ve had to show physical courage as well. Just ask Ben to tell you some of his stories living in the crosshairs of the Antifa Left and the alt-right. They’ve applauded Trump when he’s done good things, critiqued him when he’s done wrong, and kept their eyes on larger cultural trends. That’s not weakness.

So, what does “manliness” have to do with Trump? I’d say not much. I don’t want our nation’s sons to grow up to avoid service in war, to have affairs with porn stars, or to brag about committing acts of sexual battery. I don’t think any of those actions is remotely “manly,” and I don’t think it’s particularly masculine to defend him when he lies, shows weakness to foreign leaders, or launches destructive trade wars. None of this makes any sense. Do my colleagues and I suddenly get testosterone infusions when we approve of his judicial nominations then mainline estrogen when we condemn his praise for Kim Jong-un?

The bottom line? Insult me all you want. Defend Trump all you want. But don’t think for one moment that your tweets are “tough,” and they have nothing at all to do with being a man.

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

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More