FiveThirtyEight: Is Any Democrat Man Enough To Challenge Ubermensch Trump?
We're often told that because a woman lost to Donald Trump last time, the only way Democrats can safely slay the Trump-beast next year is to nominate a powerful, strapping working-class hero such as Joe Biden. That's just what we're told. We never said it made sense. However, FiveThirtyEight argues that no matter which man pulls the sword from the stone, he'll still have to contend with Trump's flaming virility.
Excuse us a second.
OK, we're back.
The apparent thesis of Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux's article is that Trump governs like John Wayne, Vito Corleone, or even Regina George from Mean Girls. Trump sits around eating Big Macs and rage-tweeting about people who are mean to him on TV. Even if we accept toxic masculinity as a positive trait to admire in a president, we wouldn't describe a woman president who behaved identically to Trump as "tough." She'd be dismissed as "hysterical." Let's imagine President Donna Trump gushing over a "beautiful letter" she received from a brutal dictator.
Thomson-DeVeaux mentions how Republican strategists employed reductive sexist stereotypes to attack John Kerry for "looking French" and John Edwards for combing his hair ... like a girl. (That he was simultaneously hetero-sexing extramarital women did not make him a man.) Trump, however, took this all to the next level in 2016.
Trump wielded his tough-guy masculinity as a cudgel against his opponents, who were almost all men. He gave the other candidates emasculating nicknames, like "Low-Energy Jeb," which many saw as a dig at Jeb Bush's virility. He accused Rick Perry of lacking the "toughness" to be president. (Perry, in response, challenged him to a pull-up contest.) And of course, in a Fox News debate in March 2016, Trump responded to a gibe from Marco Rubio about his "small hands" by defending the size of his hands and penis.
These were all objective low points in American politics. If this is "tough-guy masculinity," then a middle-school playground is awash with testosterone. But it's not. It's just a bunch of insecure little boys who think a barrage of "yo' momma" jokes will erase the shame they feel from wetting their beds. "Low-Energy Jeb" isn't an "emasculating nickname" because vitality is not a trait exclusive to men. Implying someone is "less of a man" is only an insult if we accept that women are less than human.
Jackson Katz, the author of Man Enough?: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity, claimed Trump attacked the other candidates' "masculinity one by one — it was like a pro wrestling match." (PRO-WRESTLING LIBELZ.) Sure, he was an obnoxious bully, but he was "your bully."
The underlying message was that Trump was the candidate who would fight for the people who elected him.
This is an actual line from the article. It's absurd. Bullies don't fight for other people. That's why they're bullies and not law enforcement officers (well...). We're about to have another presidential campaign with Trump as a candidate. Can we at least learn that how he campaigned was gross and wrong? Worse, he didn't stop campaigning this way, as gullible pundits argued, once he was sort of elected. We don't need a better bully or "our" bully in the White House. We need a functioning adult without terminal personality disorders.
The ridiculous narrative of the "noble bully" highlights the sexist double standard in politics. Ruthlessness, even apparent cruelty, from women is never interpreted as somehow selfless or in service of a greater good. Amy Klobuchar is just a bad boss. Kirsten Gillibrand is just opportunistic. And Kamala Harris is just a coldhearted snake (look into her eyes).
Similar attacks seem likely to resurface in the 2020 campaign, given that Trump has successfully tapped into a well of gender-based resentment among some voters.
Hooray! Trump has weaponized overt misogyny and infantile rhetoric. It's only "successful" because the media treats it as a legitimate tactic. It doesn't help that Thomson-DeVeaux takes out a mortgage to afford the fancy phrase "gender-based resentment" when the SER discount brand term "sexist asshattery" works just as well.
A Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted in 2016 found, for instance, that 64 percent of Republicans agreed that society has become "too soft and feminine." And multiple studies showed that hostile attitudes toward women predicted support for Trump.
Yes, a majority of Republicans hate chicks. These stats are presented as objective data yet God forbid any Democrat suggest there's a Republican "war against women."
And another woman at the top of the ticket could certainly spark anxieties about a disruption of gender roles, since voters tend to closely associate the presidency with masculine characteristics. In a 2016 study, political scientist Dan Cassino found that Clinton's candidacy — maybe because she was a woman, or maybe because of her long career in the public spotlight — sparked anxieties among men about their masculinity and waning male power.
Look, we were definitely critical of the Clinton campaign slogan, Hillary 2016: I'll Make Your Balls Drop Off. But it's laughably paranoid to think a single female president would go full Delilah on American men. Dudes still practically run everything financially and politically. These "anxieties" are completely irrational. Maybe men are the ones who are too emotional to lead.
Thomson-DeVeaux concedes that Trump will argue that any Democrat who runs against him -- male or female -- is "too weak" to replace the man who is terrified of stairs.
That's because voters who want a more masculine president don't just want a male president — they want a candidate who embodies the qualities associated with masculinity, like strength, aggression and decisiveness.
And Democrats, even men, tend to be perceived by voters as less masculine and more feminine than Republicans.
These same voters probably don't accept that a trans woman is a woman, but they think a male Democrat is a woman if he wears a properly fitting suit and supports abortion rights. Why are we taking them seriously?
Donald Trump is not strong. He mocks the vulnerable and marginalized. Like all bullies, he's a coward. He can't even stand up to the mob he incites. He's "aggressive" only from the safe space of his Twitter account. And it's not "decisive" to make half-assed choices out of ignorance and then back out of them when inconvenient or just fold like cheap patio furniture.
Democrats don't need to nominate a "tough guy," because the current president isn't one, and it's better for all of us if the media stops pretending he is. Trump's fantasies aren't political reality. Maybe Americans can mature enough to choose a leader who's "tough" enough to just be kind.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."