My daughter, who is 4 years old, is currently in a superhero phase. Yesterday, for instance, I spent much of the day in an extended, five-hour-long riff with her where she’d approach me every 40 minutes or so to share she’d discovered a new superpower, and then she’d display it for me. (“Jumping jacks with my eyes closed!” was probably her best one.) Just this morning, she woke me up with a request that I tie her nightie around her neck for a makeshift polyester cape.
Fortunately, I’m just as obsessed with superpowers as my daughter is. Particularly the one so many white people possess, where they crochet themselves into stopper knots to strain for answers to America’s great mysteries, when one is clearly there. So when reading Tom Nichols’ “Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President” today, my appetite was satiated. We just need to find him a fitting superhero name, because “Racism Blind Spot Man” or “Dumb As The Fuck Man” or “Race Eraser Man” or “Sigh...He’s Just A White Man Man” just don’t have the same ring that Iron Man does.
Admittedly, the premise of Nichols’ essay—that so many men who believe in and perform a traditionally rigid form of masculinity support a man who’s the antithesis of those ideals—is a good start. And while calling Trump a wussy in comparison to men like John Wayne and John Rambo reinforces the idea that the toxic and violent and distinctively white masculinity they represent is the standard, there can be a perverse benefit in shaming the shamer.
But the questions he spends 2000 words asking all have the same fucking answer.
Why do working-class white men—the most reliable component of Donald Trump’s base—support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency? The question is not whether Trump fails to meet some archaic or idealized version of masculinity. The president’s inability to measure up to Marcus Aurelius or Omar Bradley is not the issue. Rather, the question is why so many of Trump’s working-class white male voters refuse to hold Trump to their own standards of masculinity—why they support a man who behaves more like a little boy.
Because their whiteness—specifically, the belief that the status whiteness grants them is diminishing—supersedes all else.
Put another way, as a question I have asked many of the men I know: Is Trump a man your father and grandfather would have respected?
Yes. Because he’s white.
As the writer Windsor Mann has noted, Trump behaves in ways that many working-class men would ridicule: “He wears bronzer, loves gold and gossip, is obsessed with his physical appearance, whines constantly, can’t control his emotions, watches daytime television, enjoys parades and interior decorating, and used to sell perfume.”
But he’s white too, tho.
But that doesn’t explain why men who would normally ostracize someone like Trump continue to embrace him.
(Singing, in a falsetto) Because whiiiiiiiiiiiiite!
Is Trump honorable? This is a man who routinely refused to pay working people their due wages, and then lawyered them into the ground when they objected to being exploited. Trump is a rich downtown bully, the sort most working men usually hate.
(Falsetto, again) Whiiiiiiiiiiite!
This is related to one of Trump’s most noticeable problems, which is that he can never stop talking. The old-school standard of masculinity is the strong and silent type, like Gary Cooper back in the day or Tom Hardy today. Trump, by comparison, is neither strong nor capable of silence
(Still falsetto) Whiiiiiiiiiiite!
Is Trump a man who respects women? This is what secure and masculine men would expect, especially from a husband and a father of two daughters.
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. You’re seriously suggesting that men who’d fricassee their own spleens if it meant whiteness retained its status give a shit about the women in their lives? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. Holy shit. I can’t breathe.
Does Trump accept responsibility and look out for his team? Not in the least. In this category, he exhibits one of the most unmanly of behaviors: He’s a blamer. Nothing is ever his fault.
(Back to the falsetto) But this is typical whiiiiiiiiiiiiiite behavior.
It should not be a surprise then, that Trump is a hero to a culture in which so many men are already trapped in perpetual adolescence. And especially for men who feel like life might have passed them by, whose fondest memories are rooted somewhere in their own personal Wonder Years from elementary school until high-school graduation, Trump is a walking permission slip to shrug off the responsibilities of manhood.
I do not know how much of this can explain Trump’s base of support among working-class white women. (Those numbers are now declining.)
All of it can, actually. Like, literally, all of it.
Instead, women showed up at rallies with shirts featuring arrows pointing right to where Trump could grab them.
Because white women are...wait for it...okay here it comes...(falsetto) whiiiiiiiiiiite too.
I think that working men, the kind raised as I was, know what kind of “man” Trump is.
I do too! It’s a word that starts with “w” and rhymes with (this is the last falsetto, I promise) liiiiiiiiiiiiight.
What’s so frustrating about shit like this is that a slight pivot (“How Racism Makes Trump Supporters Contradict Their Masculine Ideals”) could’ve made it so much better. But that would require an abdication of those superpowers. And if there’s anything men like Tom Nichols love more than being white, it’s pretending that it doesn’t matter.
(If only The Atlantic had access to a National Book Award-winning academic who writes specifically about this topic. If only.)