This Huge Issue Is Also On The Ballot…

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There are tons of issues on the ballot when we cast our votes for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. One of them has vast ramifications in our society. It’s complex, and I can’t do justice to it here. This isn’t a new issue, but I think it’s just beginning to get the attention it deserves.

It’s how we define masculinity in America. Specifically, it’s what’s called “toxic masculinity” or “hyper-masculinity.” (It has nothing to do with gender: it can be found among some gay men as well as heterosexual men.)

Donald Trump is its personification. He’s demonstrated it repeatedly: it involves being cruel, devoid of compassion, ridiculing and even bragging about assaulting women, doing whatever you need to do to get what you want—rules, norms, or impact on people be damned—even advocating violence.

It leads to attacks on those he views as most vulnerable and adoration of so-called “strong men” such as Putin and Kim Jong-un.

Shaped by this view, Trump has no sense of the unforgivable obscenity of his administration’s “policy” of trying to deter immigrants from coming to the US by ripping babies from their mothers and casting them into cages.

Asked during Thursday night’s debate about the fact that more than 500 of these children will probably never see their parents again, his response was: “They’re well-taken care of.”

It also includes a stubborn refusal to acknowledge mistakes, take responsibility for them, or to learn from them. In terms of COVID-19 alone, these trumpian traits are killing Americans by the tens of thousands.

A Different Form of Masculinity

Joe Biden demonstrates a different masculinity. I heard Charlie Sykes, a never-trumper who used to have a conservative talk show in Wisconsin and is now editor-in-chief for The Bulwark, contrasting Biden with Trump. 

“Empathy is manly,” he said. “Being a loving father is manly. Being willing to admit when you’re wrong is manly—integrity, responsibility, being willing to apologize are manly…In the Trump world, demonstrating a relationship with your son is a sign of vulnerability.”

Biden has shown how well he fits the latter description. When he turned to the audience during the second (and fortunately last) debate to reassure Americans in the throes of a still-raging pandemic that he knew they were hurting and would work to bring the pandemic under control, Trump chided him for his “political” trick of talking to the audience—“being a politician.” 

Trump is incapable of doing what Biden had just done; he couldn’t even assess the sincerity that motivated it because he can’t feel it.

Voters can. In good measure, this distinction shows up in the gender gap that has put Biden ahead of Trump among women by between 14% and 23% in the four most recent national polls—and between 11% and 19% in six battleground state polls. 

But Trump is leading Biden among men in the battleground states, and he even appears to be running ahead of where he ran last time among Black and Latino men.

Knowing of his hateful rhetoric and actions in inciting violence against Black and Brown people and immigrants, I found it hard to understand this phenomenon until it was explained as Trump’s “machismo” appeal and the belief in his purported glittery success, which has been shown to be illusory. 

However, the Biden campaign is cognizant of this fact, which President Obama touched on in his powerful exhortation to young Black men to make sure they vote. 

It’s also why The Lincoln Project, the never-trumpers—present and former Republicans who find Trump appalling and want to ensure his defeat—is running this brief video:

I do want to note one matter that occurred during the debate that I think makes the case for Biden’s form of masculinity quite well. Trump, sensing Biden’s vulnerability about his sole surviving son, Hunter, attacked father and son repeatedly, and somewhat incoherently, about a wild scheme that Trump and his gang had thought would at last smear Biden’s reputation and be the “October surprise” that brings Biden down. 

It was a charge that once again, a la Hillary, resorted to hacked emails, purportedly but not definitely from the computer of Hunter Biden. They dated from the period between when Joe was Vice President and before he declared his candidacy. 

I will spare you the details, which you can read elsewhere. The story fell flat because it’s been largely discredited by reputable sources, and the FBI has been investigating Russia’s role in purveying it, even adding phony passages to legitimate emails.

But Trump kept at it, and will probably continue to repeat it between now and at least Election Day. 

During the debate, Biden simply shook his head and said it wasn’t true. 

What he didn’t say was, “You want to talk about children?,” and then provide a lengthy list of alleged crimes and rampant, fairly blatant corruption involving Trump’s sons, Donald Jr and Eric, and his daughter Ivanka. 

Biden did not go there. He took the nonsense thrown at him “like a man,” and declined to stoop to Trump’s level.

The concept of toxic masculinity does, of course, have immense implications apart from the candidates—including domestic violence, right-wing militarism, and other complex issues. 

It is evident in the bizarre politicization of masks to protect against the coronavirus. Think of the armed vigilantes storming the Michigan state house, and domestic terrorists plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor because of her actions to curb the pandemic.

“There has been a very dominant strain of men who clearly feel that wearing a mask would so expose their vulnerability that they would rather risk death from the virus,” observed Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”

Giridharadas,  interviewed by a New York Times writer, said this perception of masculinity, which leads to abuse and assault against women, “actually doesn’t really work for most men. It traps men in images of ourselves that have failed most of us and that don’t fit our lived inner experience.”

An Effort to Change the Image

Coincidentally, I just learned that October 18-24 is “National Masculinity Week 2020,” so named by an organization called CAMPUSPEAK which holds forums and speakers designed to educated college students on the topic. 

Here’s how the organizers described the purpose:

“Thousands of years of history have defined masculinity.

“CAMPUSPEAK is launching National Masculinity Week (NMW) with the intent of changing the narrative nationally.

“The goal of National Masculinity Week is to change the national conversation to focus on what it means to be a positive male role model and challenge the unhealthy and harmful aspects of traditional manhood and the mantras that ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘men will be men…’

“National Masculinity Week is an investment in the future. NMW will create an opportunity for men to explore healthier norms of masculinity by providing a means of deconstructing traditional definitions of masculinity and exploring how they manifest in society and men’s lives. Throughout the week CAMPUSPEAK will provide resources to advance the conversation and support university communities, athletic programs, fraternal organizations and men engaging in these critical conversations.”

This announcement included the bios of a series of diverse speakers. 

I found it most encouraging that young people are being offered another way to look at manhood that could free them from self-destructive views that harm them, those around them, and our society.

And I believe that in electing Joe Biden, we will be automatically changing the conversation with an appropriate role model: a compassionate, thoughtful leader who is not at all intimidated by covering his nose and mouth with a piece of cloth to save people’s lives.


31 thoughts on “This Huge Issue Is Also On The Ballot…

  1. trump was taught early on by his “father” never to apologize for anything and that, when criticized, to hit back twice as heard. He was also taught that there are only two kinds of people, winners and losers, and as a result when conducting a business negotiation that in order for you to win, the other person must lose. This is a major reason that those powerful business people in NYC would have nothing to do with him. The concept of win-win is anathema to him. He’s beyond anyone’s help.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Right, Steve. I deliberately avoided the psychosocial information, which gets quite complicated—not simply with regard to trump. Professionals have for the most part declined to weigh in on his mental state. But those that have, like niece Mary, use words like narcissism and sociopath. However, a recent NY Times obit, link below, on a psychologist renowned for his work on psychopaths included descriptions that sure sounded like trump. Many of them end up in prison. Hmmmm…


  2. This is an important topic that doesn’t get enough discussion. Trump’s complex narcissism, complete lack of empathy, profound insecurity, and colossal greed contribute to his toxic masculinity. The NYT Review, Editorial Board (last week?) did a decent job of rounding up the impressions of those who know him well or who have worked with him. One after the next cited these dangerous characteristics. I’m afraid I agree that he is beyond help. He has to know there’s a problem to fix it, and he’s a long way from that. 10 days left.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Also, I really liked the video. Kudos to the Lincoln Project. And, Annie, I got sidetracked thinking about Trump and his complex psyche, but I want to commend you for spotlighting the issue of what it means to take responsibility, “be a man,” and do the right thing. Thanks, as always, for your insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an area which has irritated me for a long time. There is a self-perpetuating myth that there is only one way to be a man these days – that of a strong, belligerent, extrovert. It appears to be an image in the zeitgeist that appeals to a great number in the US (and in the UK for that matter with Boris) as demonstrated by the percentage of white males who voted for Trump last time around. The self-perpetuation, in my opinion, lies as ever in the assumption that the group thinks as one. The media often speaks of this group of relatively poor, white males as being pro-Trump. The Lincoln Project and other initiatives like it should aim to take the power of masculinity-definition away from people like Trump. There is a lot of votes there and I cannot, cannot believe that so many men believe that Trump is the best person to lead America.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are women at these rallies too, Matthew. It all defies my understanding; unfortunately, people live in an alternate reality fueled by conspiracy theories and an enormous mountain of lies.
      Many of us are hoping for a Biden landslide that shows the decent, reality-based side of our country. There would be no concern now if it weren’t for the Electoral College relic. I am cautiously optimistic…


      1. You’re more dedicated to following our election than some Americans I know, my friend! It’s comforting.

        But unless Biden wins Florida (or longshot Texas), it’s gonna take a while.


  5. People like Trump and the Trumpanzees are not “hyper-masculine”, they are emotionally deficient. Their lack of empathy is the mental equivalent of a birth defect or mutilation. Placing self-image above physical safety by, for example, refusing to wear a mask is what evolutionary biologists call “maladaptive”, a trait which works against an organism’s success. Trump’s emotional deadness similarly undermines his own hopes of political survival by leading him to antagonize and alienate an endless list of people whose support he could easily need in the future, and to ignore advice which could materially help him. This is maladaptive behavior, not toughness but a defect.

    Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, also live in social groups organized around male dominance hierarchies in which males compete for status and females preferentially mate with males who succeed in rising to high levels in the hierarchy (this is true of most primate species). The most successful males generally are those who have a high capacity for empathy because it helps them to form coalitions with each other and to understand and anticipate the behavior of rivals. Those who are deficient in that ability tend to fail. Human psychology has the same roots. Our social interactions are more complex because we’re more intelligent, but that just makes empathy even more important.

    Trump could never see why he and his family disgust normal people because he lacks the ability to look at himself from someone else’s point of view. The inability to do something is a weakness, not a strength. He’s frightening because he has power (money and, more recently, the presidency) while being fundamentally subhuman.

    I’ve sometimes thought that Trump’s life must be incredibly grey, sterile, and bland compared to mine, even though I have nothing like his wealth and power. He doesn’t read books or seek new ideas or connect with people on a deep level. Being what he is, he can’t appreciate what he has except in the most crude and brutish way.

    I agree that Biden as president will help restore our feel for masculinity and leadership simply because he’s a normal adult with a full emotional range. But I expect the Trumpanzees to continue to regard him as weak and effeminate because their own emotional deficiency, like a kind of blindness, prevents them from seeing that reality.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Infidel: I’m not sure there’s much difference between toxic masculinity and emotional deficiency. As for maladaptive behavior, there’s so much evidence of working against one’s true self-interests among trump and his supporters. But as you point out, the lack of empathy prevents the coalition-building. In this regard, we’re probably lucky: I can’t imagine any way trump could have built a healthy coalition, so if he weren’t so inept and damaged, the mind reels to consider how much worse our plight might be.

      I like the reference to the chimpanzees’ empathy (hold the male dominance…). And I think the most troubling part of the horrors of the past four years is that so many (including the Republicans who criticized him back then and fawn over him still) knew at the outset what a total fraud he is. He’s also clearly a deeply insecure person leading a joyless life. I’m sure you’re happier than he is; I think most of us are. But he has managed to wreak havoc on us anyway by bullying and cheating his way. I don’t like to throw around psychological terms, but I was struck by the description of psychopathic behavior in a NY Times obit of a psychologist (link is in my response to comment from Steve Rosenberg).

      I think the vast majority of Americans just want him out of the Oval Office and out of our lives and thoughts. But his diehard followers will never accept Biden because trump has persuaded them that only a trump victory is valid.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. My training (although long ago)as an anthropologist colors my own analysis of Trump. No matter how we are socialized we are still chimpanzees. We continue to share many traits with our nearest relatives. Among chimps it is the males who have the power. Why? Because they are physically stronger. There is no Equal Rights Amendment for females, unlike the USA. Oops, take that one back.

      Unlike gorillas, however, where one strong male leads a small harem, among chimps it is a small GROUP of males that leads the group. One male is at the top, but he depends heavily on his 3 or 4 thugs to keep others in line. Alone, he can do nothing. In fact, alliances often shift as a new male may challenge the top male for leadership. Often, the new male wins and forms a new alliance.

      One of the key characteristics of chimps is territorial control. Border control. Every once in awhile a group of 4 or 5 chimps will walk the “border” of their territory. If they find a lone chimp nearby they will track him or her down and literally beat him or her to death. And if the chimp is part of their original group who has left or been driven out they are especially vicious. A traitor.

      Another characteristic is using violence to terrorize females and infants and adolescents within the group. . Might makes right.

      When I look at the Republican party I see this dynamic at work. On the GOP side there would be no Trump had the chimps not sided with him in the primary process. There would be no Trump had they not sided with him in November 2016. And they had an opportunity to remove him from power in January 2020 but refused to do so. He is not alone, politically. He has his power base, narrow though it is. And he and the GOP will do anything to stay in power.

      Of course we are not common chimps, but we are human chimps. We have been able, through society and the increasing power of females, to mitigate and control more of our violent tendencies. But I would argue that the genetic material is still there. And it emerges over and over. Robespierre. Mussolini. Hitler. Stalin.Mao Zedong. Pol Pot. Putin. Kim. bin Laden. Those are the extreme cases of the phenomenon. Not a single one of these men could have done any damage alone. They all lead groups of thugs. Loyal thugs.

      That is why, while I do detest Trump and his thugs I do not think that defeating him is the entire answer. There is something ingrained in human chimps that must be faced and defeated again and again and again. The GOP must be defeated at the polls, for sure. But the deeper problem is that of the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism. Somehow controlling the common chimp DNA . That will continue to be a problem no matter what the outcome in 2020.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. You have written an excellent response to the contention that we need more women in leadership positions. Sure, there will be Margaret Thatchers and Indira Gandhis, and gender isn’t as important in leadership as are compassion, integrity, leveling with the people, and seeking out the best expert advisers, but women appear to be more likely free of the damaging characteristics. See my post

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well,Annie. Hate to rain on your “women in power” parade. But to expand on chimp behavior. While female chimps (in general) are much more passive and loving than males, there are exceptions. In fact, Jane Goodall documents some female chimps stealing and killing the babies of other females. Like humans, every chimp has its own personality. Stereotyping males as aggressive is just as bad as stereotyping females as wonderful. Take a look at the female governors of Michigan and South Dakota. Or the female senators from New York and Kansas. Would you really prefer Sarah Palin as president rather than Joe Biden? Gender is not the issue. Compassion is.


      1. That’s our goal and my husband is a wonderful example. We have taken the opportunity to use various examples to show them what not to do. Just wishing there were better role models in leadership for my boys.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve said this before on your site: There is no overstating how awful Trump is. I don’t have a good opinion of the American citizenry, because they have put Trump, McConnell et al in office. Hopefully the citizenry has wised up enough to vote Trump (and some other bad news right-wingers) out of office.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post… it appears to be a DNA thing or chemical or hormonal one with these hyper masculine men. And the trump women are the one’s drawn to this type of man for some of their own psychological reasons. Many women like men to be powerful, take charge, be tough etc. perhaps a sexual thing?

    It is an insecurity, because real men are not driven by whatever this is. They are more complete, less damaged , as I think it’s actually a defect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Mary–

      Not sure why, but your comment landed in my spam folder, which I just happened to go through today. Sorry. Thanks, and yes–I quite agree with you, though I’d add cultural norms and home teaching to the mix, as many societies don’t have these “macho men” to the extent that we do.


  8. Joseph, I discovered we went through this discussion when I posted my piece about female leaders doing better with Covid a while back. If you read the comments there, we covered much the same ground—even mentioned Biden as a leader containing all the important qualities.


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