Grab them by the pussy, you can do anything.
He is signing a document. Men in black and grey suits loom above his desk, stony-faced, to bear witness to the ceremony, a TV spectacle par excellence. One man reverently passes him black folder after black folder, procuring one signature after another. When he signs, his powder-blonde eyebrows lift ever so slightly as he squints at the page in faux concentration. In this moment, the abyssal pupils that peer out from under them complement the expressionless face of the new Commander-in-Chief: behind them lies no sign of affect, only a solid emptiness, a blank-faced wall. One wonders whether he learned and ritualized this masculine, emotionless performance during his stint in the alternate reality of show business: a microcosm of neoliberal capitalism in which young men and women engaged in cutthroat competition for his favor and, if fired, vanish from the diegetic world. This kind of decision-making requires cold, calculated rationality, the kind of hypermasculinity that despises ambiguity or hybridity and sets out to reinstate binaries between man and woman, state and society, private and public, citizens and aliens, Western and non-Western. Trump’s masculinity emasculates and feminizes its “others” by labeling them weak, emotional, and “nasty,” not to fit to act, govern, or even be heard.
Leading up to the election, survey after survey discovered that many male—and some female—voters saw Trump’s dominant hypermasculinity as a symbolic antidote to the supposed softening and feminization of American culture. Cold War historian K.A. Cuordileone says we are now witnessing a “perfect storm” of anxieties. The nation is grappling not only with fears surrounding terrorism and extremism domestically, but also with “minority-majority” demographic shifts and LGBT gains. Women are rapidly making up for decades of social, political, and economic exclusion, becoming an increasingly dominant force everywhere from the workplace to the White House trail. Although many folks are hoping to “Make America Great Again,” the parameters of that “great” past and its patriarchal trappings are simply no longer possible—a realization that has induced anxiety for many Americans. In October, The Atlantic found that over half of white, working-class Americans, a crucial part of Trump’s base, agreed with the assertion that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine” (Khazan). Donald Trump is threatened hegemonic masculinity personified — a balding man with the most rad comb-over in history, who agreed with Howard Stern that his daughter was “a piece of ass,” and who sees the Middle East as an undifferentiated proving ground for his bombing bravado.
More crucially perhaps, Trump seems to be impervious to the fragility of that masculinity. As president, he continuously seeks the approval that so many men in this country find hard to get, and his open neediness seems to resolve their secret shame. He revels in a Groundhog Day of campaign trail events even as he broaches his fifth month in office, and passes out flyers to reporters continually remind them of his electoral dominance. More intoxicatingly still, Trump seems to have proven that losing can lead to winning. Trump went bankrupt six times, but succeeded on the biggest of stages. He is the patron saint of failed masculinity, overcompensating for incompetence with unbridled grandiosity. Trump, like Putin, does this in part to keep his audience entertained and loyal, which he does largely through outrage—while Putin produces nationalism from Russia’s confected quagmires, Trump relies on the shock value of his own prejudiced, "tell-it-like-it-is" rhetoric. They both rely, too, on the fragmentation and mediatization of politics in the postmodern age. In theory, their electorates have access to reports and opinions spanning all ideologies; in practice, many Putinistas and Trump supporters circulate in sealed ideological bubbles, circumscribed by state-controlled television and right-wing radio respectively.
To watch Trump is to know in your heart that “smash the patriarchy” belongs in our everyday lexicon. His hyperbolic brand of masculinity stagnates to toxicity and fuels fearful, violent indignation among his devotees—breeding preferences of punching to punditry, walls to bridges, and bared teeth to smiles.