Donald Trump Is the Personification of Toxic Masculinity

Never has President Trump seemed more macho to his people than when he punched Bashar al-Assad in the face with a slew of Tomahawk missiles.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

President Donald Trump is like an erect penis: He’s single-minded, obsessed with invasion, and dying to shoot. (He’s also wrinkly, rigid, and a dick—I could go on.) He seems to function as the symbolic phallus of his fans, as if he’s the embodiment of testosterone. Trump makes them feel masculine and energized and powerful, like a political Viagra.

Many seem to envision Trump’s penile qualities as a good thing—as if by swinging his dick around in his first months in office, he’s shattered conventions and magically improved a staid, corrupt, overintellectualized Washington. Never has he seemed more macho to his people than when he punched Bashar al-Assad in the face with a slew of Tomahawk missiles. In reality, it may have been more of a strong kick in the shins—that airstrip they bombed was reportedly operational the next day—but hey, bombing the Middle East will always warm certain American hearts. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is over 80 percent and the assault on Syria won’t hurt.

So much of Trump’s appeal is wrapped up in his sense of machismo, but he borrows almost exclusively from the worst of American masculinity, clinging to an old school version of manliness that’s about toughness, bluster, an imperative to superiority, a disdain for humility, and a need to dominate others—especially women.

Trump’s concept masculinity seems to guide his politics, which is so much about attempting to dominate Barack Obama, Muslims, the media, and other enemies real or perceived. He bangs his chest and drops bombs when Assad offends his sensibilities. He was so moved by images of Syrian children being gassed that he dropped bombs to avenge people who he wouldn’t allow to move here. Indeed, the most overtly macho moment of Trump’s presidency, bombing Syria, flowed out of his most emotional moment—his response to the gassing of Syrian children, which seems to have made Trump genuinely sad. It’s almost like he’s punishing Assad for making him feel “womanly” emotions like empathy and sadness, but really he’s just showing the world that he’s the man. He hated what Assad did and he wanted to show him how tough America can be to scare him.

Assad got out of line and Trump flexed his muscles and projected power. Was it effective in Syria? Probably not. The country has been mired in a bloody, complex civil war for years. ISIS is centered there. They’re used to explosions. But the attack will be effective on Fox News and on right-wing talk radio where Trump will be portrayed as a no-nonsense tough guy who’s not afraid to let our military flex its muscles.

The modern male learns manliness from a different playbook than his father—he’s taught to be more open with his feelings, to be more aware of his failings, to show respect for other sorts of people, especially women. Modern men may fail to live up to that ideal—we may fail often—but we’re trying. The old school ideal of manliness—that Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Trump sort of man? He was not trying. He saw himself as a king—all others get out of the way. He was so surrounded by entitlement that it was to him as water is to fish. Trump brings that horrible impulse with him to his job as well as many other deplorable aspects of old school masculinity.

Let me count three of the most maddening ways:

1. An overactive sense of superiority.

Trump is nothing without the fight to dominate others—women, Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, trans people—it’s not merely that he wants one group to win, he wants to crush the other group. Somehow it still escapes him that he’s responsible for and to every American. No, we have a president whose manhood is built on the need to oppress in order to prove that he’s a man. This is among the worst impulses in men and Trump is consumed by it.

2. A refusal to apologize.

Old school Man never apologizes. He never backs down. Even when not backing down actually hurts him. He’s never wrong—even if he is. It’s part of his privilege, his entitlement, his kingliness that he never has to acknowledge a mistake. Trump’s refusal to apologize is polarizing—his folks seem to forgive him for anything but many of us are put off by his refusal to apologize. It’s not ideological—it’s expecting him to fulfill the basic social contract. When you’re wrong, you apologize. It’s part of civilized society.

Trump has been proven wrong about Obama surveilling him, it never happened, there’s zero evidence, you will not believe what they’re finding—nothing. But even though he’s wrongfully defamed his predecessor, he refuses to apologize or even back down. It’s unsettling. The person who cannot apologize does not respect those he’s wronged, does not observe the basic social contract, and doesn’t have enough self-awareness to admit when he’s made a mistake. How often does a grudge linger on for years because the offender just won’t apologize? Sometimes the inability to apologize is worse than the offense—apologizing is that important to people. We say to err is human and to forgive is divine but before the forgiving should be come an apology. So your refusal to apologize blocks me from closure and divinity.

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3. He won’t communicate.

All those times I saw a woman in a romcom complaining about a man who wouldn’t effectively communicate with her I laughed, not knowing that one day I would know her pain. I am stuck in a relationship with a man who won’t tell me what’s going on. I need to know what his plan for Syria is. I need to know where our relationship is going. What is our health care plan long term? He won’t say and it’s maddening. He says he won’t tell us his Syria plan but we all know that he keeps his plan secret because doesn’t have a plan. But when you’re talking about soldiers’ lives and military might and potentially shifting the balance of power in the world’s most complex region—when you’re talking about that we the people deserve a broad overview of what the leader’s intentions are in this campaign.

He doesn’t have to tell us details of a military operation though I highly doubt he knows any details of any military operations so there’s no chance he’ll divulge anything he shouldn’t. But we should know the broad strokes of why we need to do this now and how much force he’s willing to expend and what his goal or endgame is. Being an effective leader means explaining your plans and actions. Leadership should let people know the direction they’re going in.

We have a divisive president who rules strictly for his people. He refuses to include or even mollify the other side. It’s his job to try to bring the country together and to remember that he is the President of both sides of the argument. But instead of creating olive branches, he makes lists of enemies—Obama, Meryl Streep, Colin Kaepernick, CNN—and stands up for those on his list of friends—Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Milo Yiannopoulos. He makes sure everyone knows who’s been nice and not nice—regardless of the fact that he is, eternally, a dick.