A few weeks ago, a video of Steve Lynch, the Republican nominee for Northampton county executive in Pennsylvania, went viral when he declared to a crowd: “I’m going in with 20 strong men.”
He was talking about confronting a pro-mask school board. “I’m going to speak to the school board and I’m going to give them an option. They can leave or they can be removed,” he said.
His pronouncement did not address why he needed to roll so deep to a political meeting. Nor did he say why he needed men for this task and why they needed to be “strong.”
It’s not just Lynch who seemed to have confused the weight room with the classroom.
In Florida, a pro-Trump group put out a call to action, urging men to attend an upcoming Manatee County school board meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening, according to a screenshot shared by former Republican attorney Ron Filipkowski.
“ATTENTION MEN,” the post begins. “Men are taking over the Manatee County school board meeting.”
“I would like a manly presence there,” the message said, and “You don’t have to be a dad to show up and/or speak.” It concluded with the plea to “Be the man you are called to be. Step up and defend these children.”
Never mind that the school district of Manatee County put out a tweet saying that Tuesday night’s meeting would include just “one topic—to finalize the 2021-2022 Budget. Rumors aside, there will be no discussion of face masks or face mask policy.”
But this call to action wasn’t about the actual agenda, of course. It, and the ones like it, are all about chest-thumping.
There are a couple of disturbing trends at play here. One is the increasing threat of physical violence in politics—a phenomenon we saw play out in graphic detail on Jan. 6. The second is a related, and arguably equally pernicious, Trump-era phenomenon that co-opts traditional masculinity (having to do with chivalry and sacrifice) and redefines what it means to be a man in the 21st century (having to do with physical power and using it to intimidate).
The roots of this testosterone-fueled regression go back to the 1960s as white men grappled to deal with changing gender and racial dynamics in modern society, but cultural and economic changes in recent decades have led many (particularly white) men to feel increasingly displaced and disconnected from their familial and community roles. These aggrieved men and their ire helped fuel the Trump candidacy.
Some of this aggrievement is overblown victimhood, but some of it is legitimate—and justified. In just the last 24 hours, for example, I have seen a Wall Street Journal report on how “The number of men enrolled at two- and four-year colleges has fallen behind women by record levels in a widening education gap across the U.S.”, as well as a tweet from actress Ellen Barkin, asking, “What is the expiration date for cis white males?” (This might elevate Barkin too much, but it’s a timely example of how Hollywood elites are increasingly telling cis white males to GTFO—a development that is stoking resentment.)
Successful and secure adults do not tend to let tweets get under their skin. But men who are increasingly insecure about their place in the world are more prone to give in to their most basic social instincts, which is increasingly reflected in the right-wing political culture.
Another part of the story is that cultural Christianity has replaced authentic Christianity, leading to a situation where too many of today’s conservative men are more impressed by John Wayne than by Jesus. Rather than adopting a model of masculinity that preaches sacrifice, they adopt a model that is about “getting yours,” not letting anyone take advantage of you, and being a “winner.”
“If you dislike the religious right, wait till you meet the post-religious right,” declared columnist Ross Douthat several years ago. His observation has manifested in too many ways to cite; but since the rise of Trump, manhood has shifted from a servant leadership model that conservatives wanted to channel to protect the vulnerable to its current, more misogynistic and increasingly violent, version.
If we’re going to stop the rise of political violence in America, this trend toward toxic masculinity needs to be addressed. Progressives can help by not defaulting to cancelation at every slight, and God-fearing conservative men can help by summoning their friends, brothers, and sons to be the kind of men that we can be proud of.
It won’t be easy, but the alternative is unthinkable.