On the recent Memorial Day holiday The Atlantic saw fit to publish a piece by Tom Nichols titled, “Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President.” Nichols claims he is baffled as to why working class white men, Trump’s most reliable voting demographic, “support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency?”
Nichols’s disdain for President Trump is no secret. I don’t think it a good use of time to debate his premise that Trump is the least masculine man, “ever to hold the modern presidency.” Nichols asserts this as fact and quickly moves on to explain why the voting habits of working class white men confound him. I am certain manliness isn’t mentioned as a requisite for serving as President, and rather than bicker over the degree to which Trump is or is not manly and insert myself into the perpetual pissing contest in which President Trump and his Never Trump detractors engage I think it more prudent to attempt to answer the question Nichols poses.
The terms masculine and manly evoke varying images and ideas for different people. Physically strong men are sometimes described as masculine, but there’s an implication there we don’t always discuss. What good is physical strength if it’s not put to use in the service of the greater good? We don’t think of large men who use their strength to beat up weaker people as manly, do we? That’s not masculine.
After discovering the reason for the fervor over the term manliness that briefly gripped Twitter yesterday I reached for an obvious explanatory example from the political realm:
Maybe it’s not en vogue to say this is in 2020, but women are attracted to men willing to serve them and sacrifice for them, and there is perhaps no more compelling sacrifice than offering one’s body. These ideas are echoed in the marriage vows men and women take, and this is no accident. Christ on the cross is the ultimate example of a loving sacrifice offered freely for the protection of others; the Church is His bride. Is it any wonder good men seek to emulate this example and women are drawn to men who do?
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander is the opening novel in a series about Claire, a time-traveling English nurse who finds herself in Scotland in 1743. Upon her arrival in the past Claire is immediately threatened by an English officer who believes she’s a spy. To avoid having to turn her over to the menacing officer, a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser agrees to marry Claire, thus making her a Scot who can remain on clan land and avoid the demands of the British officer. On their wedding night Jamie, in his dreamy accent, has this to say to his skittish new bride:
“You are safe,” he said firmly. “You have my name and my family, my clan, and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. The man willna lay hands on ye again, while I live.”
Why am I quoting Outlander in an effort to explain why some men vote for Donald Trump? Admittedly I can always find a reason to quote Outlander, but I find this particular quote applicable and explanatory in this instance. Men today (unfortunately) do not speak in this manner, but the implications are the same when men recite marriage vows. I will provide for you. I will protect you. My body is your body. It’s beautiful, primitive stuff, and if we’re dragging manliness into a discussion of voting habits I think it’s worth considering if you truly seek to understand the voting habits of many males.
I think the simplest and obvious answer to Nichols’s question is that men do not necessarily gravitate toward the candidate in whom they see themselves mirrored but rather the candidate they believe will enable them to do those things they desire, to provide shelter and food for their family, to own and carry weapons that will allow them to protect their family should the need arise. If masculinity is about self-sacrifice, about protecting those you love even at the cost of your own body, then men, even if only subconsciously, will often cast a vote for the individual they believe to be most likely to grant them the liberties necessary to continue providing for and protecting their loved ones.
This is an ancient explanation of modern voting patterns, but I believe it has merit. Why are single women more likely to vote for a Democrat? The same premise applies: single women are seeking security they often don’t otherwise have, so they see a larger, more meddlesome government as a welcome presence in their life.
A vote for Donald Trump isn’t necessarily a vote for a man men (or women) perceive to be particularly manly, rather it is a vote for policies that will allow men to do those things which we traditionally think of as masculine: work, provide, and protect.
I would not automatically reach for the word manly to describe President Trump. I can tell you that many who vote for Trump did so and will do so again this year not because they see themselves reflected in his actions or his words, not because they herald him as the epitome of manliness, but because his policies are policies they believe will grant them the freedoms and opportunities necessary to lead the life they want to lead.
For many men, men of every class and every race, the life they desire to lead is a life of work, of purpose, of service, of protection, and of worship. When they ask themselves who is most likely to bolster the economy, to make it possible for me to own a home and save for the future, to allow me to purchase and carry a weapon, to allow me to join my family weekly and worship freely, it is understandable that they didn’t pull the lever for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and they will not pull the lever for Joe Biden this year.