Reactionary manliness: Donald Trump's tough-guy act

So is it right to say that Trump is manly? Well, yes, but only to the extent that it is right to say Mussolini was patriotic. Trump’s brand of manliness is a reactionary manliness—or maybe it would be more accurate to say that his manly appeal can be chalked up to the disgust many Americans have at the success of the left’s assault on manliness.

As with Hugh Hefner in the face of ascendant feminism, or hip-hop stars after the decline of the African-American family, the appeal of a man as transparently ridiculous as Trump is driven by the exasperation of one part of American society that another dominant segment of that society has decided manliness of any kind is retrograde. That dominant segment will be voting for Hillary Clinton in November—and who better to inform the American man that his day is done than scowling, joyless Hillary? And what more natural response to her ascendance than a boastful, deeply insecure bully, who at least is willing to say the things that “establishment” figures won’t—in part because he is willing to say anything?

There is a parallel here to Trump’s brand of nationalism. Just as there is such a thing as responsible manliness—brave, even bold when circumstances demand; cool under pressure; gentle with the weak but fearsome to wrongdoers—so there is such a thing as responsible American patriotism. Pride in a nation as exceptional as ours is something to be taught, nurtured, and cherished, and it can be generous because it is rooted in real confidence. But the left—President Obama is an excellent example of this—is suspicious of any sort of pride in a nation, because it is suspicious of the very idea of nations. This increasingly powerful suspicion, and its effects, inspire the kind of chauvinistic nationalist reaction harnessed by Trump.