Trump, JFK, and the masculine mystique

Trump also has been raised to prominence and power, at least partly, by a great spasm of cultural anxiety about masculine decline in modern America. In recent years, a series of controversies has called into question long-accepted ideas about gender and sexuality, particularly on the male front. We’ve seen a recent vogue for transgender matters, such as the lionizing of Caitlyn (né Bruce) Jenner; the “bathroom wars,” in which activists insist that biological men have the “right” to use women’s toilet facilities and locker rooms; and the normalizing of gender “identifying,” wherein individuals supposedly can choose any sexual identity they desire. Among many Americans, this trend has caused head-shaking over social standards. For many, the case of Chelsea (né Bradley) Manning — the transgender soldier who released thousands of classified government documents, was convicted and jailed, and then successfully demanded that the government pay for hormone treatments and a sex-change operation — exemplified how modern gender disarray can prompt social disarray.

On the education front in recent years, legions of ordinary Americans have grown distressed by a string of developments regarding gender sensitivity. At the K–12 level, as Christina Hoff Sommers has detailed in The War against Boys, typically rambunctious seven-year-olds have been suspended for picking up a pencil and using it to “shoot bad guys” while playing, and traditional games such as dodge ball and red rover have been abolished for being too violent and destructive of self-esteem. At universities, denunciations of “toxic masculinity” and “male privilege” have become curricular rituals. At the same time, gender-bending initiatives have become common, such as the imposition of pronouns that reject the his-her binary. The new pronouns on offer — for growing numbers of students who claim uncertain, malleable gender identities — include ze, xe, ne, and ve. (One wiseacre at the University of Michigan, naturally, requested that his class-roster pronoun express the identity of his dreams: “His Majesty.”)

More broadly, a blizzard of Millennial “snowflakes” has blanketed many campuses with weeping, traumatized students who, in the face of the slightest challenge to their opinions, flee to “safe spaces” to find comfort with stuffed animals, puppies, balloons, and crayons. The image of infantilized young men acting in such fashion has been especially disconcerting to traditionalists. So, too, is the fact that females now earn 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, work harder and get better grades, and progress more steadily onto a career path than their male counterparts do.