Thus, for many in heartland America, the denigration of men and the erosion of the very notion of masculinity have become disturbing features of modern culture. The modern Democratic party, with its unwavering devotion to gender-identity politics, is seen as the vessel for this unsettling culture. Many Democrats simply insist that gender issues are no longer topics for searching debate but settled imperatives — skeptics or opponents are automatically castigated as sexist stooges of the patriarchy. The Democratic party has made itself into a display case for trophies of unfettered gender expression and declining masculinity.And yet, punching back at the people who deconstruct normality and call it progress isn't enough. There must be a foundation of order, or else one unraveling gives way to another. In such an order Mr Trump would be outside the realm of the respectable. But these days, respectable means you can't insult voters on your way to the presidency (see those deplorables) although insulting other aspirants (Little Marco, Crooked Hillary) is simply Speaking Truth to Power.)
In terms of personalities, President Obama has been Exhibit No. 1. Much of middle America recoiled from a man who refused to hold to his own “red line” in Syria, knuckled under to the Iranians hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, embraced a strategy of “leading from behind,” failed to stand up to Russia and China, and refused to condemn radical Islam because of a P.C. sensitivity about offending Muslims. In a world where a host of fanatical jihadists are bent on murdering Americans, many citizens winced at what they saw as the president’s soft metrosexual image.
Hillary Clinton has been Exhibit No. 2. Famously, she condescendingly condemned her traditionalist opponents as a “basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” With her notoriously philandering, predatory husband in tow, she became almost a caricature of the hectoring P.C. zealot determined to cram sensitivity down everyone’s throat.
Enter the outlandishly male Trump. No matter how crudely, he promised a remedy. His brash assertions that he would stand up to the nation’s enemies and negotiate strict new trade deals, and his Mixed Martial Arts–style slam-downs of political opponents and critics seemed to demonstrate a clear masculine toughness. Even his crude sexual rhetoric and apparent misogyny, which understandably outraged many, elicited only shoulder-shrugging unconcern in middle America, where it was seen as a by-product of his aggressive masculinity. Trump’s barrage of Twitter counterattacks against critics, a source of much consternation among the commentariat, delight his supporters for the same reason. They see the short, sharp Twitter blasts as a weapon of masculine assertion — when someone hits you, you hit back even harder — that are beyond the control of the P.C. police in the media.
Trumpism expresses a genuine, understandable yearning to reestablish some sense of sexual normalcy, some accepted standards in our culture so that gender identity will not be fluid to the point of utter formlessness, so that marriages and families and the basic building blocks of society may rest on a firm foundation. Trumpism reflects an instinctive Burkean belief in middle America that society is rooted in personal morality and webs of shared standards and loyalties and responsibilities, and that if we dissolve sexual norms, we might be pulling the thread that then unravels the whole. In flyover country far from leviathan cities and the insular safe spaces of the academy, the fraying of the sexual order and the anxiety over degenerating masculinity have created legitimate fears of social disintegration. Trump’s hyper-masculine image of strength and vigor soothe such anxiety.What was I saying about the cultural conflict that must be resolved before a new values regime emerges?
At the same time, Trump’s masculine style has a disturbing implication. Of JFK and Trump, both strongly male presidents, the earlier candidate was cool, sophisticated, intellectual, elegant, and sexually alluring while the latter is bombastic, vulgar, uninformed, and sexually aggressive. This contrast reflects deep personality differences between two individuals, but it also says something about Americans’ growing narcissism and addiction to celebrity, entertainment, and the gospel of self-fulfillment. Kennedy advanced as an individual who had political experience and policy expertise; his celebrity provided a glamorous veneer. Trump has ascended as man in whom celebrity is nearly all, with his political principles replaced by loutish self-aggrandizement. With the elevation of the Donald, who is almost a cartoon version of JFK, to the pinnacle of national leadership, we see not only fear about the decline of the American male but also distressing evidence of the larger decline of American culture.