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Try-Hard With a Vengeance: The deep insecurities underlying “Macho Trump” memes

My what a huge …. gun you have

By David Futrelle

Donald Trump is never more ridiculous than when he’s trying his hardest to look tough. He can never quite pull it off; his insecurities give him away. Instead of inhabiting his masculinity with quiet confidence, he’s awkward, unconvincing, a little boy trying too hard to be a big boy.

Here he is in an appearance with Bikers For Trump just outside the White House, offering up what he evidently sees as an extremely macho duckface:

Who told him THIS was a good look?

Here he is pretending to be a big tough truck driver on the White House lawn.

Here he is demonstrating his weird handshake-pull maneuver, designed to throw the person whose hands he’s shaking off-balance, literally and figuratively.

Stung by press coverage of this weird little maneuver, Trump does seem to have given it up — at least when he knows cameras are present.

Here he is shoving his way to the front of a group of fellow world leaders like some sort of preening baboon.

And last but certainly not least, here he is trying — and failing — to drink from a bottle of water in a macho way, as if there is such a thing.

For those without the requisite confidence, “effortless masculinity” takes a lot of work. And this work is often painfully obvious to anyone watching. It’s all about overcompensation.

The most toxic kind of masculinity, as Amanda Marcotte reminds us in a Salon essay, is the kind rooted in insecurity; and that’s what we see virtually every time we look at Trump. “Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear,” she notes.

The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.

Her first example of this kind of masculinity?

Donald Trump flipping out when someone teases him about his small fingers. (Or about anything, really.) 

And did we mention the hair?

But if the effortless masculinity Trump hungers for so deeply tends to elude him in real life, he comes much closer in the world of memes. Clearly sensing his masculine insecurities (and perhaps sharing many of them), Trump’s fans delight in making memes that portray him as some sort of idealized macho man.

Cartoonist Ben Garrison, a Trump-worshipping alt-right enabler, invariably portrays  the pudgy 72-year-old Trump as a buff, ageless, hunk of man meat:

And he’s hardly the only one:

Overcompensating a bit themselves, his fans love to portray him as an absurdly over-the-top hero:

Sometimes they turn him into an actual superhero:

Even those who balk at giving Trump the full Charles Atlas treatment still like to portray him as a something of a man’s man, comfortable in his masculinity if not positively glowing.

This one comes with bonus (ungrammatical) transphobia:

QAnon/”The Storm” conspiracy theorists — who have convinced themselves that Trump is secretly fighting (and winning) a war against the Illuminati pedophile cannibals who secretly run the US government and the world — also have a vested interest in portraying Trump as a tough, smart, confident hero. Basically. everything he isn’t.

And while they shy away from the Beefcake Trump, they love to repurpose photos of Trump at his smuggest.

This last one, seems to me, suggests that some portion of the QAnon faithful don’t actually believe that their opponents are really pedophiles, but see unsupported charges of pedophilia as a cheap and easy way to smear their foes. If you really thought that millions or even tens of millions of Americans were part of a vast pedophile conspiracy, why on earth would you laugh? 

But that’s a whole other topic.

The question remains: why are so many Trump fans so invested in shoring up the anxious masculinity of an aging narcissist who can’t even pull off a convincing impersonation of a macho man in real life? It’s easy enough to understand why Trump overcompensates for his own insecurities; that’s basic psychology. But why do his fans engage in a similar kindof overcompensation, trying to convince themselves and others that Trump really is the macho man he only pretends — so badly — to be?

Part of it, certainly, is a yearning for a patriarchal father figure who will make the country and the world safe and secure again. Indeed, the entire QAnon conspiracy is about reassurance — it’s built around the idea that Trump, however badly he might appear to be struggling on the surface, is actually totally in control of the situation, and all that decent Americans need to do is to “Trust the Plan” and wait for him to win. So it makes sense that QAnonners’ Trump memes are all about a quietly confident man bringing vengeance to the unrighteous.

But what about all of those Beefcake Trumps? Do they reflect some more secret desire not for a father figure, exactly, but rather for some Tom-of-Finland-style Leather Daddy Figure? For a few, probably yes. But I suspect far more of Trump’s male fans — and I suspect the meme makers are mostly guys — would rather be Beefcake Trump than get topped by him.

Ultimately. I think the only way to really understand the strange ubiquity of Macho Trump memes is by coming back to the issue of insecurity. Trump and his fans aren’t just insecure about masculinity — in particular, his masculinity. They are also insecure about his basic competence — as is Trump himself.

As much as they loathe to admit it in public, Trump fans wince a bit at some of his Tweets. They worry that despite his bluster he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. They can see the way he’s screwing them over with tariffs and a trade war that he conjured up out of nothing. They suspect, or more than suspect, that he’s corrupt as hell if not actually conspiring with Russia. They fear the “blue wave” coming.

And so they are as invested as Trump in the notion that Trump is always and forever “winning” even when he obviously is not. They desperately want him to be the confident, hyper-confident macho man he pretends to be. And so they are compelled to do their part in shoring up his masculinity, at least symbolically  — for his sake and for their own.

In the short run, this is probably one of the reasons Trump’s popularity rate has rebounded from its lows and has been bumping around in the 42% range since May (according to the FiveThirtyEight weighted poll average), despite one policy disaster after another and endless scandal.

But in the long run, it can’t hold. This fragile man can’t be saved. And despite the fervent wishes of his most enthusiastic fans, this fragile man can’t save them either.

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Moon_custafer
Moon_custafer
2 years ago

Half the people identifying as trans now will probably detransition within the next ten years

Oh yeah, sounds like TERFs.

I think someone on Tumblr a while back posted something like “even if questioning/exploring one’s gender is a trend, it sure beats the previous trend where no one was permitted to do so and many people lived lives of private misery as a result.”

Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
2 years ago

I think someone on Tumblr a while back posted something like “even if questioning/exploring one’s gender is a trend, it sure beats the previous trend where no one was permitted to do so and many people lived lives of private misery as a result.”

That is so totally awesome, and true!

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

@drab analysis:

Trans people used to be a tiny minority of actual gender dysphoric people. Now it’s a big fad and social contagion and the crossdressing autogynephiles calling themselves trans today

It stops calling transwomen “autogynephiles” or it gets the Contrapoints video link again.

ellesar
ellesar
2 years ago

i HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR A TRUMP POST TO SHARE THIS LITTLE GEM:

Trumpery derives from the Middle English trompery and ultimately from the Middle French tromper, meaning “to deceive.” (You can see the meaning of this root reflected in the French phrase trompe-l’oeil-literally, “deceives the eye”-which in English refers to a style of painting with photographically realistic detail.) Trumpery first appeared in English in the mid-15th century with the meanings “deceit or fraud” (a sense that is now obsolete) and “worthless nonsense.” Less than 100 years later, it was being applied to material objects of little or no value. The verb phrase trump up means “to concoct with the intent to deceive,” but there is most likely no etymological connection between this phrase and trumpery.

Bakunin
Bakunin
2 years ago

@Surplus
Now that’s a Silence of the Lambs reference I can get behind!

@Dvärghundspossen
From what I saw from an article discussing transitioning in Sweden a few months ago, I think there might be more hoops there than parts of the U.S., but it seems like it’s almost up to sheer chance sometimes. I know one person who just had a quick interview and walked out with a script, and another friend who’s homebrewing herbs right now after being told she’d need a CAT scan. Those were doctors in adjacent towns, and the one that denied a script was in what I would have called the more liberal town.

Cindy
Cindy
2 years ago

Ugh, TERFs. Can we just, like, ship them all off to an uninhabited island or something, where they don’t have to see us disgusting transes? We could put the incels there too! The two groups basically deserve each other. 😛

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
2 years ago

The TERF stuff makes me think of John Varley’s work back in the 70s and 80s, or Tanith Lee’s from about the same period. Both of them wrote SF in which changing bodies and/or changing gender was a normal part of society. There are others writers who’ve done the same, but those are the authors that tend to stick with me for this trope.

Maybe I need to generate a reading list. 😛

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

Do you consider such stories to be inherently transphobic? I’d think the ability to easily change sex if you were gender dysphoric would be beneficial to transpeople. Or does it depend on whether the story erases gender by making it just a choice, versus recognizes it as part of someone’s psychology that isn’t easily mutable, even if the body can more easily be changed to match?

tim gueguen
2 years ago

Some of the TERF responses sound very close to what antigay people argue about homosexuality, that people aren’t really gay, that they’ve been tricked into believing they are. And there are more people claiming to be gay these days because the “recruitment” is more successful than in the past. Of course this brings up the whole question of why homosexuality exists in the first place, just like the TERF arguments bring up the question of why people are trans if there’s not a physical basis there. At least the religious antigay people have a rationalisation: It’s Satan’s doing!(Or whichever “First Evil” it is they believe in.)

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
2 years ago

@Surplus to Requirements

I’d say the stories in question taught me empathy for transfolk. I’ve discussed them with a friend who’s genderfluid, in fact, and my friend said that a world where they could be pretty or handsome in turns would be wonderful.

This is why diversity in storytelling is so important. Storytelling is a way to show us what it can be like in a society where a person can say, “I’m 80% masculine” or “She’s ultrafemale, never anything but.” (Both examples from Tanith Lee’s Four BEE series, btw.) Or where someone can casually talk about being a father to a loved one’s children and then about how they’d love to bear their loved one’s children in turn (to borrow from Varley). I’d like to think these stories would change a TERF’s mind, or at the least teach someone that the TERF POV is a limited and limiting mindset.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

You might like Greg Egan then. There’s often some gender bending in his stories. Distress has infra- and ultra-versions of the usual genders, as well as (I think) nonbinary people. Diaspora has androgynous or nonbinary people with their own pronouns. I’m fairly sure there’s more in that vein. That’s among humanoid or human-derived cultures. The aliens usually have some clear allegory for gender relations issues in their societies. Orthogonal has an obvious analogue of patriarchy, and some villains trying to enforce this, including by denying access to contraception to a gender in whom giving birth causes death. Dichronauts has aliens with immobile, highly dependent separately-intelligent symbionts who give them important added sensory capabilities, whom are often abused and whom are seeking greater rights in society.

The actual main threats driving the plots in these stories tend not to be villains, though, but natural disasters of some sort, usually involving exotic physics; the villains involved in oppressing a gender or other sector of society, in the stories that even have any, tend to be the B-plot, though their interference with the heroes of the A-plot can cause them to become a larger threat than they otherwise would be.

IIRC, Egan himself is gay so his own experiences with patriarchal oppression based on gender, sexuality, and enforcement of gender norms likely colors his work, and probably for the better.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

Ellesar,

I love it and will share with my mother, who is a bit of a Francophile and who also hates Trump.

Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
2 years ago

Some of the TERF responses sound very close to what antigay people argue about homosexuality, that people aren’t really gay, that they’ve been tricked into believing they are. And there are more people claiming to be gay these days because the “recruitment” is more successful than in the past. Of course this brings up the whole question of why homosexuality exists in the first place, just like the TERF arguments bring up the question of why people are trans if there’s not a physical basis there. At least the religious antigay people have a rationalisation: It’s Satan’s doing!(Or whichever “First Evil” it is they believe in.)

Ex-freaking-zactly!

Liquidmidnight
Liquidmidnight
2 years ago

I remember first seeing that picture of Trump dressed in colonial period attire, holding a mini gun, and I assumed it was meant to be satirical. It’s just so over the top that you can’t take it seriously, much like a JibJab. But regardless of its origin, I’ve seen the MAGA crew take it as straight up. And the Jon Mcnaughton stuff has just always been creepy as hell. I’d find art like that creepy even it were casting in such light politicians who I supported. It really shows that sometimes one’s own personal ontological of the world is so skewed that that person really does live in a different world.

But these memes and art are very much indicative that Trump’s appeal has never had much of anything to do with policy; he’s never really had a substantial policy platform other than anti-immigration (and even that’s pushing it as far as calling it an actual policy platform). “Make America great again” and “lock her up” are just slogans, not policy platforms. It’s been this brand of knuckle dragging machoism that’s been the primary driving force over the past half decade in mainstream conservative politics. The new mainstream conservative voters are not William Buckley acolytes. They’re not reading P.J. O’ Rourke. Instead, they’re watching rant videos from Tomi Lahren and Graham Allen. The problem is pride in one’s own ignorance and voting based upon perception of who is the most alpha person in the room could have devastating consequences. In the U.S. we’ve actually been somewhat blessed in disguise that Trump has been such an incompetent nincompoop on most domestic issues, which means that he’s largely been ineffectual in executing his batshit ideas like building a border wall. I’d like to think that we’re just checking off time in that regard. My worry, however, is he will eventually have to make a major decision regarding foreign policy, where one of his blunders may wind up costing a lot of people’s lives.

But Trump is a symptom, not a cause. The Republicans have been letting this cancer spread, and it became metastatic when they embraced the Tea Party a decade ago. It really will be interesting to see what the party will look like once the fallout of Trump starts dropping.

Mels
Mels
2 years ago

My abusive dad is a trump turd, having slowly become a monster over the last couple decades thanks to fox news. But he was primed for this shit by an upbringing full of toxic masculinity, thanks to his own abusive garbagedad.

This post is spot on. That’s all I’ll say.

Chris Oakley
2 years ago

Off-topic, but I think you folks might be interested to read this:

Alex Jones’ home station shut down

Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
2 years ago

@Bina

“Its [sic] nice to have a president with balls and a first lady who doesn’t” — doesn’t WHAT? Don’t keep us in suspense, you crappy (and ungrammatical) memesters!

It’s nice to have a president with balls and a first lady who doesn’t [touch those balls because the man is a gross, disgusting Nazi].

The text in square brackets is grammatically — and commonsensically — implied.

The first part of the sentence is sarcasm — just messing with your head.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

@Liquidmidnight:

It’s been this brand of knuckle dragging machoism that’s been the primary driving force over the past half decade in mainstream conservative politics.

You misspelled “century” in “past half century in mainstream conservative politics”. HTH.

Or maybe that should be “millennium”. How old is patriarchy, exactly?

Diptych
Diptych
2 years ago

Good question, and one the historical community has been trying to solve! Possibly as old as pastoralism, or even as agriculture as a whole?

Dalillama
Dalillama
2 years ago

@Liquidmidnight

This isn’t new. This is what conservatism has always been and will always be. There’s no halcyon past of ‘real conservatives’ who had policy positions not based in bigotry; what conservatives wish to conserve is existing patterns 9f privilege and oppression, nothing else.

Jane Done
Jane Done
2 years ago

Scildfreja Unnyðnes:

it’s not about being real, it’s about feeling real

That right there, that’s literally the epitome of today’s regressives/conservatives/alt-right/patriarchy/etc. Cishet white male feelings trump facts. Because their feelings are actually objective rational thought and everything else is fake nooooose.

I actually had a man tell me once that he finds “technical facts” (aka scientifically supported facts) boring, saying that it’s not “nuanced” or applicable to real life, and prefers logical reasoning (aka whatever shit he makes up out of thin air).

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

@Jane Done:

I actually had a man tell me once that he finds “technical facts” (aka scientifically supported facts) boring, saying that it’s not “nuanced” or applicable to real life

By which he means, if he doesn’t like it he can’t convincingly argue against it, waaaah! No fair!

Skylalalalalalala
Skylalalalalalala
2 years ago

Liquidmidnight
August 15, 2018 at 7:52 pm
In the U.S. we’ve actually been somewhat blessed in disguise that Trump has been such an incompetent nincompoop on most domestic issues, which means that he’s largely been ineffectual in executing his batshit ideas like building a border wall. I’d like to think that we’re just checking off time in that regard.

If only that were true. The damage he’s caused to environmental law alone is horrendous. Plus the ACA. Plus the Supreme Court. His loathing of Obama has made him focus on rolling back every good thing Obama ever did and then some.

TRNBM
TRNBM
2 years ago

There are a strong band of Trump apologists, and the cross-section is wide and varied, that could not care less about any of this. They want Trump to succeed (within even the most limited framework) exclusively to annoy liberals, progressives and leftists. That’s it. That’s their whole thing. And in the meme-posting world, putting together a grandiose, tongue-in-cheek is seen as putting out a lure for the SJWs to trigger themselves into an apoplectic rage and they just see it as funny. That’s what Trump is to them: something to kick back against progressive movements.

And they will also look at any negative response that these things get as proof that they succeeded.

I think talking about this being a reflection of their misguided and fragile sense of masculinity falls into that. Because they don’t care. All they care about is kicking back against the SJWs.

misophistry
misophistry
2 years ago

Terfs give me the red mist. They are just so blindly bigoted, lashing out at allies like they do. It makes no sense, it is pure hate.

Its been 17 years since I transitioned. Wild horses couldn’t drag me back.

misophistry
misophistry
2 years ago

Sorry to go on but I cannot believe what I read in the comments of that femministcurrent piece. I did not transition to displace women or rape lesbians. WTF. Seriously go read the comments, they read like a rightwing conspiracy theory. Terfs are literally terrified of genderfluidity. I am depressed now and need to go find a spoon to hold.

Schnookums Von Ghostface Fancypants Killer
Schnookums Von Ghostface Fancypants Killer
2 years ago

Huh, my initial take on the “President with Balls and First Lady without” was that it was a swipe at the Clintons, Since Bill would be the First…well, First Gentleman, but these are the sorts of people who would happily insult a man by calling him a woman. I suspect the “Michelle Obama is secretly a man!” take is probably the “correct” one. I mean, it’s all stupid and hateful all the way down, no matter how you slice it.

Catalpa
Catalpa
2 years ago

just like the TERF arguments bring up the question of why people are trans if there’s not a physical basis there. At least the religious antigay people have a rationalisation: It’s Satan’s doing!

TERFs do have rationalizations. They’re just as much bullshit as the religious homophobia ones. The TERF rationalization for why trans women exist is because they’re actually evil cishet men who want to have sex with lesbians/peep on women in bathrooms/infiltrate feminism and make “real” feminists care about men by tricking them into thinking that they are women. So a bunch of stupid bullshit that boils down to “EVIL DEGENERACY”, same as the religious homophobia.

By the same token, TERF rationale for trans men existing is that the patriarchy has brainwashed these poor women into thinking that being male is superior to being female, and has made them traitors to the cause. More stupid bullshit meant to invalidate trans folk.

I can only assume that nonbinary folks are either not considered at all or fit into one of the two above categories depending on whether they were AMAB or AFAB.

Sheila Crosby
2 years ago

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
A few years back there was some talk of the “cotton ceiling” where transwomen were complaining about lesbians who wouldn’t never, ever, ever consider sex with a transwoman. Somehow in their minds this seems to have warped into a demand that every lesbian ever drop their knickers for every transwoman. Sort-of, kind-of like the people who hear, “Maybe bump stocks are a bad idea” as “Ban all guns for everybody usher in a police state.”

And sure there are more people transitioning these days because it’s not as hellish as it used to be, so more people go for it rather than live in misery. You know, something of the sort happened when society stopped trying to force all kids to be left handed. The number of left-handed people rose sharply and then leveled off at around 10%. Because it was safe to be yourself, but there was no incentive to pretend.

I get that lesbians, especially butch lesbians, are justifiably scared of cis-male violence. I just wish they’d see that transwomen are not male and not violent and have even more reason to be wary around cis-men.

Virgin Mary
Virgin Mary
2 years ago

I reached a conclusion a long time ago, on another forum I was on that the real threat to so called “masculinity” is Femmephobia.
This is what equally effects gay and non gender conforming males, trans mtf (but not ftm) and basically all women.
They need to attack what they perceive as weak and feminine, and go absolutly crazy when they perceive ‘feminine’ characteristics in a man. They hate on mtf people because they believe they have given up their power and status to be lesser animals.
See how men over react when they have to use pink shower gel.

BD1
BD1
2 years ago

Trumpists are a bunch of nutless neckbeard incels with a huge dollop of latent homoeroticism on top. The misogyny and “he man wimmens haters club” posturing are just excuses they can give them mothers as to why they hang out with only men and their basement bedrooms and computers are festooned with beefcake. I mean, if you heard about any other group calling themselves “proud boys” after a showtune where women weren’t allowed and masturbation was verboten you’d be sure it was lake a gay men’s choral group. Hell, not even Leather organizations I am around amp it up to that level.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
2 years ago

neckbeard

Didn’t we just have this discussion, like, last week or something?

snip rest of problematic they’re-all-self-hating-closeted-gays stuff

kupo
kupo
2 years ago

@BD1
Your whole post is just
comment image

Scildfreja Unnyðnes
Scildfreja Unnyðnes
2 years ago

comment image

Rabid Rabbit
Rabid Rabbit
2 years ago

Since we’re sort of on the topic of insults: Is it weird of me that I find Trump calling Omarosa a “dog” more appalling and dehumanizing than if he called her a “bitch”?

I think it’s just that the second has come to have an independent meaning of “obstreperous woman,” so that people use it without necessarily thinking of dogs when they do so, while with “dog” there’s just no denying what he’s doing.

But no doubt some Trumpkins will use it as evidence that he’s not misogynistic.

anonymous
anonymous
2 years ago

This is slightly OT, but here goes

Roosh’s garbage site has dedicated years to build Trump up as this super duper alphamale

……..only for them to realize the sad, sad truth about their god emperor

returnofkings[dot]com/187844/why-is-donald-trump-allowing-melania-to-cuck-him-in-public

This is what happens when your whole world revolves around cucking and alphas and betas and thots and everything else that the red pill ‘understands’

Frederic R Christie
2 years ago

The Purge one is especially hilarious because as the series has evolved we’ve started to see that the whole Purge as an idea isn’t actually kept around for any valid criminology but because it helps to distract from the atrocities and incompetence of a fascist society.

Of course, that becomes scary when one realizes that some Trumpkins, on some level, do get it, and they really are absolutely okay with a society that would let them vent rage and anger, no matter how stupid it is. If they’ll throw a temper tantrum in our democracy, why wouldn’t they do it on a night where they could actually get away with murder?

The small muffin
The small muffin
1 year ago

Dude the trump-on-a-tank is by the guy who did bush riding a shark and Lincoln riding a bear. Dude just does over the top pics of presidents. Maybe remove it cos it doesn’t support your point since it’s not from an actual trump supporter