When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, Never Trumpers (now largely ex-Republicans) warned that he would corrupt the party in every way imaginable. His misogyny would morph in the party’s toxic masculinity and degradation of women, they cautioned. His infatuation with brutality and violence (boasting he would kill terrorists’ families, exhorting his supporters to slug protesters) would metastasize to the party as a whole. Boy, did those predictions pan out.
You only have to look at the vicious imagery showing the murder of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deployed by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), the verbal attack on her from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) last year — and Republicans’ defense of both — to understand that their refusal to dump Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light was merely the prelude to an era of normalizing violence (especially against women), culminating in the Jan. 6 violent insurrection, which many Republicans, including Trump, tried to paint as nonviolent.
Threats and portrayals of violence against women have turned into a badge of honor for a party in which traditional notions about gender (back to the 1950s!) have become a key predictor of Republican support. Casting men (even a Supreme Court nominee) as victims of aggressive, “nasty” or unhinged women accusing them of wrongdoing has become standard fare in the Trump party.
Trump’s ability to fan the flames of racism is well known, but equal to his party’s racist appeal is the reassertion of male power. Whether it is in setting up bounties to rat out women who seek abortions or constant denigration of women, misogyny has become as central to the GOP’s tone and tenor as xenophobia. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) accused feminists of taking away men’s masculinity, driving them to seek refuge in pornography. That’s coming from a sitting United States senator, an Ivy League law school graduate. He fans resentment toward women just as assiduously as Trump channels White grievance.
Toxic masculinity now increasingly manifests in an infatuation with violence against both men and women. “From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party,” the New York Times reported this month. “Ten months after rioters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, and after four years of a president who often spoke in violent terms about his adversaries, right-wing Republicans are talking more openly and frequently about the use of force as justifiable in opposition to those who dislodged him from power.”
It is not enough for GOP congressional candidates to champion Second Amendment rights. They have to hold guns and destroy things in their ads. House members vaguely (or not so vaguely) hint at violence if things do not go their way. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) thought it amusing to talk about how difficult he may find it to resist hitting the speaker with her own gavel.
And again, we saw in the celebratory shoutouts to Kyle Rittenhouse, after his acquittal for the killing of two men and grave injury of another, the echoes of the hyper-masculinity on display when violent insurrectionists terrorized the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Anti-Defamation League reported on Friday, “The presiding judge warned those in the courtroom against expressions of emotion, but right-wing extremists were bound by no such restrictions, and they reacted online to the ruling with praise for Rittenhouse, vitriol towards ‘antifa’ and the left, and excitement about the apparent precedent for gun violence.” The ADL continued, “Rittenhouse became a cause celebre on the right after he was charged with murdering two people and wounding another during 2020 protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. While the teenager was unaffiliated with any particular extremist group, he received support from all corners of the right-wing extremist landscape, from anti-government extremists to white supremacists.” Right-wing groups — from Oath Keepers to neo-Nazis — surely were in a celebratory mood.
But you don’t have to look to the Proud Boys to see high-fives for Rittenhouse’s acquittal. Three of the most unhinged MAGA congressmen were so impressed (With his lack of judgment in traveling to a riot? His irresponsible use of a firearm?) they were ready to offer him internships on the Hill. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sounded ecstatic on Twitter. Trump — who’s taken his side from the start — sent his congratulations.
Sadly, it is not just politicians who are to blame. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, drills down on the views of the GOP’s core base, White evangelicals. He writes:
One quarter of white evangelical Protestants (26%) and three in ten Republicans (30%) agree today that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence if that’s what it takes to save the country.”Among the three fourths of white evangelicals who believe God has granted America a special place in history, support for violence rises to 30%. And among the two thirds of Republicans who believe the election was stolen from Donald Trump, support for violence rises to 39%.
We saw on Jan. 6 how MAGA fanatics took calls to “stop the steal” literally, launching a violent assault on the electoral vote-counting process. In short, if anyone thinks casual, incessant talk of violence and overt misogyny will not impact the rabid Trump base, think again. (Recall that in the wake of Trump mocking the “Asian flu” or “China flu,” we saw a spate of violent attacks on Asian Americans.) As Jones says, “Today, for an alarming number of white conservative Christians, the mark of Christian faithfulness is not a love that inspires them to lay down their lives for their friends, but a defensiveness that lures them to take the lives of their fellow citizens.”
And even if no one acts upon Republicans’ incendiary language, the specter of a violent mob, of street justice, injures our democracy, which depends on the peaceful resolution of differences and the rule of law. When the threat of violence looms without response, democracy shrivels. For now, Republicans show no sign of letting up.