“We found that support for [President] Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as ‘erectile dysfunction,' ” the researchers wrote in an article for The Post. “Moreover, this relationship persisted after accounting for demographic attributes in media markets, such as education levels and racial composition, as well as searches for topics unrelated to fragile masculinity, such as 'breast augmentation’ and ‘menopause.’ ”
That correlation didn’t hold when looking at support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008.
The response to this study at Fox News was predictable. A series of guests disparaged the research, including one psychotherapist who suggested that the lack of a McCain correlation was particularly odd.
“Most people, men and women, would say that John McCain is the height of masculinity — about as manly as you can get,” he said. “ . . . He was a war hero who epitomized fearlessness in the face of his captors. What about Trump is more masculine than McCain?”
That’s not the point, of course. The point is not that Trump manifested a manliness that others didn’t. It’s that he spoke to the cultural concerns that these men purportedly shared. That his rhetoric addressed making these men great again.
What does that look like in practice? We turn back to Fox News and the network’s host Tucker Carlson.
On Monday night, Carlson disparaged MSNBC’s Chris Hayes — against whom he competes for ratings — after Hayes hosted a town hall meeting with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) focused on climate change. Carlson showed a clip of Hayes talking about Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and the threat posed by climate change.
“Some people call it a socialist monster, some people call it our only hope for survival here in the way of life that we hold dear,” Hayes said in the clip.
“He looks like Ellen, kind of a fusion show,” Carlson said. “But did you hear what he said? Our only hope for survival. Holy smokes. That is terrifying. Help us, Chris Hayes.”
That’s not what Hayes said, of course. He said that some saw the Green New Deal as the only way of protecting our way of life. But Carlson’s frequent shtick isn’t to engage with arguments on the merit, preferring, instead, to levy insults.
As he did when first mentioning Hayes.
“Chris Hayes is what every man would be if feminists ever achieve absolute power in this country,” Carlson said. “Apologetic, bespectacled and deeply, deeply concerned about global warming and the patriarchal systems that cause it.”
While there’s a lot about that phrasing that’s weird, the most immediately stupid is that wearing glasses is somehow a mark of overly obsequious views on gender, which I think it’s safe to say is an odd and unfounded generalization. (Full disclosure: I am wearing glasses as I write these words.)
More broadly, it’s that claim that the end result of feminism is being apologetic and, if we might read into the subtext here, emotional. Hayes, Carlson is saying, isn’t a real man, worried about girl stuff like climate change and his eyeglass frames.
This is the epitome of masculine insecurity, and it speaks specifically to the audience that Carlson wants to cultivate.
After the 2016 election, the Atlantic and PRRI conducted a national poll looking at attitudes about race and gender, among other things. That survey included two questions that are pertinent here. The first asked people to respond to the idea that society has become too soft and feminine. The other proposed that men are punished for being men — that masculinity itself is under attack.
White working-class men were much more likely to hold both of those views than other groups, including respondents overall and whites with college educations. More than 60 percent of that group thought society had become too feminine and 45 percent of white working-class men thought traditional male behavior was being punished.
It probably goes without saying that this is also a demographic that voted heavily for Trump in the 2016 election.
Another study released shortly after the election compared views on sex and racism to actual support for Trump. That study found a strong correlation between support for Trump and what the researchers described as “hostile sexism” — people who were more likely to agree with a series of statements that included things like “women seek to gain power by getting control over men.”
The researchers note that Trump’s rhetoric was often explicitly hostile to women, including his disparagement of his primary opponent Carly Fiorina, his general election opponent Hillary Clinton and the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape a month before the election in which he described sexually assaulting women. The first question posed to Trump in the first Republican primary debate centered on his past comments about women, a concern he waved off as being excessively “politically correct.”
These weren’t the only studies finding a link between Trump support or the views of working-class whites and a specific sense that men are embattled. Another study published in 2017, for example, found a similar link as the study above. “[G]reater hostile sexism and having traditional attitudes toward women served as strong predictors of voting for Trump when examined after controlling for participant sex, political party identification, and time of participation,” it reads, in part.
It’s this group to whom Carlson was speaking. After disparaging Ocasio-Cortez as a “moron,” he gave her credit for at least addressing the idea that banks and financial institutions have too much power. It was an appeal to class after disparaging Ocasio-Cortez as a young, dumb woman and Hayes as effeminate and weak.
It was, in other words, exactly the pitch you’d expect from the people described in the male-insecurity research.