Tom Nichols is a conservative pundit and author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters.
Nichols has found much to criticize President Donald Trump about, but now he has branded Trump the "Most Unmanly President."
In the OpEd for The Atlantic, Nichols asked:
"Why don't the President's supporters hold him to their own standard of masculinity?"
It apparently struck quite a nerve.
After listing some of the mysteries of the Trump presidency:
- "his tax returns"
- "miracle of his graduation from college"
- "whether he understood the nuclear-weapons briefing given to every President"
Nichols remarked about the last one:
"I prefer not to dwell on this question."
The author—who uses Twitter handle "RadioFreeTom"—outlined his biggest question about Trump.
"But since his first day as a presidential candidate, I have been baffled by one mystery in particular: Why do working-class white men—the most reliable component of Donald Trump's base—support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency?"
"The question is not whether Trump fails to meet some archaic or idealized version of masculinity.... Rather, the question is why so many of Trump's working-class white male voters refuse to hold Trump to their own standards of masculinity—why they support a man who behaves more like a little boy."
Nichols own background shares more commonalities with Trump's base than the trust fund rich kid they elected.
"I am a son of the working class, and I know these cultural standards. The men I grew up with think of themselves as pretty tough guys, and most of them are. They are not the products of elite universities and cosmopolitan living."
"These are men whose fathers and grandfathers came from a culture that looks down upon lying, cheating, and bragging, especially about sex or courage.... They admire and value the understated swagger, the rock-solid confidence, and the quiet reserve of such cultural heroes as John Wayne's Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby and Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo (also, as it turns out, a former Green Beret.)"
"I am noting that courage, honesty, respect, an economy of words, a bit of modesty, and a willingness to take responsibility are all virtues prized by the self-identified class of hard-working men, the stand-up guys, among whom I was raised."
He then got to the paradox of Trump.
"And yet, many of these same men expect none of those characteristics from Trump, who is a vain, cowardly, lying, vulgar, jabbering blowhard."
"Put another way, as a question I have asked many of the men I know: Is Trump a man your father and grandfather would have respected?"
Nichols acknowledged his adult self is closer to the social norms of Trump than to his working class roots...
"I freely accept that I do not pass muster by the standards of most Trump supporters."
...which most working class men of Nichols childhood would reject.
Yet his supporters embrace Trump.
"Again, what intrigues me is that neither should Trump."
"As the writer Windsor Mann has noted, Trump behaves in ways that many working-class men would ridicule: 'He wears bronzer, loves gold and gossip, is obsessed with his physical appearance, whines constantly, can't control his emotions, watches daytime television, enjoys parades and interior decorating, and used to sell perfume'."
"In order to think about why these men support Trump, one must first grasp how deeply they are betraying their own definition of masculinity by looking more closely at the flaws they should, in principle, find revolting."
Nichols then asked if Trump met some of those masculine ideals.
"Is Trump honorable?"
"This is a man who routinely refused to pay working people their due wages, and then lawyered them into the ground when they objected to being exploited. Trump is a rich downtown bully, the sort most working men usually hate."
"Is Trump courageous?"
"Truly brave people never tell you how brave they are. I have known many combat veterans, and none of them extols his or her own courage."
"What saved them, they will tell you, was their training and their teamwork. Some—perhaps the bravest—lament that they were not able to do more for their comrades."
"But even if we excuse Trump for the occasional hyperbole, the fact of the matter is that Trump is an obvious coward. He has two particular phobias: powerful men and intelligent women."
Nichols wrote of Trump's attempts to ingratiate himself to the dictators he admires.
He explained why the President's attempts fail.
"This is related to one of Trump's most noticeable problems, which is that he can never stop talking. The old-school standard of masculinity is the strong and silent type, like Gary Cooper back in the day or Tom Hardy today. Trump, by comparison, is neither strong nor capable of silence."
Nichols' questions continued.
"Is Trump a man who respects women?"
"This is what secure and masculine men would expect, especially from a husband and a father of two daughters."
"Women clearly scare Trump. You don't have to take my word for it."
Nichols then shared Republican Senator Ted Cruz's words about Trump.
"Donald doesn't like strong women. Strong women scare Donald. Real men don't try to bully women."
The question of accountability was next for Nichols.
"Does Trump accept responsibility and look out for his team?"
"Not in the least. In this category, he exhibits one of the most unmanly of behaviors: He's a blamer."
"Nothing is ever his fault. In the midst of disaster, he praises himself while turning on even his most loyal supporters without a moment's hesitation."
Nichols wrote Trump is the most unmanly President ever because he's an overgrown child.
"Trump's lack of masculinity is about maturity. He is not manly because he is not a man. He is a boy."
"To be a man is to be an adult, to willingly decide, as St. Paul wrote, to 'put away childish things'. There's a reason that Peter Pan is a story about a boy, and the syndrome named after it is about men. Not everyone grows up as they age."
He claimed Trump's appeal rests in his childishness.
"It should not be a surprise then, that Trump is a hero to a culture in which so many men are already trapped in perpetual adolescence."
"And especially for men who feel like life might have passed them by, whose fondest memories are rooted somewhere in their own personal Wonder Years from elementary school until high-school graduation, Trump is a walking permission slip to shrug off the responsibilities of manhood."
While his supporters enable him, he also enables all their worst traits.
"The appeal to indulge in such hypocrisy must be enormous."
"Cheat on your wife? No problem. You can trade her in for a hot foreign model 20 years younger."
"Is being a father to your children too onerous a burden on your schedule? Let the mothers raise them."
"Money troubles? Everyone has them; just tell your father to write you another check."
"Upset that your town or your workplace has become more diverse? Get it off your chest: Rail about women and Mexicans and African Americans at will and dare anyone to contradict you."
And Fox News, OANN, Breitbart and the rest of Trump's propaganda teams' steady diet of adulation reinforces the worst behavior.
"Trump's media enablers do their best to shore up the fiction that Trump and the men who follow him are the most macho of men. The former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, one of Trump's most dedicated sycophants, has described Trump as a 'man's man', despite the fact that Trump has no hobbies or interests common to many American men other than sex."
"To listen to Gorka and others in Trumpworld, the President can turn his enemies to ash through sheer testosterone overload. Some Trump voters have even airbrushed the President's face onto the bodies of both Rambo and Rocky Balboa. (The President himself approvingly retweeted the Trump-as-Rocky meme.)"
"Gorka tries to cosplay the same role himself. The photographs of him carrying guns, wearing a suede vest, and posing next to his underpowered suburban Mustang are now internet legends, precisely because they are so ridiculous."
"But he is a good example of how so many of the men who support Trump have morphed into childish caricatures of themselves. They, too, are little boys, playing at being tough but crying about their victimization at the hands of liberal elites if they are subjected to criticism of any kind."
"Donald Trump is unmanly because he has never chosen to become a man. He has weathered few trials that create an adult of any kind."
"He is, instead, working-class America's dysfunctional son, and his supporters, male and female alike, have become the worried parent explaining what a good boy he is to terrorized teachers even while he continues to set fires in the hallway right outside."
"I think that working men, the kind raised as I was, know what kind of 'man' Trump is. And still, the gratification they get from seeing Trump enrage the rest of the country is enough to earn their indulgence."
"I doubt, however, that Trump gives them the same consideration."