Trump the Teenager

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Jim Hamblin argued this week that Donald Trump is “a climax of American masculinity.” A reader has a different take:

I’d strongly argue that Trump’s bullying, hyper-aggressive persona isn’t “masculinity,” but rather what immature males confuse with masculinity. I grew up surrounded by “men’s men”—first on the farm, then working construction and commercial fishing. I’ve met plenty of men who were confident and comfortable in themselves, and who managed to be masculine without being ignorant, belligerent assholes. Hell, the nicest guys I know do things like fix heavy machinery in Russian oil fields, freeze their assess off on fishing boats in the Bering Sea, and risk their necks in the logging industry in Canada. They’re badass guys who would never dream of bullying someone for any reason, much less their gender or religion or perceived weakness.

So, I think that what we see in Trump’s supporters is what happens when males grow up in the absence of these sorts of men for role models.

If you grew up without a mature man around—if the men in your life were the emotionally immature type that seems to be increasingly common—and you got your male role models from the media, then yeah, you may think that the measure of a man is how loud he can yell, how much he can make others cower, or how big his junk is.

Those of us who grew up seeing emotionally stable and mature men go about their lives see those types of males for what they are: scared, immature boys who never progressed to true manhood, and are stuck forever in adolescence.

So my diagnosis is exactly the opposite of the author’s; Trump isn’t a “climax of American masculinity, he’s the nadir. He’s the leader of a sub-nation of manchildren for whom “masculinity” is just a set of behaviors to which one clings, with desperation, out of the adolescent’s overwhelming fear of being perceived as weak.

Or as another reader more succinctly puts it, “Trump is a spoiled, petulant, insecure 12-year-old’s idea of ‘manhood.’”

One way to deal with petulant bullies: