The toxic masculinity of Donald Trump

I am at the park, putting my dog in the car after a long walk, when I hear him.

“Stop it,” a man yells. “I said sit. Sit, sit, sit. Knock it the hell off goddammit!” And I turn to see the elderly man I passed half a mile ago on the trail, beating his dog. The dog yelps and cries, cowering with each anticipated blow.

I start toward them, and that’s when I spot the man’s wife, continuing on down the trail as though nothing is happening.

“Mister, stop!” I yell, waving my arms, trying to pull his attention my way. “My god, what are you doing, stop, you’re hurting your dog, please stop.” But he turns his back to me and keeps at it, his dog now upside down on the ground, and I realize I’m making it worse, that now the man has to keep beating his dog to teach me a lesson, too. I take my cue from the wife. I drive away.

This is also how Congress has chosen to deal with the onslaught of abuses perpetrated by this president. Whether he’s landing racist punches on Twitter or doubling-down on those attacks from the South Lawn of the White House, Republicans, who have to live in the same house with him, mosey on down the trail knowing there is nothing they can do to stop him. And Democrats, like me, wave their arms in the air begging him to stop until they, too, realize they’re only making the situation worse.

And meanwhile it’s the American people, the citizens who elected these leaders, who remain left behind and upside down on our backs, taking a beating.

In his book, The Man They Wanted Me to Be, author Jared Yates Sexton explains that men like the president “are prisoners of toxic masculinity, an artificial construct whose expectancies are unattainable, thus making them exceedingly fragile and injurious to others, not to mention themselves. The illusion convinces them from an early age that men deserved to be privileged and entitled, that women and men who don’t conform to traditional standards are second-class persons, are weak and thus detestable.” (page 8)

Consider how often the president uses the word “weak” to define those he deems disloyal or, worse, critical.

He recently called former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, ”weak, ineffective & stupid,” but it was far from the first time, tweeting way back on October 11, 2016, “Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.”

About Joe Biden he said, “I think he’s the weakest mentally. And I like running against people that are weak mentally. I think Joe is the weakest up here.”

He famously said about Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer for more than a decade, “He was given a fairly long jail sentence, and he’s a weak person, and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he’s a weak person.”

He even uses the term to define the laws of the U.S., tweeting a year ago, on June 22, 2018, “The U.S. has pathetically weak and ineffective Immigration Laws that the Democrats refuse to help us fix. Will speak to Mexico!”

In the world of Trump, there is no sin more odious than weakness, and he succeeds because, as Sexton describes in his book, “he is the personification of white American masculinity. His gruff demeanor, constant threats, boasting about his money and power, his wanton promiscuity, his propensity of blatant cruelty, and his bullying of opponents, which [is] like something out of a schoolyard socialization, are all traits we’ve come to associate with men in this country.”

When I return to the park trail, I note the man now carries a stick. Friends advise me to do everything from call the police to beat him with his own stick, but it is my 30 year-old son who wins out. “Do nothing,” he says. “You do not know this man, and you are a woman alone on the trail with your dog. He is obviously full of rage, and you live in Kentucky where everybody has a gun. What if he shoots your dog? What if he shoots you?”

What makes an elderly man beat his dog, in daylight, in public?

What makes the President of the United States denigrate members of Congress—elected by the American people—by making racist statements and saying (falsely) that they hate their country?

The answer is the same. He believes it is his right. And he knows no one has the courage to stop him.

Teri Carter is a writer in Lawrenceburg.