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Try-Hard With a Vengeance: The deep insecurities underlying “Macho Trump” memes

My what a huge …. gun you have

By David Futrelle

Donald Trump is never more ridiculous than when he’s trying his hardest to look tough. He can never quite pull it off; his insecurities give him away. Instead of inhabiting his masculinity with quiet confidence, he’s awkward, unconvincing, a little boy trying too hard to be a big boy.

Here he is in an appearance with Bikers For Trump just outside the White House, offering up what he evidently sees as an extremely macho duckface:

Who told him THIS was a good look?

Here he is pretending to be a big tough truck driver on the White House lawn.

Here he is demonstrating his weird handshake-pull maneuver, designed to throw the person whose hands he’s shaking off-balance, literally and figuratively.

Stung by press coverage of this weird little maneuver, Trump does seem to have given it up — at least when he knows cameras are present.

Here he is shoving his way to the front of a group of fellow world leaders like some sort of preening baboon.

And last but certainly not least, here he is trying — and failing — to drink from a bottle of water in a macho way, as if there is such a thing.

For those without the requisite confidence, “effortless masculinity” takes a lot of work. And this work is often painfully obvious to anyone watching. It’s all about overcompensation.

The most toxic kind of masculinity, as Amanda Marcotte reminds us in a Salon essay, is the kind rooted in insecurity; and that’s what we see virtually every time we look at Trump. “Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear,” she notes.

The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.

Her first example of this kind of masculinity?

Donald Trump flipping out when someone teases him about his small fingers. (Or about anything, really.) 

And did we mention the hair?

But if the effortless masculinity Trump hungers for so deeply tends to elude him in real life, he comes much closer in the world of memes. Clearly sensing his masculine insecurities (and perhaps sharing many of them), Trump’s fans delight in making memes that portray him as some sort of idealized macho man.

Cartoonist Ben Garrison, a Trump-worshipping alt-right enabler, invariably portrays  the pudgy 72-year-old Trump as a buff, ageless, hunk of man meat:

And he’s hardly the only one:

Overcompensating a bit themselves, his fans love to portray him as an absurdly over-the-top hero:

Sometimes they turn him into an actual superhero:

Even those who balk at giving Trump the full Charles Atlas treatment still like to portray him as a something of a man’s man, comfortable in his masculinity if not positively glowing.

This one comes with bonus (ungrammatical) transphobia:

QAnon/”The Storm” conspiracy theorists — who have convinced themselves that Trump is secretly fighting (and winning) a war against the Illuminati pedophile cannibals who secretly run the US government and the world — also have a vested interest in portraying Trump as a tough, smart, confident hero. Basically. everything he isn’t.

And while they shy away from the Beefcake Trump, they love to repurpose photos of Trump at his smuggest.

This last one, seems to me, suggests that some portion of the QAnon faithful don’t actually believe that their opponents are really pedophiles, but see unsupported charges of pedophilia as a cheap and easy way to smear their foes. If you really thought that millions or even tens of millions of Americans were part of a vast pedophile conspiracy, why on earth would you laugh? 

But that’s a whole other topic.

The question remains: why are so many Trump fans so invested in shoring up the anxious masculinity of an aging narcissist who can’t even pull off a convincing impersonation of a macho man in real life? It’s easy enough to understand why Trump overcompensates for his own insecurities; that’s basic psychology. But why do his fans engage in a similar kindof overcompensation, trying to convince themselves and others that Trump really is the macho man he only pretends — so badly — to be?

Part of it, certainly, is a yearning for a patriarchal father figure who will make the country and the world safe and secure again. Indeed, the entire QAnon conspiracy is about reassurance — it’s built around the idea that Trump, however badly he might appear to be struggling on the surface, is actually totally in control of the situation, and all that decent Americans need to do is to “Trust the Plan” and wait for him to win. So it makes sense that QAnonners’ Trump memes are all about a quietly confident man bringing vengeance to the unrighteous.

But what about all of those Beefcake Trumps? Do they reflect some more secret desire not for a father figure, exactly, but rather for some Tom-of-Finland-style Leather Daddy Figure? For a few, probably yes. But I suspect far more of Trump’s male fans — and I suspect the meme makers are mostly guys — would rather be Beefcake Trump than get topped by him.

Ultimately. I think the only way to really understand the strange ubiquity of Macho Trump memes is by coming back to the issue of insecurity. Trump and his fans aren’t just insecure about masculinity — in particular, his masculinity. They are also insecure about his basic competence — as is Trump himself.

As much as they loathe to admit it in public, Trump fans wince a bit at some of his Tweets. They worry that despite his bluster he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. They can see the way he’s screwing them over with tariffs and a trade war that he conjured up out of nothing. They suspect, or more than suspect, that he’s corrupt as hell if not actually conspiring with Russia. They fear the “blue wave” coming.

And so they are as invested as Trump in the notion that Trump is always and forever “winning” even when he obviously is not. They desperately want him to be the confident, hyper-confident macho man he pretends to be. And so they are compelled to do their part in shoring up his masculinity, at least symbolically  — for his sake and for their own.

In the short run, this is probably one of the reasons Trump’s popularity rate has rebounded from its lows and has been bumping around in the 42% range since May (according to the FiveThirtyEight weighted poll average), despite one policy disaster after another and endless scandal.

But in the long run, it can’t hold. This fragile man can’t be saved. And despite the fervent wishes of his most enthusiastic fans, this fragile man can’t save them either.

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Scildfreja Unnyðnes
Scildfreja Unnyðnes
3 years ago

Not that I disagree, but I gotta suggest that it might be simpler than that.

They believe their “side” is best, that they’re dominant, they’re right, they’re stronger, they’re smarter. In any measurement, their side is just straight up better, as far as they’re concerned. And they have to prove that to anyone who disagrees.

Trump’s the icon, the leader, the representation of their side. So of course, he carries all the traits they believe they have. They’re stronger, so of course he’s stronger. They’re smarter, so of course he’s got everything under control.

All those memes? They’re just weapons. They’re tools to assert dominance over anyone who disagrees. They demonstrate the virtue of their side. All the people who use them know they’re bullshit, and that doesn’t matter, because it’s not about being real, it’s about feeling real. Asserting authority, and all that.

I think that’s what’s going on, at least.

Bina
Bina
3 years ago

“Its [sic] nice to have a president with balls and a first lady who doesn’t” — doesn’t WHAT? Don’t keep us in suspense, you crappy (and ungrammatical) memesters!

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
3 years ago

I saw this T shirt in a motorcycle shop last summer. Reverse peristalsis ahoy!

http://i68.tinypic.com/347i8ti.jpg

rv
rv
3 years ago

I would like to know more about that transphobic remark – they might be threatened if the women don’t seem to pass and don’t have surgery, although I believe that some women don’t pursue surgery largely due to cost reasons and in my experience, most trans women I’ve come across seem to pass.

I believe they still see them as creeps as opposed to genuine people. Cisgender people will rarely, if ever, deliberately take the effort to go through major and nearly permanent changes to their biology in terms of hormonal make up and gonad reconstruction; cisgender people may find this traumatic.

Handsome :Punkle Stan: Jack

Whenever I see a Ben Garrison’s Dump I always snort because he always gives him, like, fifty heads worth of hair.

Alan Robertshaw
3 years ago

Hey, Jackie’s back(ie).

Nice to see you again.

Fujimoto
Fujimoto
3 years ago

I took the transphobic one to be a crack about the Obamas. There were some really transphobic insults hurled at Michelle Obama.

Binjabreel
3 years ago

Re: the transphobic horror-

It was a common lie among the most shitsmeared racist members of the Republican Party that Michelle Obama was transgendered, and that Barack Obama was gay.

Because they couldn’t stand the idea that someone they hated was waaaaay more of a man than they were, they had to tear Obama down. And then add in a nice dollop of racist transphobia on top.

Diptych
Diptych
3 years ago

That seems to be a common notion among the right – that black women are ugly, and thus unfeminine, and thus secretly men. Ticking several squares on the Bigot Bingo card at once, basically.

kupo
kupo
3 years ago

@Binjabreel

Please don’t use transgendered. Transgender or a trans woman would be more acceptable.

And agreed with the meme being both transphobic and racist. These assholes think black women look masculine.

tim gueguen
3 years ago

@Buttercup I interpret that shirt differently than is intended. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt are looking down on Trump and the bikers, and thinking “Damn, who the hell are these idiots?”

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

They believe their “side” is best, that they’re dominant, they’re right, they’re stronger, they’re smarter. In any measurement, their side is just straight up better, as far as they’re concerned. And they have to prove that to anyone who disagrees.

Sure, but where does that need to dominate and be perceived as dominant come from? The same fragile and toxic masculinity David wrote about.

I think the insecurity also comes from the realization sinking in that being white doesn’t automatically make you superior and being male doesn’t automatically make you superior. The whole backlash against social justice we’ve been seeing this whole decade is about that realization hitting people IMO. After 8 years of a black president who was competent, capable and respected and a near miss with a woman who is competent, capable and respected getting in the white house, Trumpkins desperately need Trump to be the alpha as fuck 4 dimensional chess playing deal making winner he sold himself as. It’s not just Trump’s presidency that hangs in the balance, it’s the white male supremacy he represents. If Trump’s presidency fails, if Obama is widely seen as the better president, and people decide Hillary Clinton would’ve been better too, then it becomes all too clear that white privilege and male privilege really do exist, that on a level playing field, white men aren’t always the best.

It’s like the short lived troll in the other thread who admitted to harassing female co-workers because he needs to to be competitive. People in privileged groups will deny it, but they get to coast on mediocrity because of privilege. Take that privilege away, they have to win fair and square. So the privilege must be preserved at all costs.

The more disastrous and embarassing Trump’s presidency gets, the more his supporters will double down on their admiration and the more fanciful conspiracy theories they will cling to to explain his behavior. Not because they necessarily adore Trump so much, but because they’ve made him their avatar for white male supremacy. All those endless profiles of Trump supporters that you see in the media sometimes come close to making this conclusion, but ultimately shy away from. Probably because the journalists who write them and the companies that publish them also have investment in white male supremacy.

Hippodameia
Hippodameia
3 years ago

I’d just like to point out that the REAL Captain America punches Nazis.

Patricia Kayden
Patricia Kayden
3 years ago

Wendy Williams, Serena Williams, Donna Summers and Michelle Obama are Black womenswear who have all been smeared as really being men.

It’s an old attack on Black women as less attractive and feminine than White women (who are placed on a pedestal by White Supremacists).

calmdown
calmdown
3 years ago

The Purge is supposed to be a dystopia, not a goal. Way to understand popular culture guys. They were making fun of you.

@Patricia Kayden

Valerie Jarrett and Maxine Waters also have had a lot of looks/femininity attacks too(and probably any black woman that’s seen as being too powerful.)

Mikey
Mikey
3 years ago

It’s cognitive dissonance; they cannot handle reality so double down with him.

It reminds me of the theme from Team America; knee-jerk patriotism. He won because he got traditionally non-voting whites out to vote for him who saw a presidential man mastering the boardroom in an edited display who’s ‘Merica like them and speaks plain like them. That there are likely tapes out there of him saying foul things will not matter because they’ve already accepted the myth that making other people equal hurts them racially and likely wish they could be as insensitive as him like you could in the good old days when people of colour were systematically brutalised.

I have never identified by race because I was a white male and had that genetic luxury; people of colour are forced to because the culture says to. Hence all the stories of living while black that pop out daily like sleeping on a student lounge while being a black student and having the cops called. Or being a black legislator doing door knocks and having the popo show up.

Trump meets a deep need for dumb white people to think they’re still great and he will turn it back to when they were atop the social pole; the great again. No wonder he’s depicted as this super white man stopping not white men from demanding fair treatment and making their stand for equal recognition and work to bring them up the ladder that white men kicked the rungs out of behind them as they climbed above.

That his policies hurt them now still doesn’t matter. Well, yet. We’ll see in November.

Nequam
Nequam
3 years ago

Donna Summers?!

Bina
Bina
3 years ago

Ugh, that meme is not just transphobic as hell (although it sure is that, too), it also implies that Melania is a gutless coward, if one assumes (as these turds all undoubtedly do) that courage is a strictly masculine trait. Now, whatever it takes to put up with Donnie’s massive amounts of shit and stay silent, I’m pretty sure that gutlessness is NOT that.

They sure are paying a lot of inadvertent tribute to Michelle Obama too, if that was their intent. So I’m happy to say it backfired on more than just the grammatical level.

They say our side can’t meme, but they’re projecting as usual. (And they don’t know how to do irony, either.)

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
3 years ago

@WWTH:

Insightful as usual.

If Trump’s presidency fails, if Obama is widely seen as the better president, and people decide Hillary Clinton would’ve been better too, then it becomes all too clear that white privilege and male privilege really do exist, that on a level playing field, white men aren’t always the best.

Not “if”; “when”.

And if your hypothesis is correct, then this is more than a bit like the Lord of the Rings. Sauron bound all of his power into the One Ring, and thus bound his fate to it; its downfall would be his downfall. Similarly, white male supremacy has bound all of its power into Trump. When Mueller, or Congress, or the Senate, or etc. pitches Trump into the cracks of Mount Doom, or Trump self-destructs in a way that even most conservatives cannot deny, it might be a fatal blow to white male supremacy itself.

Here’s hoping.

The downside of that is that some of the more fanatical supporters, especially the QAnon ones, are ticking psychological bombs in that scenario. They may be unable to face a reality in which Trump has unequivocally been defeated; and once confronted with such a reality, they may themselves self-destruct quite spectacularly. We might find ourselves nostalgic for the days when there was “only” one mass shooting a day on average in America.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
3 years ago

Trump whispered back, “I AM THE STORM.”

Given that they use “The Storm” to mean “Paedophiles” – a rare, if entirely unintended, moment of honesty from those walking IMAX projectors!

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
3 years ago

Trump whispered back, “I AM THE STORM.”

Given that they use “The Storm” to mean “Paedophiles” – a rare, if entirely unintended, moment of honesty from those walking IMAX projectors!

SpukiKitty
SpukiKitty
3 years ago

@Scildfreja Unnyðnes
That said; IMHO, their “dominance” effort is a bust because these pics are the funniest things I’ve seen all day. One may as well shop a cute gerbil head on Superman’s body or the GEICO gecko’s head on the Terminator’s body.

@weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee
Of course! Bigots are basically cheaters. Why rely on hard-work when one can rely on goofy stuff like skin-color or sex?

Now I’m going to read your thing on Q-anon.

Mish of the Catlady Ascendancy

To add to what @wwth added to David’s post, I’m recalling that Laurie Penny article I linked here a while back. It’s about Lobster Daddy, but a lot of it is relevant to this post, particularly this line:

A great many of us learned from an early age that bad things happen when white men have hurt feelings.

Z&T
Z&T
3 years ago

They see themselves as heroes, they whine about wiping their asses.

How about a comic of Doosh V battling a roll of toilet paper?

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