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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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Blue Jean
Blue Jean
3 years ago

Looking at the “Purge” one…they do actually know that the “Purge” movies are really a spoof on libertarians, don’t they? The Purgers are villains, not heroes; they’re mostly decadent wealthy white people who either hide in their mansions or go out to hunt black and brown folks down. (sort of like the most recent “Stand Your Ground” murderer in Florida) Some wealthy Purgers even pay premiums to poor people who will allow themselves to be tortured and killed. Other poor people are kidnapped off the streets so the rich Purgers can hunt them down in private hunting preserves. The black guy who was supposed to be Purged in the movie comes back in the second as the leader of the anti-Purge movement who rescues near victims in the sequel.

What am I saying? Of course the macho guys think the Purgers are heroes. They get a chance to torture and rape and kill all they like. It’s not a nightmare to them; it’s a beloved wish fulfillment fantasy.

Blue Jean
Blue Jean
3 years ago

And what’s with the Garrison cartoon? A man doesn’t need to be particularly buff to knock out an out-of-shape woman, especially if it took three rounds to do it. Seems like Garrison’s Trump is a bit of a sissy.

Bananananana dakry: Short-Haired, Fat, and Deranged
Bananananana dakry: Short-Haired, Fat, and Deranged
3 years ago

@WWTH

A lot of the hatred Obama endured was simply because he was above some arbitrary level of skin pigment. If he’d been white (on both sides, mind), he would have gotten a lot more of cooperation and a lot less static, even from Republicans. He was even-handed, intelligent, took advice, and had impeccable education and world experience; the kind of thing you want in a President. But lo, he was black and that could not be tolerated in any form. Good luck on getting them to admit it, though.

-45 has none of those qualities. Petty, vindictive, no capability to take criticism, no intellectual curiosity, and an ego with the bloated fragility of a jellyfish who prefers sycophancy to competence in his staff. The only things he has that “qualify” him is that he’s white and has money and a penis.

And yet these numpties still consider him preferable to Obama or Hillary. It’s telling as fuck.

James Hutchings
3 years ago

Minor correction: the one with Trump on a tank is satirical (the creator doesn’t seem to be particularly pro- or anti-Trump: he has others of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton). Although I did see a newspaper photo of a Trump supporter who’d printed it out to use on a sign.

https://www.deviantart.com/sharpwriter/gallery/

Von Ragnar
Von Ragnar
3 years ago

I would argue that this whole “personality cult” surrounding Trump has yet another layer to it: namely, the myth of “man of the people” showing “elites” their place. It’s not really something new, and you can find it pretty much anywhere on earth – all those stories in which simpleton gets the upper hand against kings, philosophers, etc. (like the story about Thales falling into the well, and his old maid telling him to watch his step). Now, if you add being rough, unrefined and uncultured – which people mistakenly considered the sign of strength and “moral virtue” against “decadent elite” – you can realize, why people are falling over him so much.

And it’s pretty damn ironic, because despite all those communism-bashing he and his supporters are so fond of, that’s exactly the kind of rhetoric communists used. I mean: compare the memes above – in which beef-caked Trump is “purging” America from liberals – to communist posters, where muscle-bound workers are cleansing the world from capitalists. They are pretty much 1:1 recreations.

There is actually a Polish play called “Tango” – written by Sławomir Mrożek – that perfectly illustrate that problem. The main theme of it is that washed-out intellectuals become enamored with a man called Edward – a boorish, arrogant and brutal worker, which they consider to be a sign of “moral rejuvenation”. And it ended in a pretty predictable way – the Edward kills the protagonist, and institute the rule based on violence and power.

Dvärghundspossen
3 years ago

Ugh about the transphobia. I don’t remember where now, but I’ve seen rightwingers post pics of Michelle Obama where she had some arbitrary crease or bulge in the fabric of her trousers or skirt because of the way she was sitting or moving or the wind was blowing, and they’d be like “look she’s totally got a dick!”. I really wish we lived in a world where it would be seen as a non-issue and not people’s business if Michelle had been a transwoman who hadn’t done bottom surgery and the Obama kids had been adopted, but unfortunately, that world seems really far off…

Lumipuna (nee Arctic Ape)
Lumipuna (nee Arctic Ape)
3 years ago

Dvärghundspossen:

Heck, I can almost imagine it wouldn’t be a big deal if the current reality-TV-star-in-chief had a trans woman as his media-shy third wife and two cis women as his bitter ex-wives and only four children, two of whom he’d be cheerfully nepotistic with while swimming in the aftermath of his Playboy-inspired sex life.

the real cie
the real cie
3 years ago

These ludicrous depictions are a lot like the infamous Hitler as a white knight portrait, only without the artistic skill.

Katamount
Katamount
3 years ago

I think we could spend hours analyzing this bizarre need to make their doughy messiah some kind of hulking muscleman. Ultimately, conservatives always struck me as those people that can’t admit their own insecurities and so overcompensate with over-the-top aggression and bizarre cultural depictions like the ones above. The selfsame folks that talk so flippantly about welfare queens and “young bucks” have no problem sexualizing black bodies with interracial and cuckold pornography. Much in the same way anti-gay politicians and preachers are caught in same-sex trysts. They know their desires, but can’t admit them for fear of what that would involve: ostracism, but moreover potential recognition of the humanity of the objects of their desire. And I think that scares them.

Dovetails nicely with what Scildfreya said. They’re on top, but they don’t feel like they’re on top because their opposition hasn’t just rolled over and accepted it. They’re like Colonel Saito in Bridge On The River Kwai: nominally in charge, but unable to break the will of his prisoners by brute force alone because that’s all he knows.

I hate the British! You are defeated, but you have no shame. You are stubborn, but have no pride. You endure, but you have no courage. I hate the British!

We keep resisting and it drives them nuts. And you see this with the constant need to rally all the time between Trump and his white nationalist supporters; it’s like they constantly need to be reminded that they’re the ones in charge. While it doubles as a warning to others, they never seem to have that as a primary tone; the threats to the out group are always couched in innuendo.

SpukiKitty
SpukiKitty
3 years ago

Z&T
August 15, 2018 at 1:26 am

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

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

….And losing!

OH PLEASE! THE ART MUST BE DONE! THAT’S THE FUNNIEST THING IN….LIKE….EVAR!

Gaebolga
Gaebolga
3 years ago

These memes are an example of the sycophants’ mirroring Trump’s own delusions. He has consistently lied about his weight and health, therefore the Trumpfucks project an image of Cheeto Hitler as buff and healthy.

If Trump started saying “yeah, I’m fat; that’s because I’m so awesome,” all of these buff Trump memes would disappear, quickly replaced with memes highlighting how fat Trumps is and why it’s great to be fat. These evil shitstains have no identity beyond being Trumpfucks; they have no morals or ethics or lower limits.

Trump could murder a baby on live TV, and all they’d be talking about for the next three weeks is why that baby had it coming.

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
3 years ago

@tim gueguen – Trump doesn’t belong anywhere within 1 billion light years of Mount Rushmore. Or a motorcycle. It’s so awkward. Also, I bet that’s Obama’s inauguration crowd in the background.

I see a couple of things going on with these memes. One is social identity threat. Whenever a cherished piece of someone’s identity gets threatened, they respond with an exaggerated display of that identity. Angry white men feel that masculinity is under siege, so they gravitate towards guns, violence, lifting, and coal rolling. White people feel like they’re under siege, so out come the tiki torches and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Trump taps perfectly into that mindset. It’s fascinatingly obnoxious how many totems of toxic masculinity they’ve managed to pack into these memes.

Second, portraying Trump as a swole, butt-kicking commando is the modern day equivalent of 2+2=5. Anyone who’s in regular contact with reality can see he’s a childish, incoherent, bloated clown who needs his daily briefings formatted as coloring books and trails along behind other world leaders in a golf cart, but the tough-guy images aren’t about reality. They’re about gaslighting the world and depicting an idealized internal state of white dominance for people who are afraid they’ve lost their place in line. Brainwashed by decades of Fox, InfoWars, and hate radio, MAGA supporters have learned to view reality only through the framework of the Party. Whatever makes Trump look good is true.

The inside of their mind must be a scary, dark place.

Katamount
Katamount
3 years ago

OT, but has anybody had Firefox just totally forget everything about the session data and logins? Happened to me and I forgot which email I used here….

Katamount
Katamount
3 years ago

Howdy folks, Firefox ate my session data and I totally forgot which email I used… so there’s probably a couple comments of mine in moderation. Shame, cuz I liked my initial post. Oh well.

Anybody else experienced issues with Firefox just forgetting everything?

Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
3 years ago

Incoming derail. Sorry.

Anyone else find this TERFy as all hell?

https://www.feministcurrent.com/2018/08/13/lesbians-excluded-vancouver-dyke-march-name-inclusivity/

Here’s a comment of comments from the article.

Zoë Lafantaisie

Thank you for writing this Danielle and for resisting the male rights movement disguised as trans ideology. I fully expected to see Mr. Oger’s name in your article as he is the voice of open misogyny and lesbophobia in BC. Much love and solidarity to you and your sisters in BC.

drab analysis

Trans people used to be a tiny minority of actual gender dysphoric people. Now it’s a big fad and social contagion and the crossdressing autogynephiles calling themselves trans today call that small minority actually dysphoric people who just want to live their lives “truscum.” It’s a huge mess. I agree with you about the handmaiden allies, though. Half the people identifying as trans now will probably detransition within the next ten years, but those allies are never going to back down and admit they might have been wrong.

kupo
kupo
3 years ago

@Jesalin
? it’s TERFtastic. (TERFterrible?)

Valentin - Emigrantski Ragamuffin
Valentin - Emigrantski Ragamuffin
3 years ago

Anyone else find this TERFy as all hell?

yes?

Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
Jesalin: Clit-o-centric Lesbian Goddess
3 years ago

comments of comments…sigh
‘sample of comments’

By the time my post showed up I had no edit time, sorry.

Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
3 years ago
Kimstu
Kimstu
3 years ago

@Jesalin, from those quoted comments:

Half the people identifying as trans now will probably detransition within the next ten years, but those allies are never going to back down and admit they might have been wrong.

Even if only half of people identifying as transgender now continue to identify as transgender ten years from now (a very conservative estimate), that half will still deserve rights and support as transgender people. That would still be the case even if they were a tiny minority instead of one-half, too. So why the hell would we “admit we might have been wrong” for supporting their rights? We’re not wrong, and some percentage of transgender people maybe changing their minds about their gender identity doesn’t make us wrong.

Inevitably, some of the people who identify as trans (or gay, or ace or whatever) are going to end up rejecting that identification later, because sex/gender identity and orientation are complicated issues and people change and learn over time. That doesn’t mean that transgender identity isn’t a real thing.

I wonder what these TERFs would say if told that gay rights are a fake cause because some women who initially identify as lesbians eventually decide they’re straight.

Bakunin
Bakunin
3 years ago

Autogynephile is a massive red flag. It’s so massive, bulls are storming across the Atlantic from Spain.

And the article does a good job complaining about being ejected for being TERFs, then proving why that was the right idea just a few paragraphs later.

“Oh, pictures of uteri were offensive, that’s why the meanies made us leave.” No mention that TERF pamphlets were found scattered around the park, or that people who’ve been around can hear your shitty dogwhistles.

Christ, everytime I read some TERF whining about being accused of bigotry, the next fucking words out of their mouth is that it’s basically ok to be transphobic because (insert ridiculously transphobic tropes here). It’s like the KKK saying, “we aren’t racist, black people are just awful”

Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
3 years ago

TERF-y as hell, yeah!

… repeat after me… “Gender is fixed at birth, gender is fixed at birth, gender is fixed at birth….” (/s)

Half the people identifying as trans now will probably detransition within the next ten years

Gender is fluid. If half the people identifying as trans now transition again in the next ten years, what does that prove? Say it with me, now… “GENDER IS FLUID!!!!!”

Robert
Robert
3 years ago

Regarding the iconography, the Capitalist Realist artist Jon McNaughton has been creating Trump icons that are almost beyond parody. Although I would like to see someone try.

Alaniel21@web.de
Alaniel21@web.de
3 years ago

Defending men’s sense of entitlement to our sexual orientation and our bodies, stripping us of our ability to define ourselves and our boundaries is not a progressive way forward.

1. They’re not men. Trans women are women.

2. WTF? Why do you keep talking about their “entitlement to your bodies”? I’m pretty sure no one asked you to have sex with a trans woman (or a cis woman or any other person for that matter) if you don’t want to?! She keeps bringing that up, as if accepting trans women as women would demand some kind of sexual availability from her against her will. It doesn’t make sense. You’re asked for inclusivity and respecting people’s identities. That actually works just fine without f*cking every member of a group you’re inclusive of…so what the hell is you problem about the mere existence of trans women “violating your sexual boundaries”?! If you don’t want to f*ck a person (any person), then don’t do it. But kindly respect their human rights and human dignity. How the fuck is that so hard to grasp?

Apparently she has no worries that she has to be sexually available to other cis women lesbians, so why does she think all trans women will somehow be after her and her friends? Especially since being a hateful, intolerant jerk doesn’t tend to make one too attractive.

Do they really think this is some sort of conspiracy by “really heterosexual males” who “pretend” to be trans and lesbian just so they can prey on them? Where were they the last decade? Asleep?

Dvärghundspossen
3 years ago

Also, “detransition” means going back medically, right? There are usually quite a lot of hoops to jump through before you get medical treatment for body dysphoria – at least here in Sweden, but I strongly suspect we’re not the exception here. I’m pretty sure that jumping through all those hoops and later changing your mind and going back, even though this is a thing that happens, will always be rare.

It’s not obvious precisely where to draw the line between trans and cis, and whether to count people who are more or less gender-non-conforming but doesn’t want to transition or anything as the former or the latter. Lately, the trend has been to expand the scope of “trans”, but who knows, it might shrink back a bit again the future. But that means… jack shit as far as I can tell?

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