The following is excerpted from The Case Against Trump.
What is truly remarkable about the Donald J. Trump presidential phenomenon is the aesthetics of it, which are gay in a way that not even Trump’s own gilt-rococo/Louis XIV taste in interior decorating can quite match.
Walter Benjamin once described fascism as “the anesthetization of politics,” and the aesthetic in Trumpworld is Tom of Finland. The intersection of authoritarian politics with homoeroticism is a subject of some historical interest, from the Nazi enthusiasm for the sculptures of Josef Thorak and Arno Breker to the Italian Futurists’ ritual rejection of all things feminine.
That mostly petered out around the time Francisco Franco stopped rocking those furs in official portraiture, though it has made occasional ignominious appearances in Democratic politics, too. But the combination of homoerotic fascination and gay panic that marks the Trump movement is truly remarkable, something unseen in American politics.
It is the result of a confluence of unhappy developments. There exist a number of literatures (to use the term charitably) dedicated to servicing the grievances of socially and sexually disappointed men. The men’s rights movement, like the Trump movement, flits occasionally upon a genuine grievance (e.g., the radically unequal treatment of men and women in divorce and custody law) but is more generally oriented toward wallowing.
Its adjunct, the “game” community, provides advice to would-be pickup artists, its fundamental structure being the divide between “alpha” and “beta” males, and its goal being the development of pseudoscientific strategies for the latter to impersonate the former.
The so-called human-biodiversity community seizes upon and twists the work of scholars such as Charles Murray to develop racial theories of, well, everything; the border between the biodiversity enthusiasts and the outright racism of the white-nationalist community (the leading online journal of which has, unsurprisingly, endorsed Donald Trump for president) is porous.
The ruling common metaphors in these cracked alternate realities are the alpha-beta distinction and cuckoldry.
It is therefore not entirely surprising that among Trump’s admirers we find a substantial population of purportedly heterosexual men who praise their candidate in extravagantly gonadal terms – I will not bother to catalogue the examples of scrotal and penile celebration I have encountered in my desultory correspondence with the Trumpkins – while Trump’s critics are ritually denounced as beta males, “cucks,” or, in the popular white-nationalist phrase, “cuckservatives.”
The cuckservative appellation has its origins in anti-Semitic tropes (“neocons cucking for Israel”) though it occurs now with the most frequency and greatest ferocity in the realm of race, especially concerning anxieties about the diminution of the white majority in the United States.
The Trumpkins savor the metaphor with great homoerotic gusto, proffering pornographic details about the prospect of fellating the black “bull” planning to ravish the white maiden of Western civilization. (One is tempted to offer to take them to a production of Othello.) I will note without comment that the sentiment “Donald Trump is a perfect example of an alpha male” is to be found on the comments board at – not that there’s anything wrong with that! – BodyBuilding.com.
But one can see the fantasy appeal, especially for a socially (sexually, economically) disappointed member of the downwardly mobile classes of white men.
One has to respect Trump as a thespian: he is, after all, the Little Lord Fauntleroy of Fifth Avenue, a coddled product of the bottom end of the Ivy League, a draft dodger and a man whose idea of kinetic adventure is golf. This is, let’s not forget, a guy who plays the music from Cats at his campaign events.
But one can see the fantasy appeal, especially for a socially (sexually, economically) disappointed member of the downwardly mobile classes of white men. American men born in the 1960s, 70s or 80s hark back to an imaginary blue-collar economy in which a man could earn a secure place in society (and hence in the sexual hierarchy) through simple dedicated labor at a factory.
The workingman’s paradise of the postwar era has been romanticized to the point of fiction, but it is a powerful fiction. It is not therefore entirely surprising that Trump’s rejection of such traditional conservative projects as free trade and deregulation are among poor whites sources of popularity rather than policy apostasies that must be overcome.
The concurrent decline of marriage means that there is no real respite from the endless competition for socio-sexual status.
In what must surely be most galling for these unfortunates, the people who are making the best money and winning the highest status in the globalized economy are the ones who care the least about immigration controls, who are the least likely to have a robust white identity of any sort and who are not troubled at all by Spanish-language billboards (found in neighborhoods they seldom pass through). Somebody must be blamed: the Chinese, the Mexicans, the Jews.
Above all, the Republicans. Trump is seeking to be the Republican Party’s headliner; the Trumpkins are seeking to be its executioners. Here, the conservative movement has been its own worst enemy, ignoring critical policy concerns (immigration) and cultivating a culture of eternal outrage based on a model of politics dominated by betrayal narratives.
The left is justified in its schadenfreude as the perpetual-rage machine – created by Fox News personalities, talk radio, the less intellectually rigorous websites and journals, and the angry right-wing mobs on Twitter and Facebook – turns its attention not to Barack Obama and his epigones, but to the Republican congressional leadership he has so deftly outmaneuvered, the (largely imaginary) “donor class” that allegedly dominates Republican affairs, the Chamber of Commerce and Fox News.
The case of Megyn Kelly is particularly amusing, as the famously sexy television personality displays the unforgivable temerity to respond to Donald Trump’s lumpy version of alpha masculinity with derision. One gets the feeling that most of the Trumpkins sending enraged online missives in the direction of Kelly were typing with one hand.
The permanently outraged populist right, endlessly rehearsing the tragedy of the wicked establishment’s eternal betrayal of the holy base, is almost exclusively a creation of the entertainment wing of the conservative movement, and it is satisfyingly ironic to see Dr. Frankenstein’s monster finally turn its inchoate rage on its creator. (For here there is no Bride of Frankenstein.) Roger Ailes’s feud with Donald Trump has something of the professional-wrestling beef about it: this is his circus, and these are his monkeys.
On the policy questions, Trump has been empowered by Republicans’ failure to deal rigorously with immigration, particularly illegal immigration. But as a matter of culture, Trump is—unhappily—right where a great many conservatives are: angry, sputtering, lashing out. Trump may not last; Trumpism will.
Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent. He is the author of The Case Against Trump.