This post was originally published at the New York Times.
Brutality is a bonding experience for many Trump supporters, like hazing at fraternities. His rallies, where shouting, shoving and fist fights have become common, are safe spaces for his fans to share prejudices, and attack those who don’t share them, without fear of being shamed.
Trump’s caricatured performance of masculinity soothes fearful Americans who feel they are being culturally left behind.
Trump’s caricatured performance of masculinitysoothes fearful Americans who feel they are being culturally left behind. With tough-guy swagger, he’s encouraged violence and promised to pay supporters’ legal fees if there’s any trouble. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato,” he said one time, “knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously.”
Trump supporters talk of preserving their way of life, but really mean they are yearning for an era before Black Lives Matter protesters asserted their right to not be killed by police, immigration transformed the country into one that will soon be majority-minority, transgender teens can use the bathroom of their choice and a black man has held the presidency.
But nothing draws more fury than the mention of Hillary Clinton. Crowds yell “Trump That Bitch” and scream vulgarities about her in fevered unison. At a recent rally in Virginia, a very young boy yelled “take that bitch down.” His smiling mother told reporters “I think he has a right to speak what he wants to.”
“Bitch” is a favorite on Trump hats and buttons: “Hang the Bitch” and “Life’s a Bitch: Don’t Vote for One.” Degrading sexuality is also common, with “tramp” and “whore” scribbled on signs and t-shirts.
Misogyny may be more intense in this election, but it is nothing new. Jackson Katznotes that presidential elections have always been competitions about masculinity and which candidate is “man enough.” Meredith Conroy finds that candidates with more masculine traits win elections, and candidates routinely feminize their opponents in order to win.
“When any barrier falls in America for anyone,” Hillary Clinton stated in accepting the Democratic nomination, “it clears the way for everyone.” But that’s not how it works. When less powerful groups gain power, those with longstanding privilege see an erosion of their power over others, and react.
As protesters were being dragged out of a recent rally in New York, Trump declared, “The safest place on Earth is at a Trump rally.” The question is: Safe for whom?