Column

Trump Takes ‘Toxic Masculinity’ to New, Contagious Levels

We can’t afford any more of the president’s deadly macho posturing

Donald Trump in his conference room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 4. Photo: The White House/Getty Images

“Toxic masculinity” is one of those terms that conservatives love to dunk on: They either dismiss it as the elite terminology of gender studies run amok or mischaracterize it as an unfair critique of all men. The truth is much more mundane; it accurately describes the harmful things some men do in order to adhere to an outdated and dangerous concept of masculinity.

See: Donald Trump.

The president, who was hospitalized with Covid-19, has repeatedly put his fear of seeming unmanly above his and the country’s health: He has shunned wearing a mask since the pandemic started for fear of looking “ridiculous”; he mocked staffers for wearing masks, which he saw as a sign of weakness; and just a few days before he tested positive for Covid-19, he made fun of Democratic nominee Joe Biden for his mask-wearing habits. “I don’t wear masks like him; every time you see him he’s wearing a mask. … He shows up with the biggest mask I’ve seen,” Trump said at the presidential debate.

Trump’s refusal to follow social distancing and mask-wearing health guidelines — and his expectation that others do the same — has now led to an all-out outbreak of Covid-19, with over a dozen staffers and journalists infected. All because the president wanted to project some outdated notion of masculine “strength.” (A particularly timely — and cringey — example: A song that scores a “return to the White House” video he released on Monday night was taken from an album called… Epic Male Songs.)

Even now, with the president’s true condition unknown thanks to both his doctors’ and the administration’s obfuscations, Trump is doubling down on the toxic masculinity that led to his illness in the first place.

The president released a video statement on Sunday where he suggested that contracting Covid-19 was a sign of his bravery: “I had to be out front … to confront problems. As a leader, you have to confront problems.” But ignoring clear health guidelines and allowing yourself to be infected with a deadly virus is less “confronting” problems than it is causing a whole lot more of them.

The only war that the Trump administration is fighting is one against science and common sense.

Trump’s supporters clearly got the message, though, and have since been painting his illness as a mark of courage. When conservative and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke about the president’s coronavirus, he declared, “We are the party of the emancipation proclamation, not the emasculation proclamation.” Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted that “President Trump won’t have to recover from COVID. COVID will have to recover from President Trump.” Lara Trump predicted the president will “beat Covid to a pulp.”

Some even likened Trump’s contraction of the disease to his being on the frontlines of a war — ironic given the president’s “bone spurs” that kept him out of the military. Fox News host Greg Greg Gutfeld said that Trump “didn’t hide from the virus … he was going to walk out there on that battlefield,” and The Federalist’s Joy Pullman wrote, “There is something to be said for a leader getting in the trenches with his troops during a war despite the risks to his safety.”

Trump has in the past tried to invoke battlefield metaphors when speaking about this pandemic, asking Americans to think of themselves as “warriors” to keep the country open. But the only war that the Trump administration is fighting is one against science and common sense. The country is seven months into a deadly pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans; and men in the U.S. are already wearing masks at a much lower rate than women, with men claiming that doing so would be a “submission” and downright “shameful.”

As the days go on, I’m sure more people in the White House will test positive for Covid-19. In fact, on Monday night, the president tweeted that he would be leaving the hospital that evening: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Easy to say if you’re not the driver who needs to transport a still-contagious Trump home or the housekeeper who needs to make his bed.

If Trump truly wasn’t afraid of Covid, perhaps he’d like to receive the same medical treatment that the rest of the country does — waiting until you literally can’t breathe to go to the hospital and not being able to see friends or family even when dying. Wouldn’t a “real man” be willing to spend even one day without staff and doctors bending to his every whim? I guess even the most toxic masculinity has its limits.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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