The Republican Party’s twisted masculinity

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and alleged child predator Roy Moore, dressed as a cowboy.

The latest revelations regarding Donald Trump‘s affair with and payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels don’t seem to be fazing Republicans. The reaction seems to be no more negative within the GOP than when Trump was caught on tape bragging to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women. Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana, even accused Trump of raping her, and some 19 women have also accused Trump of sexually assaulting or harassing them. This yawn from Republicans about Trump’s conduct toward women extends to many other Republican politicians as well. For example, U.S. Senator David Vitter was caught and admitted hiring prostitutes in 2007, and was re-elected in 2010. Likewise, Newt Gingrich has been a top Republican presidential contender and adviser for years, even though he is a serial adulterer who presented his first wife with divorce terms as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery. That these Republican men never seem to be punished by their supposedly “family values” base for sexual misconduct or mistreatment of women may be because the Republican Party thrives on a twisted notion of masculinity.

Democratic messaging and framing guru George Lakoff, a former professor of cognitive science and linguistics, calls the Republican/conservative moral system the “Strict Father” mindset. This includes a love of authoritarian, supposedly “strong” men by Republicans. Some Republican favorites include Donald Trump, John McCain and, of course, Ronald Reagan. Moreover, this affinity for a Republican masculine ideal sometimes becomes contagious even for non-Republicans. Recall, for example, in 2007 when MSNBC “Hardball” show host Chris Matthews, a former Democratic legislative staffer, was so taken with Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson that he asked a female guest:

Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man’s shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of—a little bit of cigar smoke? … Does he have sex appeal?

Likewise, some Republican women act masculine to get more Republican votes. The best example is Sarah Palin, who portrayed herself as a gun-toting Annie Oakley during and after her 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidacy with running mate John McCain. Palin started out by supporting wolf hunting from airplanes. She followed that up in 2010 with her infamous gun scope ad which “targeted” Democratic representatives, including Gabby Giffords, with gun scope crosshairs on a map showing their districts. Palin then repeatedly advised conservatives: “Don’t retreat …. reload.” Months later, Giffords was shot in the head and six others were killed at an outdoor political event. In 2014, Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa won election to the U.S. Senate in part because of a Palin-like television ad in which she talked about castrating hogs.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with Donald Trump, the Republican “Strict Father” ideal seems to excuse male sexual misconduct against women. When Anita Hill raised sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee (all male) attacked Hill and voted for Thomas. Sadly, we are not then surprised when, in the face of the current #MeToo movement where many women are recounting painful bouts of sexual harassment and assaults, Republican men such as Tucker Carlson instead say that men are “pretty close to being destroyed.”

The Democrats have no equivalent to the Republicans’ twisted masculinity. Obviously, a comparison of party platforms and voting records reveals that the Democrats fight for women’s rights (equal pay, abortion and birth control coverage, women’s healthcare, family leave, violence against women, etc.) and the Republicans oppose them. Additionally, while the Republicans’ twisted masculinity embraces all things military, including bloated Pentagon budgets and the use of guns and military symbolism, when Democrats mistakenly try this they have the disastrous optics of Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, looking ridiculous in his dress shirt, tie and helmet. When true military hero John Kerry staged a military-themed Democratic National Convention in 2004, it seemed forced and ultimately did not help him with voters. Likewise, Hillary Clinton deliberately amassed a record of looking and acting tough in military and international affairs, for example, voting for George W. Bush‘s Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. In return, Clinton’s hawkish image hurt her with the Democratic Party’s progressive base, and she received no credit from Republicans. Moreover, when male Democratic politicians such as Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner and Al Franken are caught or accused in sex-related scandals, their Democratic colleagues quickly push them out of office, unlike what happens to David Vitter and other Republicans by their party. It’s no wonder, then, that George Lakoff’s name for the Democratic Party mindset is the decidedly anti-macho “nurturant parent.”

Republicans occupy the field of twisted masculinity all to themselves. The path they are on could set back women’s achievements, and male-female relationships, many generations, closer to a time when women were the property of men and had no power, no vote and no rights. That may be precisely the Republicans’ goal.

Photo by FolsomNatural, used under Creative Commons license.

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