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In 2015, Republican Party voters turned their adoration to the paragon of masculinity: a 69-year-old with a list of sexual conquests longer than Samuel L. Jackson’s IMDb page who spoke on behalf of any man who believed their hands were being unduly denied the company of any woman’s genitalia.
This brave priapic explorer – the Vasco da Gama of virility who left no adult star or beauty pageant contestant unmolested – ended up becoming president of the United States. In the process, he bragged about the size of his junk during a debate, indicated that the wife of an opponent is ugly, and suggested a debate moderator’s menstrual cycle was to blame for an uncomfortable question lobbed his way.
Trump sets tone with toxic masculinity
As is the case with all of Donald Trump’s actions, his GOP acolytes quickly learned his lessons regarding manhood and masculinity. Trump enthusiasts listened closely as he referred to a porn star he allegedly had an affair with as “horseface.” They cackled in delight as he accused TV host Mika Brzezinski of "bleeding badly from a face-lift."
It was no surprise then when one of Trump’s biggest fans in Congress was accused of transporting underage girls across state lines and paying them to have sex. This is what men do.
Suddenly, longstanding beliefs that masculinity was rooted in a quiet dignity and an unease with burdening others with one’s innermost feelings had evaporated. No longer were men expected to be – “tougher than a boiled owl.” Among modern Republicans, the idea of showing “strength” is wailing on your video podcast about a young gold-medal winning female gymnast when she hits a rough patch.
The new GOP is made up not of mature adults but of self-involved, weak-minded, surly teens unable to muster empathy or conjure any sense of chivalry. They are tricked by COVID-based conspiracy theories that an eighth-grader could easily see through.
They fantasize about being “revolutionaries” and “freedom fighters” but begin throwing tantrums when you ask them to wear a face mask. The men who are most aggressively cruel to others in public are also the most likely to cry about getting a COVID-19 shot.
Yet don’t be fooled into thinking these lessons on manhood from today’s GOP involve the rugged individualism, independent thinking and fortitude personified by movie heroes of yore. No, in order to be a real man in today’s Republican Party, you must lie prostrate at the feet of Donald Trump, preferably on the carpets in Mar-a-Lago.
If you are a congressional leader who mildly condemned Trump after the president incited a riot in the U.S. Capitol meant to overturn the result of a U.S. election, you must quickly recant and fall back in line. If you are a former vice president targeted by Trump’s throngs of insurrectionists, you must never speak out about their chants to hang you, even as they’re tying the rope around your neck.
Conforming lawmakers cast off morals
If there is a female member of your own congressional caucus willing to speak out about Trump’s threat to democracy and it makes you look gutless, you must immediately vote her out of leadership to prevent her from embarrassing you day after day. More important, the vote must take place anonymously so your name can never be attached to it.
If you’re a U.S. Senate candidate (from a place like, oh, we’ll just randomly say Ohio) who was once critical of Trump, you must humiliate yourself by pretending you were always in Trump’s corner. If you’re running for statewide office in Texas, you must fully cower to Trump even though he ridiculed and belittled your father during a presidential election.
In order to be a Republican senator in good standing these days, it requires throwing your wife – the one Trump deemed ugly back in 2016 – under the bus to stay in the former president’s good graces. It means going along with Trump’s outrageous lie that the election was stolen even after Trump accused your father of being an accessory to the assassination of President John Kennedy.
Throughout most of history, youths couldn’t wait to break down the wall to adulthood – days in school were spent watching the clock until one day going to college, getting a job, getting married and maturity were within grasp.
Today our men are aging backward – spending their days formulating ways to behave like petulant children, only this time, their puerile behavior is encouraged by our public leaders.
An old adage (attributed to myriad authors) tells us that youth is wasted on the young. But given the inability of Republican men to grow up, it appears we are now wasting it on the old, too.
Christian Schneider is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @Schneider_CM
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Time to reclaim masculinity from Donald Trump and fellow Republicans