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Trump’s toxic masculinity

Even as he’s ill with COVID, the president and his allies have doubled down on the dangerous notion that masks aren’t manly.

President Trump removed his mask after stepping up to the Truman Balcony on his return to the White House on Monday in Washington.Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

The president of the United States got COVID and didn’t die from it, so now he’s the manliest man alive, apparently.

That bizarre propaganda video marking Trump’s return to the White House on Monday night, with its heroic music and epic shots of him whipping off his mask and saluting, was the president’s equivalent of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s shirtless horse-riding snaps — designed to project a virility that cannot be challenged (Trump’s obvious struggle to draw breath notwithstanding).

There’s always been a dangerous, gendered argument behind Trumpist opposition to safety measures that would protect more Americans from the coronavirus — that taking common-sense measures to stay healthy is wimpy, that masks are for sissies, that fearing contracting a deadly disease makes you weak. Self-sacrifice for others' sake? That is unfathomable to this president — the kind of thing that gets suckers and losers buried at Arlington.

Now that the president who contracted the disease through his own recklessness seems to be recovering, we’re seeing that machismo (and the president) on steroids, literally. The party line seems to be that Trump walked out of that hospital, not because he is getting the gold-plated medical care to which no other American taxpayer has access (though we are footing the bill), but because he is the toughest of tough guys.


Shortly before the president left Walter Reed on Monday evening, Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler tweeted an old WrestleMania video edited to show Trump pummeling COVID-19.

“COVID stood NO chance against @realDonaldTrump,” the suck-up captioned it.

What a shame that the 211,000 Americans who died of the disease, many of them alone and in agony, were so weak. If only the veterans and teachers and doctors and pastors, the parents, neighbors, and friends we’ve lost, people who left craters of grief across this country, had had Trump’s moxie. Sorry for the bad turn, but they’ve only themselves to blame, just like everybody else who suffers under Trump’s rule — Black men and women brutalized by police; families facing hunger and eviction; babies and mothers separated at the border.


Doubling down on this dishonest denialism appears to be the closing gambit of this disastrous administration.

Trump and his inner circle, now falling victim one after another to the virus he carries and seems determined to spread, continue to undermine the use of masks, which could get the pandemic under control much faster than a vaccine could. And they’re doing it with taunts straight out of 1950.

“Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe,” Fox personality Tomi Lahren tweeted, after Democratic nominee Joe Biden criticized Trump for pulling off his own mask.

“We are the party of the emancipation proclamation, not the emasculation proclamation,” said former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, somehow managing to argue that precautions are both girly and un-Republican. And managing to make a public embarrassment of himself — his highest calling.

This nutty view of masks as feminizing seems to have taken hold all over the country. Trump could put a stop to it, telling those who hang on his every word that he was wrong and that they must mask up, but he won’t. He’s too insecure for such an act of courage.

Better to hide the details of his illness and keep up his pathetic act, even if that means yet more entirely preventable deaths. Better to remain that leaning tower of ignorance we saw on the Truman balcony on Monday night. Or the raging bully who blew up last week’s presidential debate.


Perhaps Trump is remembering how well the macho thing worked for him last time around. This week marks four years since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, which captured him boasting about sexually assaulting women. Voters, including a lot of women, embraced his boorishness and made their peace with the steady stream of assault allegations that followed.

The Proud Boys and other white nationalists love Trump not just because he shares their racist ideology, but also because he bolsters their fragile masculinity. And polls show white men in general are sticking with Trump.

White women appear to have their limits, however, and appear to be slipping away from him. In response, the president and his fans seems to be clinging even more tightly to his cartoonish machismo.

It’s deadly. And it won’t be enough.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.