Ten Must-Read Books about Donald Trump and the Politics of White Male Identity in 2016

01/12/2017 04:55 pm ET

Trumpism is best described not only as a movement of white identity, but as a movement of white male identity. Donald Trump won the presidency mainly because he beat Hillary Clinton 72-23 per cent among working-class white men, and beat her by a margin of 54-39 per cent among white men with a college education.

Feminists, critical race theorists and others can and should engage in critical dialogue about how and why a disturbingly high 53 per cent of white women voted for a man who – in addition to his ethnic and racial bigotry -- also has a long and public history of demeaning and sexually degrading women. But make no mistake: Donald Trump won the presidency because his campaign targeted white men and won their votes overwhelmingly.

Throughout the past year, a number of book lists appeared that attempted to explain the Trump phenomenon. Many of the books cited appropriately addressed the bombastic real estate tycoon’s appeal to the ethnic bigotry and white nationalism that has long hidden in the shadows of American politics. But precious few correctly identified the central role played by gender in Trump’s rise as a political icon.

A notable example was the book list The New York Times published the day after the election to help voters understand Trump’s win. Not one book on that list foregrounded gender; only one, Strangers in Their Own Land, (see below) discussed it in any depth whatsoever.

As a corrective to this systematic exclusion, I have compiled a list that attempts to steer discussions of Trumpism back to a critical analysis of white masculinity. There will be a torrent of books published in 2017 and beyond that purport to analyze Trump’s political success and what it signifies and portends for the future of American politics. But if current trends persist, it seems safe to predict that many of these analyses will either fail to discuss gender -- outside of reflexive references to Hillary Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president -- or will minimize its importance.

By contrast, the books briefly summarized here offer an introductory roadmap for anyone – journalists, academics, political science students, armchair analysts – who wants to understand the gendered nature of Trump’s ascension.

Obviously, the list is not even close to being comprehensive. Countless books published over the past half-century offer a wealth of insight into the myriad historical, social, economic, psychological, and relational forces at work in the construction of white American masculinity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But these books are a good place to start.

Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era

By Michael Kimmel

Kimmel, an eminent sociologist and indispensable scholar of masculinity, powerfully lays out the historical and cultural currents in white American masculinity that have fed the rise of Trump. One of these is “aggrieved entitlement,” or the belief many white men hold that if they’re not achieving the American Dream, someone (e.g. Latino immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, liberals, feminists) must be to blame. Essential reading for any journalist or scholar who seeks to understand the class, race and gender/sexual politics of heterosexual white American men’s rightward shift in a society that is increasingly accepting of ethnic, racial, gender and sexual diversity. The paperback version is being released this spring with a new preface by the author.

The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma

By David Paul Kuhn

Kuhn uses exceptionally insightful first-person interviews with leading political figures and campaign operatives, as well as polling data, to explain the male side of the gender gap. He makes a convincing case that the Democratic Party’s failure to address directly the material and emotional needs and concerns of white male voters – traditionally a pillar of the Democratic New Deal coalition – has contributed to its decline, and not just in the South. This book was published prior to the 2008 election but contains a multitude of insights that Democrats seemingly – and disastrously -- ignored in 2016. Like many of the titles on this list, Democratic strategists should have kept a copy of this book on their desks as they tried to comprehend and counteract the rise of the faux-populist “blue-collar billionaire.”

The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity

By Stephen Ducat

Landmark analysis of the subtextual influence of male anxiety on American politics. This brilliant but unfortunately semi-obscure volume is teeming with stunning insights about the political implications of men’s psychological needs and desires in the context of patriarchal culture. Ducat pays special attention to men’s fears – especially their fear of being perceived as “feminine” – and how “phallic” insecurity plays out in myriad ways in political struggles around guns, foreign policy, terrorism, the death penalty, and a range of other contemporary hot button issues. Published in 2004, this study concluded during George W. Bush’s presidency but its explanatory power remains remarkably undiminished.

What’s the Matter with White People?: Finding Our Way in the Next America

By Joan Walsh

Through an engaging and highly readable amalgam of memoir and social history, Walsh tells a story of how cultural and political changes over the past half-century have shaped the lives and political ideologies of white people, specifically the ethnic white working class. Notably the book does not explicitly discuss white men; when gender is mentioned it is mostly to describe the author’s experiences as a woman amidst the broader feminist transformations of the era. Nonetheless Walsh’s personal reflections and political insights provide a useful lens with which to examine many white people’s resentment and alienation in the face of epochal racial/ethnic changes, sparking an electoral backlash that has decimated the Democratic Party at the state level and resulted in the election of a president beloved by white nationalists and sundry other racists.

The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country

By Gabriel Sherman

Any serious discussion of the many gendered forces at work in contemporary American politics has to include the central role of Fox News in pushing the national discourse to the right, in part by its relentless ridicule of any challenge to traditional patriarchal authority as part of feminism’s effort to “wussify” men. From its inception, Fox has offered a megawatt platform for some of the most aggressive and bullying conservative white male personalities, e.g. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, both of whom became rich and famous by confidently and angrily reasserting (white) men’s cultural centrality. This invaluable book tells the story of how the deeply cynical, conflict-ridden and pathologically misogynous founding chief Roger Ailes, forced out last summer by Fox for allegations of serial sexual harassment, made a network in his own image.

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

By George Lakoff

Lakoff is a groundbreaking cognitive scientist and linguist who advanced the idea that frames and metaphor structure the way we think about politics, and that only by examining these underlying mental processes can we fully understand why people vote a certain way. This book includes a thorough analysis of Lakoff’s famous thesis that ideologies of the family shape political ideologies. In this view, the Republican Party represents the “daddy party,” the provider and protector who lays down the rules and expects them to be followed. By contrast the Democratic Party is seen as the “mommy party” which nurtures and supports children and is more warm and fuzzy – and thus less masculine.

Angry White Male: How the Donald Trump Phenomenon is Changing America -- And What We Can All Do to Save the Middle Class

By Wayne Allan Root

In terms of its depth of insight, this book does not meet the lofty standards of the other books on this list. Nonetheless, the author, a conservative television and radio personality, has usefully written what Trump’s long-time advisor Roger Stone called the “Handbook of the Trump Revolution.” Root forcefully argues that the Democratic Party and Obama in particular have been out to attack and destroy the American dream, and Trump is his hero because he has the guts and charisma to defend that dream. The rhetoric in this book is over–the-top and filled with hypermasculine language and imagery, such as when Root compares Trump to William Wallace of Braveheart fame. But for Democrats, progressives and feminists who see Trumpism as a threat not only to Democratic rule but democracy itself, it is important to engage directly with the arguments and understand the sources of the white male (and female) anger Trump channels every day on TV, twitter and public rallies.

Rethinking Madam President: Are We Ready for a Woman in the White House?

Edited by Lori Cox Han & Caroline Heldman

This must-read collection focuses on the barriers and obstacles facing women presidential candidates. But thoughtful analyses of women’s continued subordinate political status by definition contain invaluable insight about the myriad ways in which (white) men retain cultural and political power and control. This book was published before Hillary Clinton’s first run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, but most of its content was relevant through the 2016 election. Any serious examination of Donald Trump’s victory must include analysis not only of his pugilistic performance of white masculinity, but also the deeply misogynous aggression he and his supporters directed toward Hillary Clinton. The articles in this book provide a wealth of data and analysis about these matters. An updated version is scheduled for publication later this year. In the meantime, this volume should be required reading for all political science scholars and students, as well as for any journalist who covers U.S. presidential politics.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

By Arlie Russell Hochschild

The influential sociologist’s aim in researching and writing this engrossing book was to climb over the “empathy wall” and try to understand why so many white working-class people over the past generation have voted for conservative Republicans, in a way that appears to many liberals and progressives to be patently against their own interests. Hochschild interviewed dozens of white people in the pollution-ravaged region of southwest Louisiana -- a major Tea Party stronghold that went overwhelmingly for Trump -- and by bringing to life the “deep stories” that inform their worldviews, sheds light on how resentment about their stalled path to the American Dream shapes their political loyalties. Read this book for deeper and more personal insight into why so many white people are attracted to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” including white men who have experienced the loss of well-paying jobs, the rise of the women’s movement and the election of the first African American president as profoundly decentering and emasculating.

Finally, I too wrote a book about this subject. If you've read this far, chances are you'll find it interesting and most certainly relevant:

Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity

By Jackson Katz

The animating theme here is the highly masculine nature of the American presidency: the president is not just chief executive, but (he) also occupies a powerfully symbolic role as head of the First Family, commander in chief, and literal representative of the nation’s “manhood” on the international stage. Presidential campaigns thus amount to contests between competing versions of masculinity -- often boiling down to more progressive/feminist versus retro versions – played out under the blinding glare of the media spotlight. (This) author analyzes key elections from 1972 to 2016, through the rise of Trumpism, which is described as a defiant reassertion of white male identity – especially white working-class male identity -- after four decades of economic stagnation and social change. Includes discussion of the critical role that Rush Limbaugh, talk radio and Fox News play in critiquing and defining presidential masculinity, and a highly topical analysis of the gendered features of the Trump-Clinton race up to the summer of 2016.

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