White Men Face Historic Day Of Decision

11/08/2016 09:43 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2017
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Eau Claire, Wisconsin U.S. November 1,  2016.   REUTER
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Eau Claire, Wisconsin U.S. November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Voters face many important choices Tuesday. The choice between the first woman president and the 45th man. Between a voice of the "establishment" and an outsider who will "shake things up." Between maintaining democratic principles based on civil debate and political compromise, or electing a "strongman" to fix our problems by the force of his will.

This election also represents a choice about the present and future of white American masculinity.

How so? If the vast majority of polling proves predictive, Donald Trump is going to lose badly among women, including white women, and overwhelmingly among people of color. In order to be elected president, he will need to win by a yuuge margin with white men. In fact, white men are the only group that currently supports him by a majority, and a large majority at that.

The gender gap is at historic highs in this election, and more women vote than men. The only way Trump has any chance of winning is if he runs the table with white men.

So in a sense this election has already told us a lot about white men, especially middle-aged and older white men, who are Trump's strongest demographic. For those of us who had hoped our society was making significant progress toward racial and gender equality, much of the news hasn't been especially encouraging.

In recent weeks, especially after the release of the Access Hollywood video in which Trump is overheard making graphically crude comments about sexually assaulting women, many white men - including many of his fellow Republicans -- have denounced his misogyny in very public fashion. This is a hopeful development in a season of despair.

But the millions of white men who plan to vote for Trump are doing more than throwing their support to a fellow white man with whom they happen to agree on issues. This election is different from previous ones, and not just because there is a woman on the presidential ballot.

Although large majorities of white men have been voting Republican since the 1970s, Donald Trump has managed to build a much more passionate following than other conservative GOP candidates have received in recent decades. This is in part due to his populist rhetoric in an anti-establishment year, and also because, as many horrified conservatives want us to believe, he's not really a conservative.

But it is mostly because for a variety of reasons, Trump has become the vehicle for a certain kind of white male identity politics. His bullying, bluster, and rhetorical aggression have captured a mood and a feeling among many white men who have long resented many of the changes underway in American society.

Or is it merely a coincidence that Trump's political fortunes rose precipitously in the wake of the two-term success of America's first Black president, in a year that might very well end with the election of the first woman as the nation's chief executive and commander-in-chief?

Voting for Trump is a way for angry white men to vent about these insults to their historic dominance, and "give the finger" to "political correctness" and the political establishment they think has neglected and even discriminated against them. It is also their way to say that in an era of rapid and disorienting social transformation, they still matter.

Of course many people, men and women, would deny that their support for Trump implies any such things. They would maintain they like him not because of his (deeply flawed) character, but because he will "protect our borders," "restore law and order," "defeat ISIS," and "bring back jobs." Only a small percentage tell pollsters they actually approve of the way he talks about and treats women.

Nonetheless by voting for him, Trump's legions are endorsing for president of the United States a man who embodies a toxic and discredited form of masculinity and the value system that accompanies it. In so doing, they are making a statement about their own values - and presumably the values they intend to pass down to their children.


Voting for Trump is a way for angry white men to vent about insults to their historic dominance and give the finger to political correctness..

In this election, it is fair to conclude that these values include placing more importance on the need to install a "tough guy" in the position of ultimate political power and control -- no matter how narcissistic or temperamentally unfit for national leadership that particular man happens to be - than on the need to send the message that racial and ethnic bigotry, as well as sexism and the degradation of women, are no longer acceptable character or behavioral traits in white men or anyone else.

Although Trump's racism and misogyny are hardly new, the events of the past month have raised the stakes. With at least 15 women coming forward to report that the Republican nominee groped them or otherwise willfully violated their physical and sexual boundaries, this election has become about much more than simply a choice between competing ideologies, or even a historic choice between a woman and a man.

It has become a referendum on whether we move backward by endorsing the kind of throwback misogyny and toxic masculinity represented by Donald Trump, or we move forward by electing a woman whose entire career has been dedicated to advancing - however imperfectly -- the causes of social justice and gender equality.

The conservative infotainment complex and the Trump campaign have painted a false and frankly insulting equivalence between Trump's character and behavior and that of Hillary Clinton, in large measure to deflect attention away from Trump's blindingly glaring shortcomings as a political leader.

The FBI abetted this shameful false equivalence narrative when Director James Comey stunned the nation by announcing two weeks before the election that the discovery of new emails might affect an ongoing investigation into Clinton's actions as Secretary of State. Was he trying to get out in front of leaks promoted by a group of conservative white male agents hostile to Clinton?

If journalistic inquiries after the election substantiate that rumor, it will bolster the perception among many women that a significant number of white men simply can't abide the ascension of a woman to the highest office in the land.

Comey's statement two days before the election that Clinton has been cleared of wrongdoing in the case of her emails might help refocus voters' attention on the substantive matters on the ballot in this historic election.

Because in the end the choice facing white male voters isn't really about Hillary Clinton's ethics, or even Donald Trump's fitness for office. It's about who they are and want to be. If white men truly want to make America great, in this election there really is only one way forward.

Jackson Katz is the author of Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity