Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is constantly being harassed by MAGA men, and so it’s no surprise she understands what fuels them: insecurity.
“Donald Trump affirms insecure men’s idea of masculinity,” she explained on a recent episode of the “I’ve Had It” podcast. She added that he also affirms “insecure white folks’ idea of race.”
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a MAGA troll’s ire can confirm this, of course. The only people Trump and his fans are fooling with their bullying tactics and false bravado are themselves. It’s especially obvious in the way that right-wing men get fixated on conventionally attractive feminists. Good-looking women provoke sexual insecurities and maximally childish behavior from the right-wing man. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to see this, just functioning senses and a social media account.
But, of course, MAGA men can’t handle an accusation of insecurity without immediately proving it to be true, which is exactly what happened to Greg Gutfeld, an alleged “comedian” whose lack of talent led him to Fox News, where audiences pretend to find his pathetic bully act funny.
Earlier this week, Gutfeld tried to argue that Ocasio-Cortez is just projecting “her own insecurities about her boyfriend’s masculinity.” And then he engaged in a gross, racist sexual fantasy about her: “This is why she is so pro-illegal immigration: she is projecting her secret desires for young, virile men who are coming here in droves.”
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Certainly, someone thinks a lot about the “virility” of immigrant men, but it’s not the congresswoman from New York. Perhaps it is unfair to characterize Gutfeld as completely talentless: He certainly has a knack for provoking the sexual insecurities of his audience. Likely it’s because he shares their entirely correct fear that others can see through their chest-thumping to, in Gutfeld’s words, the “soft and buttery” condition of a typical Ford F-Series pick-up truck driver. The next day, Gutfeld doubled down on his unhinged attacks on Ocasio-Cortez, reassuring viewers that it’s “OK” to use the word “retarded” to describe her.
This was a two-fer of cheap political incorrectness, punching down at people with mental disabilities, while also being a sexist slight against a woman’s intelligence. Does anyone, even in the credulous Fox News audience, actually buy Gutfeld’s attempt to insinuate that someone as pretty, charming and talented as Ocasio-Cortez is hard up for male attention? No, but obviously there is value for his viewers in the fantasy of it. The toxic masculinity that is the beating heart of the MAGA movement is fundamentally a psychological defense mechanism of men who, often for very good reason, secretly believe themselves to fall short of masculine ideals like courage and vitality.
Of course, everyone feels insecure at times, but there are productive ways to deal with those feelings. For starters, one could question the sexism behind the view that bravery and strength are “masculine” at all, and note that women are just as, if not often more, likely to display both. (Certainly, Ocasio-Cortez has to muster more fortitude to deal with the firehose of abuse she gets in a day that Gutfeld has shown in his life.) One could undertake self-improvement projects to develop these qualities, from working out to volunteering to just trying something new. One could spend less time rotting your brain out by watching cable news and doing something productive with your life, even if it’s as small as working a weekend at a soup kitchen.
But nah, for MAGA men it’s easier to join their soft hands together in agreement that the best way to feel big is to bully other people — especially women. MAGA is a fascist movement and a white nationalist ideology, but it’s also a support group for men who are in fierce denial about their own insecurities. By looking to each other to validate their childish assertions of dominance, they can collectively tell themselves a fairy tale about how it’s “tough” to pick on people half your size.
Trump, with his thick makeup and weird comb-over, has made this much worse. He’s made it so that MAGA men feel even more emboldened to ignore all objective reality to assert an identity of potency and might. Listen to Trump voters and they will wax on about his “strength,” even though the single most obvious trait of the man, besides narcissism, is cowardice. He only acts tough when shielded from danger, such as his fleet of security guards. He likes to insult people from behind a computer or in a speech, where they can’t talk back. He sends others, such as the mob on January 6, to do his dirty work, while he rests in safety and comfort. Not that he’s never personally violent, of course. He’s plenty violent with women who are much smaller than him, as E. Jean Carroll can tell you. But again, this is the craven’s path to feeling powerful, as pathetic as someone who kicks puppies to feel forceful.
Trump’s “testimony” during Carroll’s lawsuit against him Thursday was a classic — and hilarious — example. He and his lawyer, Alina Habba, spent days hyping the possibility that Trump would take the stand, with a clear hope that this would make him look unafraid of the judge or Carroll’s lawyer, who had already drawn damning testimony from Trump during a deposition for the first trial. Instead, Trump sat in the witness box for only a few minutes, and only there to affirm that he still agreed with his statements from the previous deposition. He didn’t go further than that, because it would have allowed Carroll’s lawyer to cross-examine him, and well, he’s rightly afraid she’ll get him to say even more incriminating things.
It’s clear Trump wanted to avoid the bloodbath of a cross-examination but wanted to say something–that he stands by deposition, which is hardly helpful. And this is what was worked out. Notice Kaplan’s strict admonitions in advance–he handled Trump well, as no other J… https://t.co/NrQ8X1GA9u
— Harry Litman (@harrylitman) January 25, 2024
This is MAGA “manhood” in a nutshell. Trump enjoys bragging about how bold he his but runs away from any real risk as fast as he can. Instead of saying anything under oath, where he could be questioned, Trump just muttered as he fled the courtroom, escaping any possibility of having to deal with someone who would stand up to him.
One more detail, lest people think Trump got to eat his cake and have it too:
“Trump walked slowly as he left the courtroom after his testimony. He spoke loudly enough for the members of the audience to hear: “This is not America. Not America. This is not America.””
— Harry Litman (@harrylitman) January 25, 2024
Trump’s fame has created a permission structure for conservatives to wallow in misogyny to an extent that can be surprising, even by today’s low standards. Sarah Longwell, the never-Trump pollster who runs the always-informative Focus Group podcast for the Bulwark, has been talking about this a lot. When it comes to these focus groups of Republican voters, it’s never been a group that’s particularly feminist, to say the least, but the quotes Longwill pulled from a recent gathering of two-time Trump voters from New Hampshire was downright mind-boggling in the shameless sexism.
“I don’t feel as though a woman belongs in the presidential seat,” one Republican woman said, claiming women think with “heart mostly over mind,” and that they need — wait for it — “somebody like Trump.”
“It’s a man’s job,” argued a man in the group, saying women are incapable of “tough decisions.” He added, “Don’t want them having a bad day or that time of the month, or whatever.”
It’s probably too obvious to point out, but there is no single opinion that can possibly be dumber than arguing Trump is an emotionally controlled person due to the feelings-regulatory powers of his gender. But it speaks volumes to the role that psychological denial and fantasy play in the MAGA worldview that people can say stuff like this. This level of lying to themselves is proximately about Trump, but really, it runs deeper than that. These are the kinds of stories people tell to hide unpleasant truths from themselves. For women, it’s about not admitting that they’ve accepted second-class status for no good reason. For the men, of course, it’s a cheap way to feel good about themselves. They don’t have to actually be brave or true or strong. They just have to pretend these things are automatically granted to them by the fortune of being assigned male at birth.