The most recent presidential debate was a case study in the desperation of a losing president and the perils of toxic masculinity. The debate was roundly and rightfully criticized for having little substance — yet it provided the American people with an unvarnished and relatively unbiased look at what happens when an alpha-male mentality clashes with the realities of the year 2020.
Trump’s ability to promote his distinctly alpha-male personality was an asset while he operated as an outsider candidate in 2016. He was not constrained by the general sense of decorum and emotional restraint that defined successful American presidents. Trump had spent decades developing a mix of narcissism, recklessness, and impulsivity as his brand, and brought that energy to the election. His personal life only added to that image — including his comments about women, the Hollywood Access tape, his numerous affairs, and the countless sexual assault allegations he faced.
White voters without a college degree comprise roughly 40 percent of the electorate and have been a reliable support base for Trump throughout his presidency. Trump’s ability to resonate with this demographic was crucial to his 2016 victory. In an increasingly diverse American society with an increasingly skill-based economy, Trump’s personality and priorities are reflective of a far earlier time. This ideal comforts people, especially white males, who feel they are losing status and power.
Yet it’s 2020 now, and the first debate between Trump and Biden proved to be the ultimate example of why Trump is doomed in this election. The kind of narcissistic and hypermasculine personality that gave rise to his presidency and that he projects on a daily basis is also what prevents him from having the insight to understand what it will take to win re-election.
The year 2020 has been marked by the deaths of over 210,000 Americans from the COVID-19 pandemic, a resulting economic recession, and a nationwide movement for racial justice. Trump had countless opportunities to respond to these in a way that could increase his popularity and win him reelection — yet he failed to. Most importantly, his inability to strike any unifying tone around these issues or show any kind of sincere empathy for the less fortunate are glaring mistakes in a time of national crisis.
At the debate, he furthered this self-destructive path by mocking Joe Biden’s mask-wearing, refusing to condemn white-supremacy, and refusing to take responsibility for his administration’s mistakes regarding their response to COVID-19.
Ultimately, Biden demonstrated a more admirable masculinity: taking responsibility for his actions, allowing himself to be vulnerable, and empathizing with those who may not share your his experiences. Biden’s willingness to address the American people by staring directly at the camera during the debate established an emotional connection that displayed his humanity. He addressed the grief that families have gone through as they lose loved ones to the pandemic, and he told the story of losing his son to cancer.
In the twisted reality of 2020, Trump’s brand of toxic-masculinity runs this country, and it will take all our efforts at the polls this year to avoid another term of this kind of conduct.