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Like many Americans, I have never been a fan of Donald Trump. I find his rhetoric disgusting and his policies despicable and it’s a rare day that I don’t wake up in 2017 to a news alert from Washington that makes my heart drop into my stomach. That said, some part of me had hoped that even such a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing and downright upsetting human being could dig deep inside of himself and find one unproblematic moment, especially when speaking to a crowd of mostly children at the Boy Scouts Jamboree.
I am sorry to report that my hopes were dashed – violently and without remorse.
It’s a sight we’re all unfortunately familiar with, a powerful man basking in the cheers of an unwitting crowd to reaffirm his already inflated sense of self-worth. Watching Trump walk out onto the stage, clapping for himself all the way up to the podium was troubling enough. The next 40 minutes filled with petty jabs aimed at the media and his political rivals, set to the cheers of a crowd mostly too young to vote, paints an image less like an American president than a schoolyard bully.
The spectacle put on at the Boy Scouts Jamboree felt the mark of a man incapable of being challenged, drawn to taunt or insult those who dare to defy him or say he’s wrong. This my-way-or-the-highway attitude is just one of the symptoms of toxic masculinity espoused by Trump and his administration. The inability to compromise or accept fault is seen so frequently in boys and men who have been conditioned to believe that they should be catered to, that they are somehow set apart. This is especially true for white, Christian boys and men in America, who make up a great portion of the Boy Scout troops.
Trump’s bragging, taunting, and inability to be challenged are not, however, the only toxic elements which were fed to a crowd of young men eager to see the president speak. In his speech, Trump discussed the scout values, focusing on their emphasis on “duty, country, and God”. The scouts are known for their own controversies due to their values, which can often conflict with an American society growing in both diversity and progressiveness. And yet, here was Trump, preaching the importance of nationalism above all else and touting the supposed superiority of Christianity through the use of religious exclusivity.
By teaching these young men that their religion is better than all others, that they are better than all others because they are Boy Scouts, and that their religious affiliations make them better than others, we set them up to believe they are beyond reproach. Not only that, but the inherent dominance pervading these messages, as well as the rest of Trump’s speech, leaves very little room for interpretation in the conversation about what it means to be a man.
In Trump’s world, a man should not be questioned. He should brag about his accomplishments, as well as the things he gets away with. He should use his power to undermine those who do not succumb to his will (as seen in his many references to the “fake news”). He believes his ideology is not only the best, but the sole correct mode of thought. And above all else, he is dominant, he is strong, he wins. This could be described as the cornerstone of the message Trump sent to the scouts at the jamboree.
The emphasis on winning as the sole marker of success is at least partially to blame for the aggressive competitiveness often seen among groups of men. It places “strong” men at the top of a hierarchy they are told they must ascend. In doing so they also give up pieces of themselves such as emotional honesty and vulnerability. To teach these boys this toxic form of masculinity, Trump did not need to say outright that they should not feel. It was written in his language, his behavior and his history.
When more than a passing glance is paid to past controversies, like the crowd size dispute at the inauguration, for the sake of being validated, one can assume a person is overcompensating. Well, it should come as no surprise to any American at this point (though sadly it often still does) that Trump is nothing if not overcompensating. He is a narcissistic bully of a man who wants nothing more than a legion of loyal followers to do his bidding and tell him he is right, an army of yes men, if you will. Mix that in with a hefty dose of gaslighting of young men and you have yourself a recipe for toxic waste.
Kelly Livingston is a freelance writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. After four years studying English and Anthropology at the University of Florida, she remains fascinated by the ways we can use writing to comment on and change our culture.