Even at my most cynical, I would have not predicted that people would be brandishing weapons and threatening Obama 9 months out from the inauguration. I figured it was either at inauguration or years out, depending on how they mustered their courage. And frankly, the latter seemed more likely, because the second most potent trait of wingnuts (the first being a haunting fear that everyone can see your dark secret that makes you less than a man) is their boots-shaking cowardice. Remember—the only reason we have legions of moronic right wing blogs is that there’s no end to cowardly wingnuts who wish for a war to prove their manhood very badly, but want someone else to fight it, because of their unfortunate tendency to piss themselves when confronted with actual danger. Working up the courage to be such morons as to haul guns to Obama events? I assumed they’d need years of obsessing to work up the courage. But these are strange times we live in.
In my long experience of being a Texan—and one who grew up in a rural area, though I live in a blue city now—I can safely say that I’ve never met a gun nut who wasn’t reacting to deep masculine insecurities with a heavy dose of racism to make it worse. In a way, I’m being unfair, because the statement I made was probably a tautology. A lot of people like guns and enjoy collecting them, but it’s the anxious masculinity/racism that drives one into gun nuttery. Take for instance, the difference between my bike-loving, gun-collecting liberal friend and his wingnut coworkers who are also gun collectors. After the election, they all told him haunting stories about how they had to buy up a bunch of guns before Obama banned them all (using power I don’t think he has). He, in return, suggested that they’re so batshit it might not be the worst thing in the world to take their guns. This is the difference, because a real gun nut would no more say “take their guns/take my guns” than say “here’s my cock and balls, please cut them off”. Understanding that guns will not make up for the deep shame you have that your penis, like other human penises, is mostly soft and vulnerable, is the first step to not being a gun nut.
I wish I could say I’m overstating this case, but the preening masculinity issues of gun nuts are impossible to ignore when you’re around them. Take, for instance, my ex-step-father. I don’t want to denounce the man too much, as he tried to be a parent to us, and was often kind and generous, but his ability to be kind and generous often depended on how threatened he was feeling by female power. If I said anything that was threateningly intelligent, he would swoop down and try to put me in my place, because any hint that a woman might be smarter than him drove him nuts. Or a teenage girl, in this case. He also threw a fit when my mother changed her name back to her maiden name during the divorce proceedings. He was a straight up gun nut. Of course, compared to these morons showing up at town halls, he wasn’t over the top, but that’s because they’re competing with men like him for redneck masculinity points. Gun nuts in genuinely rural Texas can afford to be a little more laid back, because their geographic isolation somehow proves their bona fides, but these suburbanite twits have all that much more to prove, because their shiny suburban existence just makes them feel even more emasculated.
I can hear the wingnuts hiding behind the guy in the video’s race to say I’m full of shit, but we all live in the same culture and get the same messages about masculinity, and that guy couldn’t be more obvious with his glee at being proven to be a man in front of all these journalists, who are characterized by wingnuts as the exemplars of the soft-handed citification they fear inside themselves. I’ve mostly focused on how the racist themes of the gun nut culture have driven this masculinity panic over Obama, but honestly, it’s more than that. (Which makes all this that much scarier.) Obama is everything that the wingnuts scorn as “elitist”, i.e. feminizing. He’s erudite, fashionable, cool, and urbane. He speaks in sentences. He drives a fuel-efficient car, and his family is more interested in gardening than hunting.
The dirty little secret about how the redneckeria feels about urbane men like Obama is this: these men, above all, make them feel emasculated. I know! Wingnuts scream so loudly and reject so harshly the markers of urban sophistication they’ve deemed effeminate, but it’s a classic example of protesting too much. The fact of the matter is cool urbanites like Obama make the redneckeria feel emasculated, because the cool urbanites don’t need to prove shit. Their sense of masculinity is assured, and they don’t need to retreat behind guns or anti-intellectual posturing to feel like men. The secret, of course, is to realize that being a man is just matter of being one, and that you don’t need to participate in the endless war to prove that you’re really a man. The secret is realizing that you still are a man if you’re gay or fashionable or popular with the ladies or drive a VW Bug. Realizing you don’t have anything to prove in that department makes being cool seem effortless, and effortless cool is exactly the sort of trait that makes rednecks bonkers with jealousy, particularly those suburbanite wannabes. Of course, they’re too stupid to realize that the lesson in all this is to chill the fuck out, and that no one is going to sneak in and take your manhood away. So their reaction to Obama is to start brandishing guns, hoping that coating themselves in a layer of hard steel phallic imagery will distract from the fact that they’re soft and vulnerable underneath.