DETROIT — The destroyer named for the late U.S. Sen. Carl Levin was christened at a port in Maine on Saturday morning by the ship's sponsors, Levin's three daughters. The ceremony came two months after Levin's death at age 87 in late July. Levin, a Detroit Democrat, was Michigan's longest-serving senator, spending 36 years in office and 10 years as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "For the United States of America, I christen thee Carl Levin. May God bless this ship and all who sail in her," said Levin's daughters, Kate Levin Markel, Laura Levin and Erica Levin moments before e...
The Proud Boys had another rally in California over the weekend, and a telling moment was clipped and shared by Ron Filipkowski, a lawyer turned chronicler of the far-right. One speaker, armed with a bullhorn, pointed to a group of Proud Boys and declared, they "got some single real men over here looking for some housewives." The men in the clip then joined together for a photo, flashing the "OK" symbol that has been appropriated as a way for white supremacists to signal each other while also — always — trolling the left.
In the space of a minute, it was a perfect illustration of the two-step process that the far-right has used for years now to recruit new followers: First, bait insecure men with fantasies of female submission. Once they're in, recruit them to white supremacy.
The misogyny-to-white-supremacy pipeline has long been well-documented, but in the past year and a half — with the rise of QAnon and the anti-vaccine movement, both perceived as more female-friendly than groups like the Proud Boys — the centrality of misogyny to authoritarian recruitment has faded somewhat from the discourse. Recent events, however, have been a strong reminder of how crucial gender anxiety is to far-right recruitment.
Authoritarians prey on insecure men, feeding them a story of how all their gnawing self-doubts can be silenced by embracing an unapologetically male chauvinist attitude. They recruit such men with a fairy tale about how the modern world is scary and confusing. The solution, they say, is to return to rigid, unforgiving gender roles that just so happen to value straight, cis men above all other people.
Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson — who has perfected the art of trolling as a far-right recruitment strategy — managed to get some juicy bait out there, by sneering at Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for taking paternity leave. Buttigieg, who is the first out gay man to be a Cabinet secretary, recently adopted a pair of twins with his husband. Carlson didn't hesitate from being a real pig about it, wondering if Buttigieg was "trying to figure out how to breastfeed."
As feminist writer Jessica Valenti noted in her newsletter, in the past, Carlson has done segments of his show denouncing "fatherless" homes and claiming children brought up in them are "poor, uneducated and have disciplinary problems." But now he, a father of four, is making fun of men who actually want to be present in their children's lives. "Are fathers necessary for stable families and children, or is spending time with your kid a sign of weakness and something to be laughed at?" Valenti asks.
What this dissonance reveals, of course, is all the hand-wringing about "fatherlessness" is just a feint. After all, many divorced or separated fathers are deeply involved with their children's lives. No, as the Proud Boys rally this weekend showed, what's really at stake is anger at women for rejecting subservience. Single mothers, same-sex marriages, and egalitarian marriages all show that there's nothing inevitable about male-dominated marriage. That threatens men who are attracted to the dominance fantasy of traditional marriage to silence their own nagging sense of inadequacy.
It's not just Carlson and the Proud Boys who have figured out how to monetize male mediocrity and fragility.
Podcaster Joe Rogan has made a mint off of appealing to the sea of men who want an easy boost to their self-esteem through chauvinistic chest-thumping, rather than developing real skills and a personality. Rogan can be a little more subtle than Carlson about it, but ultimately, they're playing on the same set of anxieties and insecurities in American men, and prescribing the same toxic masculinity as a supposed cure.
In Rogan, it's easy to see, for instance, how refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine got encoded for the fragile masculinity set as a way to "prove" their manly bona fides. He falsely claimed that "healthy" men who are "exercising all the time" don't need the vaccine. He repeatedly suggested that vaccine mandates were somehow an assault on freedom, rather than what they are: a common sense health measure that helps free everyone from far more miserable pandemic restrictions. Taken together, it paints a picture of vaccination as the behavior of supposedly weak men. Unsurprisingly, then, Rogan ended up with COVID-19 and had to admit that he had kept finding excuses to put off getting a vaccine he had routinely insinuated was emasculating.
Carlson went after a gay man with a breastfeeding joke. Rogan's preferred target for exercising his gender anxieties is all too often trans people.
Rogan has repeatedly used his show to make fun of trans people, paint being trans as a perversity, and elevate anti-trans bigots as somehow experts on the subject. Now that comedian Dave Chappelle has joined in making being transphobic a point of pride, unsurprisingly, he and Rogan are going on tour together. The obsession with trans people isn't just gross, it's a little confusing. Why do these cis men care so much about the lives of trans people who have nothing to do with them?
The ugly truth is that trans people, because they're a small and misunderstood minority, just feel like an easy punching bag for these insecure men to take their gender anxieties out on. The very existence of trans people is a reminder that gender — and therefore gender hierarchy — is a social construct, and therefore can be analyzed, criticized, and even changed. Or, as in that famous 2019 rant from a One America News Network host, transgender penguins are a threat to the "family unit" and everything conservatives hold dear.
For men who rely heavily on their belief in male superiority to bolster their self-esteem, the realization that gender is socially constructed is a distressing thought, and they take their rage about that out on trans people.
The irony is that no one proves the truth of gender's social construction more than the men who flock to Carlson and Rogan's show or join groups like the Proud Boys. None of them clearly feels confident that manhood is much of a biological, irrefutable fact that they claim it is. Instead, they are constantly trying to "prove" it, from demanding female submission to bashing trans people to refusing a vaccine. If masculinity isn't a social construct, then one wouldn't need to put so much work into socially constructing it.
It's funny to laugh at the deep-set insecurities that drive this kind of behavior. However, it's a problem for the entire country and one that's getting worse, not better. The people marshaling all this silly male angst aren't just making money from it. They're building an authoritarian political movement, one that is backing Donald Trump, the perfect avatar for inadequate men who think being a sexist bully somehow makes you a "real" man.
In a wistful Daile Beast column that could be construed as "What if... " or "If only..", conservative Matt Lewis lamented the turn of events that led the late General Colin Powell to demur when asked to the Republican candidate for president -- saying it might have changed history enough that the GOP would have never fallen under the spell of outsider Donald Trump.
According to Lewis, the popular Powell -- whose only public misstep was a statement before the United Nations in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001 that Powell later admitted was a mistake -- could have easily become the first Black president long before most of the country had ever heard of Barack Obama.
In fact, he notes, former president Ronald Reagan saw Powell as a future presidential winner and tried to convince him to run.
"Counterfactuals are always messy, but bear with me," Lewis wrote. "There is reason to believe that Powell was Ronald Reagan's vision of the Republican Party's bright future. And Powell might well have defeated Bill Clinton in 1996. That would have made Powell America's first Black president. Assuming re-election, he would have been president when 9/11 happened. Everything thereafter would, likely, have been very different."
He then ruefully added, "And, of course, it's hard to imagine a starker contrast than what eventually happened to America (and the GOP): President Donald J. Trump."
According to Lewis, a President Powell would likely have avoided launching the post-9/11 war and that would have far-reaching consequences.
"No Iraq war probably means no Obama and no Trump. What is more, Bill Clinton (and America) would have been spared the whole Monica Lewinsky ordeal. Instead of that, Powell watched the party slip away from him," Lewis wrote before adding that history -- and the Republican Party -- might have been changed for the better.
"For those who say Trump was the GOP's inevitable conclusion, I present President Powell as Exhibit A," he suggested. "Yes, the Grand Old Party hid a long-dormant toxic strain, but it didn't necessarily have to come to a head. It's a shame that a leader like Powell didn't emerge, but ultimately, Republicans own their decisions."
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In the wake of Colin Powell's death of complications from COVID-19, Chris Cillizza penned an op-ed for CNN saying that with the death of the four-star general and 65th United States Secretary of State, his particular brand of Republican no longer exists.
"Powell's personal journey from potential -- and much-coveted -- Republican presidential candidate in the mid-1990s to pariah within the Trump-ified GOP tells the story of how the party went from one that recognized the changing face of America and the need to adapt its policies as a result to one organized around the often-intolerant views of a single man who, it's worth noting, spent less time as a Republican than Powell did," Cillizza writes.
Cillizza points to the fact that during an interview with CNN earlier this year, Powell said he no longer considers himself a Republican.
"You know, I'm not a fellow of anything right now," Powell told CNN's Fareed Zakaria in January. "I'm just a citizen who has voted Republican, voted Democrat, throughout my entire career, and right now I'm just watching my country and not concerned with parties."
It was Donald Trump's rise the GOP that was the final straw for Powell, prompting him to vote for Joe Biden in 2020.
"Powell's alienation from the party he chose for himself following a long and highly decorated military career speaks to just how much that party changed underneath him over that time," writes Cillizza. "The idea of a moderate Republican in the mold of Powell simply disappeared from the GOP landscape entirely."
Read the full op-ed over at CNN.
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