When then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush was running for president in 2000, he often described himself as a “compassionate conservative” — which was Bush’s way of trying to win over swing voters, moderates and suburban soccer moms and convince them to vote for him instead of then-Vice President Al Gore. But the MAGA movement has angrily rejected such messaging, opting instead to project a fake machismo. Never Trump conservative David French discusses that “toughness” in an article published by The Atlantic this week, explaining why he finds it so troubling.
French opens his article by citing attorney Josh Hammer as an example of someone who is promoting “toughness” and a “less libertarian American right.” At the recent National Conservatism conference, French notes, Hammer railed against “fusionism” as “inherently effete, limp” as well as “unmasculine.”
On the right, the term “fusionism” refers to President Ronald Reagan’s fragile coalition of the early 1980s, when a variety of right-wingers — including libertarians, fiscal conservatives, evangelical Christian fundamentalist social conservatives and neocons — rallied around Reagan. There was plenty of infighting within that coalition; although Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and the Moral Majority’s Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. were both Reagan supporters, they couldn’t stand one another. Goldwater, in fact, believed that Falwell and others of his ilk were terrible for the GOP and terrible for the conservative movement. But Goldwater and Falwell were both glad to see Reagan in the White House.
According to Hillsdale College’s David Azerrad, the MAGA right views Trump as “manly” because he forcefully speaks his mind — which French finds peculiar.
“This is a curious definition of manliness,” French writes. “Saying what you think or what others seem afraid to say isn’t inherently ‘manly.’ Speaking your mind isn’t even inherently virtuous, much less inherently masculine. Trump has said many false and harmful things, and the fact that other people might whisper them does not mean that they should be shouted from the presidential bully pulpit.”
The MAGA cult of “toughness,” according to French, manifests itself in the form of “the increased prevalence of open-carried AR-15s at public protests, the increased number of unlawful threats hurled at political opponents, and outbreaks of actual political violence, including the large-scale violence of January 6.”
French writes, “The author and academic Freddie deBoer has compiled a depressing list of articles, essays and interviews in prominent publications excusing and justifying violent civil unrest. The right-wing cult of toughness, in its distinctly Trumpist version, is no exception to this trend. When it is drained of limiting principles and tied to a man who would rather seek to upend our nation’s constitutional order than relinquish power, then the threat to the republic is plain. That threat will remain until the supposedly weak classical liberals on the left and the right do what they’ve always done at their best: rally in defense of liberty, the rule of law, and the American order itself.”