It’s interesting but hardly surprising that the phenomenon is not limited to the US. Putin’s “beefcake” photo ops spring to mind, and Bolsonaro’s aggressive, performative macho posturing. While this may not be Fascism in the classical sense, because conditions today are not what they were then, it certainly shows a strong familial resemblance. Around the world, there’s a masculinist/nationalist backlash against what, for lack of a better world, I would have to call the “cosmopolitan society” … a society tolerant or even welcoming of diversity, and marked by increased equality of opportunity for the “different”, that is, people not white/male/young/ablebodied/straight etc.
Pitted against this historical trend (diversity, ethnic/cultural mixing and synthesis, tolerance, agnosticism, “worldliness”) is a durable set of mythologies: that heterosexual men are worthier than all other humans, that speakers of my language are smarter and better than all other humans, that people the same colour as me are smarter and better than all others, that my gods are the only real gods and all other- or non-believers should and will be punished, etc. We can call this set of beliefs patriarchy, or fundamentalism, or tribalism, or populist nationalism, or whatever: but they have this cluster of values in common: nation, flag, wannabe warrior masculinity, hostility to anyone “different” from some articulated or tacit norm. I don’t claim that women never participate in these belief systems, but generally the second-class status of women is part of the package.
I’ve written on this topic before (connections between gender anxiety and rightwing political tropes) so will just note briefly here that for various reasons, climate change denial has become part of the same package (a political litmus test for patriarchal/national revanchistas). Trump’s kneejerk hostility to all forms of renewable energy technology is not unrelated to his ritualistic hostility to women and foreigners: the reckless exploitation of natural resources whose consequences now threaten our survival is part and parcel of the mythology of Real Manhood. To those who worship Real (actually mythologised) Manhood, the restraint, caution and caring implied by the phrase “environmental stewardship” are inherently womanly, or at least unmanly qualities.
It appears that we have reached a curious historical juncture at which patriarchy itself has become maladaptive (in terms of our long term survival as a civilisation); and at that precise moment, unsurprisingly, men invested in patriarchal tropes and myths are having a massive, collective gender panic attack. Hence the fantasy portraiture of “strong leaders” as He-Men; the growing fascination with violence rather than democratic process as a solution to social questions; “extremism” on various fronts, mostly typified by young men yearning after heroic violence as the path to credentialled manhood; anti-feminist and anti-gay backlash; romanticisation of militarism and war; fascination with the armed defence of arbitrary borders, etc.
It remains to be seen whether these “bitter enders” of paleo-patriarchy represent something irreducible in human nature, which will eventually guarantee the doom of all civilisational projects; or whether they are the “dinosaurs” that many call them, one last hurrah of a cult whose day is already over: the Religion of Testosterone. Is Trump the first sign of some (to me) ghastly reversion to patriarchal barbarism? Or is he the visible symptom of the terminal, flailing panic of an Ancien Regime that knows it is fading from this earth? Maybe I’ll live long enough to find out.