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Trump V Biden: Two different approaches to masculinity

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Let’s take a moment to think about what’s just happened in the United States. A disgruntled Donald Trump has lost the presidential election and President Elect Joe Biden is preparing to take over. There are many obvious comparisons and contrasts between the two men. Some are obvious: Trump is a Republican, Biden a Democrat, Biden is older and a life-long politician, Trump is slightly younger and had never held political office before becoming president and so on and so forth. Of all the contrasts and comparisons between these two me, it’s the differing display of masculinity these two men show that I have been pondering over.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden at campaign rallies. Each man has a different approach to masculinity.
Trump and Biden: One displaying a caring, emphatic masculinity, the other famous for doing the opposite.

Back in October 2016, just before Trump was elected President, we got a very good idea what sort of man he was. The notorious Access Hollywood tape was leaked in which Trump came out with the infamous: “Grab ‘em by the pussy” quote.

The shocking thing about that recording is the “pussy” quote was one of the more anodyne comments he made. Even so, it set the bar for our expectations and after four years of the Trump presidency, he’s exceeded those low expectations.

Shortly after the Access Hollywood tape was leaked, I was invited to speak at the launch of the Men and Boys Coalition. I spoke about the stresses and strains of fatherhood, but I also made clear I was worried about the election of Trump. I said us men would be judged by the kind of masculinity he presents to the world. This has been a serious concern of mine ever since.

I am not going to tell you President Elect Joe Biden is going to save the world. To be quite frank, I was surprised the Democrats chose him to run against Trump, but choose him they did and he has won the election.

Regardless of whether he is the right Democrat for the job, Biden is a completely different character. As former US President Barack Obama said at Biden’s recent campaign rally in Philadelphia, “character matters.”

To state the obvious, being President of the United States of America is a high-profile role. You are setting an example not just to a large number of North Americans, but to the world. Think of all the boys who see Trump’s bellicose behaviour and think it’s appropriate. Think of all the girls who see him behave this way and think that’s what men are supposed to be like. It’s a form of masculinity that was never acceptable, simply tolerated. That’s before we get on to things like the Access Hollywood tape, Trump’s marital record, his open relationship with honesty, his love of conspiracy theories, the comments he’s made about race, the amount of tax he is reported to have paid and so on.

By contrast, I recently saw a couple of videos featuring Biden which revealed a man who is caring, compassionate and has empathy. Probably the best known is the video of Biden handing a young boy his lapel pin badge (see here). Biden is thoughtful, kind and inspirational yet unassuming.

This second video is in a league of its own. In this short clip, Biden meets a boy called Corey Hixon. Corey is the young son of Chris Hixon, who was shot dead while trying to protect students during the Parkland School shooting in 2018. Just watch this and try to keep dry eyed.  

Men can care. Men should care and men should not be afraid of caring. It takes strength to care and show empathy, especially if you’re a man. Biden’s response in those two videos shows just that: He is a caring individual and isn’t afraid to show it.

As it happens, Biden’s background has involved a lot of caring. Back in 1972 his first wife Neilia and daughter Amy were killed in a road traffic accident. His sons were injured and Biden, who by this point was a Senator for Delaware, was left to raise them alone (he later remarried Jill and had another daughter).

We all know Biden’s son Hunter Biden has faced some issues over the years. This, to me, just makes Biden all the more appealing. He has had to tackle these issues as a father. He has had to help Hunter and it hasn’t always been easy. Biden will be a better President because he has faced these challenges, not a worse one because he faced them in the first place (as the Trump campaign hinted at).

Let’s not forget Vice President Elect Kamala Harris is, shock horror, a woman! While Biden may have had little influence over who his running mate would be, it’s quite plain to see Biden is at ease at working with women. Harris herself also seems to be a formidable character. She’s an individual I will be watching closely.

Just think of all those times Trump invited the media to watch as he signed Executive Orders in the White House. On most occasions he was surrounded by middle-aged, white men in dark-coloured suits. Suit-wearing middle-aged men have a place in Government, but contrast this with Biden who is, metaphorically, going into the White House hand in hand with a Vice President who is a woman of mixed heritage.

As an aside, the election of Vice President Harris also means the US has its first ever Second Gentleman of the United States in the form of Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff. While it’s quite understandable all eyes are on Harris, the fact Emhoff is in this position is significant. I’d hope one day soon we may see the first ever First Gentleman of the United States.   

That aside, let’s look at Trump and his track record. I’ve seen no videos of him inspiring young children to aim for the presidency. Has he ever hugged a troubled child on camera? I somehow doubt it.

When Trump fell ill with COVID-19, his response was appalling and sent out an appalling message. Despite all the bad jokes about men have to tolerate about “man flu,” us guys are generally dreadful at admitting we’re ill or showing enough interest in our health.

Having Trump stagger up the steps of the White House and rip off his face mask after a few days in hospital made him look like some kind of chest-beating ape. What a President should be saying is: “If you’re ill, seek help.” His actions belittled the many men (…and women) in the United States who have COVID-19 and other medical conditions.

He was playing to a horrendous male stereotype that says: “Real men don’t fall ill.” It’s that approach that possible explains why men on average die several years younger than women.

Despite being older than Trump, Biden represents a modern, decent, compassionate, caring masculinity. He’s a committed family man, a good role model for fathers and a good role model for young men. Trump was and remains an embarrassment for mankind.

The US is bitterly divided. I don’t think the next four years are going to be easy for Biden, but I’m glad to see a very different man who displays a very different masculinity is now in charge of the United States.

2 thoughts on “Trump V Biden: Two different approaches to masculinity”

  1. Spot on! I can’t think of one trait Trump displayed over the past four years that I would want my son to emmulate. By contrast I have already seen two handfuls in Biden. For an older statesman, he has a very modern view of masculinity. In every way he is the empathetic opposite of Trump, and for young men growing up in 2020 and beyond, they need to see that on display.

    They also have a shelter dog! It sounds mundane, but would Trump ever treat animals in such a manner? Or would he just see the shelter dog as weak, a failure, a worthless mutt?

    I think we all know the answer to that.

    1. I suspect you and many others feel the same way about Trump and how his behaviour could impact on children. And no, I was not aware of the shelter dog!

      Interestingly I’ve been reading about Doug Emhoff today. he seems like a very cool guy as well.

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