The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump
Directed by Jackson Katz (2000)
This documentary reveals how Trump’s tough guy, misogynist persona isn’t a new phenomena – that it results from a 50-year-old Republican strategy to steal white working class votes from the Democratic Party.
Filmmaker Katz credits Nixon campaign advisors Roger Ailes (who would go on to launch Fox News in 1996) and Lee Atwater with instigating the strategy. Inspired by George Wallace’s ability to win five states as the American Independent Party candidate, Ailes tapped into the growing Southern backlash (which had voted Democratic since the Civil War) over Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Civil Rights Act. Ailes could sense growing anxiety among all white working class males for what they perceived as the “feminization” of society by expanding rights for women, gays and minorities. Ailes would go on to craft a Nixon campaign that would do nothing to improve livings condition of working class men. Instead it would entice them to vote Republican by defending their cultural norms.
Nixon (1969 – 74)
The Nixon campaign would emphasize a strong military (and support for the Vietnam War) and a tough on crime stance, while simultaneously portraying McGovern as a pacifist liberal elite (despite McGovern’s strong labor background and status as a decorated World War II pilot).
Reagan (1981 – 88)
Republicans would amplify the strategy during the 1980 Reagan campaign, portraying Reagan (a prominent member of California’s country club elite) as a cowboy and man of the people and Carter as too soft and sensitive to stand up to the Soviets. It was during the Reagan campaign that the Republican Party captured the votes of white evangelical Christians experiencing growing concerns about threats posed to their traditional patriarchal order by feminists, gays and women working outside the home.
George H W Bush (1998 – 92)
Bush senior, the next Republican president, also had a wimp problem owing to his elitist Ivy League background. However with Ailes and Lee Atwater as his advisors, he successfully reversed Dukakis’s initial l 17 point lead by portraying Dukakis as wimpier.
Clinton (1993 – 2000)
In 1992 Clinton won back some of the working class vote, by positioning himself as tougher on crime (supporting the death penalty, harsh law and order initiatives and major welfare reform) than Bush. However this would not stop Rush Limbaugh, other right wing talk radio hosts and Fox News from exploiting white male anxiety about their changing roles. The result would be the Republicans’ recapture of the House (under Newt Gingrich) for the first time in 40 years.
George W Bush (2001 – 2008)
Bush junior would deliberately purchase a ranch in Texas (to conceal his own elitist background) to prepare for his presidential campaign. He would be constantly depicted in the media wearing cowboy hats, driving pickups and clearing brush. In Bush’s case, the strategy would be less effective. Exit polls and evidence of computerized vote rigging suggests Democrat candidates Gore and Kerry won both the popular and electoral college vote in 2000 and 2004.*
Obama (2009 – 2016)
Although Obama lost the white male vote in 2008 and 2012, he more than made up for it in other demographic support. Fox News and other right wing media outlets would foment a massive backlash against the election of an African American to the White House. This would result in the the formation of the Tea Party, Minutemen and “Birther” movement (alleged controversy over Ovama’s birth certificate), in which Donald Trump was a major figurehead.
Trump (2017 – )
Trump has been a master at tapping into white male anxiety. According to Katz, he easily won the Republican primaries by ridiculing the manhood of his Republican opponents. He portrays himself as a “blue collar” billionaire, glorifying gun culture and tapping into evangelical masculinity (despite his playboy reputation), while running an unapologetically misogynist campaign. His rise to power parallels the rise of strong misogynistic leaders around the world (eg Bolsonaro, Putin, Xi Jingping, and Erdogan).