The rise of Donald Trump -- and the anger he is exploiting -- is exposing a masculinity crisis among men today: men who are desperately clinging to traditional notions of what it means to be "real man" in terms of physical strength, financial stability, and regulatory power in a world in which that definition is becoming increasingly outdated.
While Trump attacks Hillary Clinton for using the "women's card," he is actively playing his own gender card -- a male-baiting campaign based entirely on hyper-masculinity, bravado, and the dismantling of political correctness and respect for women. This is the man who talked about the size of his "manhood" on national television and who has continuously propped up his own masculinity by belittling rival candidates for being weak, calling Jeb Bush a "spoiled child" and Marco Rubio "Little Marco." Trump plays to every male insecurity, to men who feel emasculated, and to those who are empowered by a call to arms against the rise of women.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote in an op-ed:
"The traditional masculine ideal isn't working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal."
Donald Trump celebrates that antiquated ideal and appeals to men who are trapped by it. Let's face it, the definition of a "real man" needs to change and has changed -- and yet the presumptive Republican nominee is confronting this conclusion head on. At a rally last week, he proclaimed, "All of the men, we're petrified to speak to women anymore. We may raise our voice.... You know what? The women get it better than we do, folks."
Of course, the "folks" he's referring to are men -- the men who are part of a growing and increasingly vocal voter base who indignantly agree that "women get it better" and are likely to reward Trump for "telling it like it is."
This sentiment stems from the reality that, with blue collar jobs rapidly declining and women capturing 60 percent of the college degrees required to succeed in today's economy, more and more men, and especially young men, are feeling displaced, ignored and discouraged. Twenty-five percent of white men without a college degree are unemployed. Many of these men, who could once make a decent wage in labor-related fields, are left without job prospects, feeding into the frustration, depression, anger, and even self-pity, that Trump is successfully evangelizing.
We are at a crucial period not only in this election cycle, but in our nation's history. As the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to appeal to both sexes by addressing men's frustrations head-on, while also continuing to advance the women's movement, pay equality and abortion rights. Rather than directly attacking Trump's "man-up card," Clinton and progressive politicians need to focus, forcefully, on economic solutions, job creation, college loan relief, and educational incentives that offer hope and a new positive narrative for men.
In any period of change and creative destruction, there will always be a strong desire to hold onto the past. A failure to identify a path into the Democratic fold for these enraged and disenfranchised men will only propel Trump's success -- and all the unproductive hostility that comes with it.
Jack Myers is the author of the new book, The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century, available at Amazon and all bookstores. For more information on the emerging masculinity crisis, visit www.futureofmen.com.