Many of the Republican presidential candidate’s worst faults—unpreparedness, adultery, dirty language, unchecked anger—fail to perturb voters who respond to the mystique of the natural-born, rule-breaking white male. (Boys in minority groups are not forgiven their own childish wildness, demonstrating that this particular kind of male privilege is hardly available to all American men.) And this mystique is especially effective in this election. Trump harps on Hillary Clinton’s lawlessness, which he presents as self-interested and corrupt; his own rule-breaking, on the other hand, is clever (not paying taxes) and liberating (not adhering to social niceties). Clinton, that “nasty woman,” is perfectly cast as the female who pesters, punishes, and enforces political correctness.
The belief in the incompatibility of violent, honest, and vigorous manhood, which is at its purist form in boyhood, with mannerly, educated, well-governed civilization is threaded through our cultural history. James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, published between 1823 and 1841, were among the first popular American novels. The Tales star Natty Bumppo, a man raised by Delaware Indians who chooses to live forever outside of civilized society—a boy for life. Bumppo straddles the boundary between white (civilized, in Cooper’s cosmology) and Native (free and vital, but “savage” and doomed). Despite his rough edges, Bumppo is well-educated and intelligent, but he can never marry, settle down, and have a family; he must continually flee west, looking for a place where progress has not yet reached.