America's conservative men are pretty grumpy these days.
That seems to be the lesson, anyway, from a new focus group of eight such men convened by the New York Times to gauge their feelings on the state of the country, and of masculinity itself. There wasn't a lot of happiness in the group.
The guys grumbled about crime and cancel culture, and generally seemed to long for a better time when — there's no other way to put this — America was great. Nobody thought that racism or sexism is much of a problem in the 21st century. They did think that men don't have it so great these days, though. One offered up action star Jason Statham as his model of masculinity.
Their complaints seemed at once half-formed and ancient.
Danny, a 47-year-old realtor from Florida, complained about younger men "wearing very feminine clothes" with "tight skinny jeans, with no socks and velvet shoes." (Hilariously, another participant told Danny he was "a little too macho.")
Christopher, a 51-year-old broker from Maryland, declared that feminists "are actually purveyors of men-bashing."
And Robert, a 50-year-old infrastructure analyst from Texas, suggested the war in Ukraine was somehow the result of America's less-than-stout manliness.
"To me, the stuff that's going on with Ukraine — the United States hasn't filled our role as being masculine as a nation in that aspect," he said. "And that's why Putin is doing what he's doing, because when you don't step up into certain roles, then the stronger person is going to take over."
It's easy to make fun of some of this stuff, and on social media, lots of folks have. But let's try to take it seriously for a moment. Conservative men are unhappy? OK. What exactly are we supposed to do with that information? It's not really clear.
We probably shouldn't expect eight random individuals to come to the table with bullet-pointed policy ideas. But except for their problems with crime and traffic — there were a lot of traffic complaints — the group's frustrations seemed unfixable, the product of a deeply felt but inchoate sense that the culture has passed them by. That's old news. Conservatism is practically defined by its nostalgia for a time when men were men and America ruled the world, not to mention an obsession with movie star action heroes. We have always been at war with guys in skinny jeans and velvet shoes.
That which can't be fixed can be exploited, however. It's probably not a coincidence that Republican senators duck questions about their agenda while delivering speeches about the crisis of masculinity and waging war over Dr. Seuss books. The grumpiness of conservative men can't be solved and never will be. It will have to serve instead as an infinitely renewable political resource, a font of grievances fueling the Republican Party, forever and ever.