In June 2017 President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cease all participation in the 2016 Paris Agreement, an agreement signed by 195 countries with a commitment to collectively address and fight climate change. Each member is required to plan and report regularly on its “nationally determined contributions” to mitigate global warming.
A signatory’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is prohibited within the first three years of the agreement, so the U.S. will not officially be removed from the Paris Agreement until 2020, but President Trump has made it clear that the U.S. will not participate now or later in this agreement. His reasoning for withdrawal is that it is in the best interest of American businesses and workers, a traditionally Republican motivation which he cites for many of his policy decisions. (In fact, the economy is not improving with his help, it’s getting worse.)
In 3 years, Trump has pulled out of six different international treaties and agreements including the Paris Agreement, significantly cut back two, and severely challenged two more. Many news sources are claiming he has abandoned some of the most fundamental international relationships that the U.S. has. Trump has claimed he is acting for the self-interest of America. Is this the real reason?
Because of our robust two-party system, much of the policy decisions made by each new president can be interpreted as a small part of the larger bipartisan battle that has characterized American politics. The presidency is passed back and forth frequently between the parties, and the new president pushes the agenda of their party that was not prioritized previously.
Thus, Trump’s policy actions could simply be a strong Republican response to eight years of Democrat decision-making under the Obama administration. However, there are several additional social science facts that reveal a deeper explanation of Trump’s policy decisions and by extension the current state of the American two-party system. The Paris Agreement is a case study revealing that Trump’s broader policy approach is one rooted in anti-feminine hyper-masculinity.
The Social Science Facts
Although results in social science cannot be proven as fact, the following “facts” are simply evidence and conclusions based on statistical analysis of that evidence, which are highly likely to be correct.
Fact #1: Political issues are gendered. Research suggests that women and men have different policy preferences. Women typically care more about health care, general public health, education, welfare, and stricter gun control than men. Experiments and surveys have been conducted to come to this conclusion.
Fact #2: Climate change is a feminine issue. Studies indicate that climate change is an issue believed more and addressed more by women. More women are in support of action to prevent global warming than men, and conservative white men are more likely to deny that climate change is happening than anyone else.
Fact #3: Women tend to identify and align more with the Democratic party than men. The Democratic party tends to house more issue positions favored by women, which might explain why more women align with the Democratic party than the Republican party. Thus, the Democratic party and its issue interests tend to be characterized as more feminine.
Fact #4: “Agency” is considered masculine, while “communion” is considered feminine. Gender psychology research has found that men are more likely to act for self-enhancement and self-assertion, focusing on self and separation. Such actions have been termed more broadly as actions of “agency”. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to act in cooperation with others, focusing on others and connection and being termed as actions of “communion”.
Fact #5: The effects of gender and party affiliation on policy preference are difficult to disentangle. Much of the difference in policy preference between men and women can be explained by the difference in policy preference and actions between the Republican and Democratic parties. This means that some might dismiss the reality of a gender gap and attribute any difference to bipartisanism, suggesting that if you cannot isolate gender as more influential than party affiliation then you cannot conclude that party is not the more significant factor. However, because women and feminine issues do tend to align more with the Democratic party, and even Republican women trend significantly more liberal than Republican men, we cannot conclude that gender is not the most significant factor either. Although we may not be able to isolate the effects of each, we can confidently say that all political issues are both gendered and partisan and cannot simply be one or the other. Thus, gender persists as a significant factor in determining policy preference and subsequently party policy agendas.
The Gendered Two-Party System
Although the policy actions of Trump may seem to be pushing the Republican agenda, the fracturing of the Republican party in response to his actions as well as the facts detailed above lead me to conclude that the Republican agenda cannot be the only explanation. Trump has been characterized as a hyper-masculine “macho man” that is constantly demeaning and discrediting women and femininity as superficial, weak, and lesser. He constantly flaunts his aggressive tactics and ability to stomp on the weaker party to get his way. He is expressing hyper-masculine traits through his policy decisions by abandoning things associated with any type of feminine trait: climate change, international cooperation or “communion”, global concern, concern about health, Democratic party priorities. Instead he has chosen the more masculine path of “agency” through isolationist policy to “make America great again” and glorifying the American dream of self-made economic opportunity.
The inherently gendered nature of political issue alignment with each party invite the association of Trump’s policy action, particularly his foreign policy, with a hyper-masculine agenda that is intertwined with the Republican agenda. The next question we should ask is this; is Trump an outlier causing this association or has this always been the case? I would speculate that Trump is an exaggerated caricature of the foundational gendered motivation fueling the American two-party system and resulting policy decisions.