At The Baffler, Jessa Crispin opens “Why They Need the Cucks” with a flourish:
The idea that masculinity is now in crisis ignores the fact that masculinity has always been in crisis. Masculinity has through the ages been defined primarily through external makers: the animals you hunt, the money you earn, the chicks you bang. When those markers wane due to famine, economic crisis, or women no longer feeling obligated to touch your dick, the masculine self crumbles and re-erects itself around some new external thing.
Or at least it’s supposed to try. While femininity is thought of as an embodied state of being, men prove their manliness by doing, destroying, and attaining. So in this latest age of scarcity, what is it, exactly, that men are meant to do?
Ms. Crispin’s entertaining essay includes a brief history of the term “cuckold,” a term she says is now being put to use in all sorts of innovative ways by young men seeking to reassure themselves of their masculinity. “Our most influential definitions of American manliness,” writes Crispin, “have been bubbling up from the online redoubts of 4chan and reddit, where men gather to soothe their sense of exclusion by indulging in exclusionary fantasies of their own.”
Eventually Crispin finds the answer to her question (“What is it, exactly, that men are meant to do?”): modern men are meant to do whatever it takes to avoid being low man on the totem pole.
The categories of embattled manhood now trafficked by the cuck-trashing, immigrant-bashing men of Breitbart or 4chan are shifting but ultimately exacting...they obsess over finer and finer distinctions. Their aim is not to elevate one idealized version of masculinity, but to break masculinity into a more perfect pecking order, so almost everyone can look down a level at the scum below. This new order relies on the traditional markers of manly achievement—a girlfriend, sexual partners, money, power, and, most importantly, control—but none of those matter as much as the act of division itself. It’s a coping strategy. Yes, the 4chan men like to make jokes about living in their parents’ basements, but those jokes are only funny if they can point to someone even lower than themselves.
This "pecking order" strategy, I should point out, has a long history of being used for broader purposes of social control; white Southern elites, for instance, managed the frustrations of poor whites by allowing them someone—blacks, of course—“even lower than themselves” to look down upon.
Here, then, is the task of the twenty-first-century American man: making hierarchies that don’t put him at the bottom. The bottom is where the cucks are—because “cuck,” in its current incarnation, is an insult aimed not at men who are betrayed by women (or even men who are betrayed by women and really, really like it), but at men who don’t have anyone to control.
It seems to me that Donald Trump is the right man for this "cuck" moment, offering the illusion of control and power to people—white working-class men especially—who increasingly have none. Trump’s hyper-masculine belligerence and braggadocio suggest to the embattled American male that if he just swaggers enough, talks tough enough and loud enough, and disregards attempts to rein him in with social niceties and “political correctness,” he’ll get his way. Of course, it helps if he has a few billion dollars, but Trump supporters tend to overlook that part; or rather, they think Trump got rich and famous by being obnoxious, when in fact he gets away with being obnoxious only because he’s rich and famous. When ordinary guys (like me) engage in Trump-like behavior, well, we're just being jerks, and absolutely no one is impressed.