Trump smooching Joe Arpaio was MAGA masculinity in a nutshell

This edition of “This Week in MAGA masculinity” brings us a bizarre moment from Trump’s speech at Arizona’s Dream City Church last Thursday: the kiss.

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And virtually all the words expressed in the image below — of Donald Trump kissing and embracing former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — are about the way Trump has made his toxic masculinity into a political credo.

“I don’t kiss men, but I kissed him,” Trump said as he was introducing Arpaio onstage during a campaign stop in Arizona on Thursday. “We had a real border with this guy,” Trump said. “People said he was too tough or too — now they’re saying, ‘Where is Sheriff Joe?’ You know, he’s 170 years old, but we want him back. Joe say something.” 

The moment was the epitome of one of the animating forces in conservative politics: MAGA masculinity. It unites men around an ethos of hypermasculine paranoia, perpetual victimhood, overt rule-breaking and, most importantly, fawning praise for Donald Trump.

All of which Trump managed to distill — the paranoia, the rule-breaking, even anticipatory victimhood — into eight words and a gesture. Arpaio had the praise covered.

Donald Trump, right, hugs Joe Arpaio during a Turning Point PAC town hall at Dream City Church in Phoenix
Donald Trump, right, and Joe Arpaio during a Turning Point PAC town hall in Phoenix, on June 6, 2024. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

As you may recall, the former sheriff was convicted in 2017 of contempt of court in Arizona for defying court orders and proceeding with an anti-immigration crackdown that was rife with racial profiling and largely deemed illegal (Trump pardoned Arpaio shortly thereafter). Arpaio, 91, returned that favor as best he could with a gushing speech that sang Trump’s praises.

He joked about birtherism, the racist conspiracy theory both men perpetuated about President Barack Obama being a foreigner; he appeared to reference his legal troubles when he called Trump “the only hero I’ve ever had in my life”; he suggested Trump is more heroic than the late Arizona Sen. John McCain; and he argued that Trump’s poll numbers would only go up the more the media reports negative stories about him.

Biden’s campaign has already turned the men’s cringeworthy moment into an ad targeting Latinos, a group well-versed in Arpaio’s political terrorism.  

The ad is just smart politicking. Trump’s embrace of Arpaio didn’t just message his plans for bigoted and illiberal anti-immigrant crackdowns if he’s elected president — it also highlighted the pitiful ties that bind MAGA men together: a shared belief in Trump’s greatness and a defiance of accountability.

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