Over the past few decades, the U.S.A. has undergone a cultural shift, a subtle movement that most people feel in their bones, even if they can’t give it a name. They might be consciously aware of some of the changes, but others are hiding in plain sight.
One interesting trend that many people overlook is the fact that we have not had an American president with any sons of his own in 24 years. I mentioned this to my mom when I first noticed it, and she audibly gasped. It’s like a splash of cold water on the face. The last president who had any sons was George H.W. Bush. And, interestingly enough, his son became president.
Why haven’t more people analyzed this trend? Perhaps because we’re not supposed to notice. Many would start to push back at you for even identifying the trend, raising their defenses preemptively at the “sexist” implications you might be raising. I believe this has been called “The War on Noticing,” and it applies to many politically-incorrect realms of what is not socially acceptable to be factually studied. Some topics are completely taboo, even for objective, empirical analysis. You might discover something distasteful!
What is behind this trend of presidential daughters? Is it pure coincidence that Bill Clinton has a daugher, Dubya has two daughters, and Obama has two daughters?
I did a little research to see if anyone else had broached this topic, and did find one article that dealt with the topic, at least tangentially. It was more focused on the lack of young, male children frolicking around the White House. There haven’t been any since the Kennedy administration. But the author of the piece puts forth a questionable hypothesis in guessing that this is caused by young boys being too difficult on the campaign trail.
There haven’t been any presidential candidates of either party with very young boys in decades, and maybe this is a self-selecting sample. But looking at this year’s campaign, both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio have young sons that are not posing any major obstacle to their campaigns. So I believe the truth lies elsewhere.
Looking at our presidential elections since 1992 (the last time a president with a son left office), we can see that there has been a consistent upward trend in the “gender voting gap” which reached its highest point ever in 2012– a 20-point spread.
1992 was also dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” because five women were elected into the senate riding a wave of female-voter support. Women have made up a majority of the electorate since 1964, but perhaps more significantly, single women voters began outnumbering married women in 2007. So this swell started in the 90s and early 2000s, and finally reached this threshold in 2007.
It has also been noted that the gap between married and unmarried women is even bigger than the male-female voter gap! And so, single women have apparently become the most powerful swing voting bloc in the U.S.
But what does this have to do with whether a president has any sons or not? Take a look at our most recent presidential elections:
1992: Bill Clinton (no sons) defeated George H.W. Bush (4 sons).
1996: Bill Clinton (no sons) defeated Bob Dole (no sons).
2000: George W. Bush (no sons) defeated Al Gore (1 son).
2004: George W. Bush (no sons) defeated John Kerry (no sons).
2008: Barack Obama (no sons) defeated John McCain (4 sons).
2012: Barack Obama (no sons) defeated Mitt Romney (5 sons).
Is it possible that candidates who only have daughters are better positioned to pander (consciously or subconsciously) to the worldview of single women? If their progeny is exclusively female, their daughters must represent all their hopes and dreams of a legacy. Their natural desire to see their heirs thrive is fully transferred onto the daughters, and– given our current societal dogmas about the “equality” of men and women– they must believe that it is totally natural to encourage their daughter to pick up the mantle of breadwinner and future titan of industry.
This is reflected in their campaigns and policies, and it has caused an increase in the welfare state, while continuing the breakdown of the family unit and healthy relationships between men and women. Men have increasingly been framed as the “other,” outsiders in their own country, families, and workplaces.
It is a dispiriting climate for many American men, and our presidents have not cared a bit. Workforce participation by men is cratering further and further to record-setting lows, while women are the majority of college graduates. And despite the bogus “wage gap” myths, young professional women are out-earning young men. I’m sure President Obama would be happy to hear these statistics, as it means his daughters will enter a world where they can thrive. Besides, the men are probably lazy and “deserve it!”
Not having any sons of his own, a man cannot have any true empathy for the next generation of boys the way a parent can.
So why does any of this matter?
This might be too small a sample-size to conclude any meaningful causation. Perhaps sons don’t make one less electable.
But they do shape a man’s character in a way that has been woefully missing from the Oval Office in the past two decades. Having a son changes a parent’s worldview significantly. A man has to live up to his highest masculine potential to create an example for his son, and no matter how much the PC crowd will push back, it just isn’t the same instinct kicking in with only daughters.
Let’s take a look at this year’s candidates to see whether there is any hope for the future:
On the Democratic side, Hillary has no sons, obviously. Bernie is a little more complicated: he technically has a son, but their relationship is far from clear. He never married the mother, and it wasn’t even publicly known who the boy’s mother was until more recently. Bernie is also so non-masculine that his son never even called him “dad,” but referred to him as “Bern,” like a goofy neighbor who just drops by your house sometimes. Also, his son decided to never have children of his own, and just adopted three from China. Make of it what you will, but Bernie has less of a biological legacy than others in the race.
With the remaining Republicans, Ted Cruz and John Kasich both have only daughters– two apiece. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump both have two daughters as well (which means 4 out of 5 of the GOP candidates have two daughters), but they also have sons. Ben Carson is the only candidate that has sons exclusively (three of them).
Carson does show signs of being a strong patriarch who wants to impart good examples to his sons. But he also has no chance of winning at this point.
So that leaves Rubio and Trump, and in examining them more closely, they have significant differences in their family structures, and relationships with their children.
First there is the obvious: Donald Trump projects a much more masculine image than Rubio. He speaks and gestures with confidence, while Rubio stammers and sweats. Rubio also has a childish, almost feminine goofiness that comes through in pictures like this one (in which his wife appears to be recoiling at his touch):
Trump has raised his sons to be strong men who embrace their masculinity– they enjoy hunting, golf, etc.– while also thriving professionally and continuing families of their own. Rubio’s children are still too young to have an equal comparison, but the idea of him being a “strong, masculine father” to his sons seems farfetched.
Aside from what we can clearly observe in the demeanor of each man with his family, there are other significant differences that have likely impacted the character of Trump and Rubio.
Rubio had two daughters first, and no sons until he’d spent 6 years raising only daughters. There is scientific research that supports the idea of the first child’s gender significantly altering the dynamics of a family. For instance, divorce is more likely to occur if a daughter is born first to a couple. It’s possible that this makes the man feel less engaged in the family, and more stuck in a “girls’ club.”
Having his daughters first makes Marco Rubio more likely to continue the Obama-esque approach of pinning America’s hopes on the success of women, almost implying they are superior to men, and nothing he has said indicates otherwise. This leads to the cultural malaise we see now, in which men increasingly feel alienated in their communities. This is a tone that is set from the top down by the president. And our recent presidents have moved the country’s tone in an unproductive and disheartening direction.
Trump, on the other hand, had a son first, and began building a legacy through the strength of his children.
A candidate who has a strong sense of male bonding, who sets an example for his sons, and inspires them, will help to inspire the whole country. And no candidate comes close to matching Donald J. Trump in this realm.
Will Trump be able to break the trend of men with sons losing presidential elections? His supporters appreciate his masculinity, but the electorate may be too far gone. Time will tell. Republican turnout rates are up, though, and this could be the year of the pushback for all of what’s happened in recent decades. If anyone can repel the negative cultural tidal wave through his unapologetic real-talk, it’s Trump.
The American electorate has been infantilized and pandered to, and that strategy has worked the last few times around. It appears that people are sick of it, and Trump speaks directly to that message. He even says things like, “We have to be grownups” and “We’re not going to be the stupid country anymore.”
Can a man with no sons, like Ted Cruz, truly set an example for the American people? Will he live up to his strongest nature? He might subconsciously know it will alienate his daughters. It forces a softness in him if he wants to be “liked” by them. Men who know better can avoid this trap, and set an alpha patriarchal example for their children, even if they are all daughters.
Ironically, by Trump being a strong, masculine role-model rather than pandering to his daughters, Ivanka Trump has become both a feminist dream and their worst nightmare. She appears to “have it all,” succeeding at high levels of business while being a beautiful wife and mother. She is proof that this is not a zero-sum game, and having a president who sets a strong enough example for his sons to live up to will also create a climate in which women can thrive. Our presidents have tried to “soften” their tone, possibly out of a subconscious desire to appeal to their daughters, but this is not a successful strategy in heading a household, let alone our entire nation.
There should not be a gender war in our country, and it would not be healthy for anyone. But the scales have been tipped too far in one direction, and by having a masculine president who truly has “skin in the game,” with both sons and daughters of his own, we will once again have a leader who lifts the spirits of and inspires men, and women. It is not a zero-sum game, but men will benefit greatly from a role model-in-chief. Donald Trump will be a role model of strong fatherhood to his sons, and by extension, show American males that it is okay to be proud of being men again. Donald Trump will Make Men Great Again, and once they are, our country’s return to greatness will inevitably follow.