The concept of “petro-masculinity” was on full display Wednesday as Trump supporters and extremists like the Proud Boys haphazardly parked vehicles on the National Mall before breaking into the Capitol, causing an evacuation. The astounding images depict a collective act that is simultaneously wholly un-American and yet completely in line with the psychology of this country as it relates to car ownership, personal freedom, and tendencies toward authoritarianism.
Petro-masculinity has lingered as a concept for years (think of the discourse around the “rolling coal” phenomenon), but it was codified in a 2018 paper by political scientist Cara Daggett called “Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire.” In it, Daggett explains how “[a]ppreciating the historic relationship between fossil fuels and white patriarchal rule is helpful in terms of understanding the authoritarian desires and anxieties aroused by the Anthropocene.”
“Petro-masculinity draws upon aspects of a traditionally hegemonic masculinity, but at the same time, its appearance in the American far-right today is better understood as a kind of hypermasculinity, which is a more ‘reactionary stance,’” Daggett writes. “It arises when agents of hegemonic masculinity feel threatened or undermined, thereby needing to inflate, exaggerate, or otherwise distort their traditional masculinity.”
Daggett’s paper is hard to shake when viewing the images taken Wednesday of the Jeeps, Broncos, Hummers, oversized SUVs, and other vehicles that were abandoned on the National Mall lawn by Trump supporters looking to disrupt the confirmation of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Petro-masculinity has manifested many ways during the Trump presidency, like when his supporters participated in “highway rallies” and boat parades. But it has also often turned violent, like when Trump supporters tried to run a Biden campaign bus off the road, or how people keep driving vehicles into crowds of protesters.
Wednesday’s display, however, feels like petro-masculinity taken to an entirely different level since the end goal of those who trampled the mall with their vehicles was to subvert democracy. Their behavior was so brazen that even Donald Trump Jr. spoke out in protest.
The scariest part about what happened on Wednesday is that more than one lawmaker is trying to further bolster the ability of Americans to wield their vehicles however they see fit. Proposals have been raised in both Missouri and Florida to make it legal to drive into protesters, in what could be seen as a celebration of sorts of petro-masculinity over the fundamental American rights of free speech and assembly.