This is What’s Wrong About Us

Let me start by reasserting that there’s a whole lot that’s right about us. The US and its people have done many great things in our short history. But there are also many things wrong with the way some of us behave, and that’s not the only thing wrong about us.

We cripple ourselves with bad attitude. At base it’s an intolerance that has several elements. One is machismo, which is defined as “strong or aggressive masculine pride”. Now, pride is a positive trait, but when it’s combined with arrogance, anger, intolerance, and ignorance, as it often is, it’s nasty. When we toss in a supersize helping of gun worship and false beliefs not much good comes of the mix.

We worship machismo,
violence, and intolerance.

By definition, machismo is a male characteristic. It’s associated with being the manly protector and provider, which are prime characteristics of the Republican mindset that George Lakoff writes about. The husband is it, the central element of the family around which the inferior woman and the children orbit. His word is law, just like God intended it.

Here’s one such, who showed up in his play-soldier suit with multiple weapons (apparently essential fashion accessories in Georgia) either to “protect” Medea Benjamin’s Code Pink women, or provide comic relief for them. Such soldier boys go out to the woods on weekends to pretend war and be macho, something that most of us outgrew by age twelve.

Bozo with guns

There are two terrible things wrong with this idea of the macho family protector and provider. The first is that any threat to the man’s authority and responsibility assumes disproportionate importance. So the market disaster of 2008 devastated men who believed this ethic, because many were suddenly not able to be the sole provider, or even a provider at all. Their authority was lost, and so were they. You can see why men who buy this ethic refuse to help with dinner, housecleaning, or the kids if the woman is the only one working. It’s crushing to their ego to be reduced to a mere woman. Their reactions include alcoholism, depression, domestic violence, divorce, and suicide.

You can also see why such men dislike even the thought of “feminism”. No woman should have expertise or authority, or be smarter, because that’s the man’s role. There is no room for error when your ego depends entirely on filling this role. This, of course, is the other thing wrong: female talents are undervalued and wasted.

Such men cannot tolerate
any threat to their dominance.

Who are our heroes? Well, besides the male-dominated “action” movies and TV shows that consist mostly of fistfights, guns, explosions, car crashes, and other violence, one hint is the annual countdown until football season comes around. Cable TV has found that the demand for the annual spectacle of coliseum battle between teams of armored giants is so great that they will offer coverage nearly 24/7.

From high school on up, football players are not known for their thoughtfulness, tolerance, sensitivity—or brains. There are regular reports of rape, violence, crimes, and shootings involving football players. Violence, after all, is their job.

Violence is the job of the military too, and we worship every instance in which men (mostly) were sent forth to kill other men. Remember when the memorial to the war in Vietnam was built? Veterans groups reacted with rage, because Maya Lin’s proposal did not include rearing horses or macho men in heroic poses. There was no attempt to make the horror of war into something glorious and macho. But many thousands visit it every year to grieve and pay respects, and almost no one visits the rearing horses.

No, machismo is not something we should cultivate. But we do.

Machismo is closely related to intolerance, which manifests itself as racial and cultural intolerance. Racism is bipartisan, but after a period of improvement it was rejuvenated by Ronald Reagan’s dog-whistle racism and fabricated welfare abusers and is now Republican-owned. The election of Obama brought the racists out of the woodwork like crazed roaches in a fire. Many came from places you expect, particularly the Old South and the cowboy West, but it is everywhere in greater or lesser degree.

We hurt ourselves with intolerance.

We make negative assumptions about people who don’t look like us, but almost none of these beliefs hold up under scrutiny. The worst of them, of course, is that black people are responsible for most poverty because they are druggies who have no interest in working and normal family life. This assumption does not weather inspection, and neither do the assumptions—or even the basic facts—about the brown immigrants who have been so important to our country for over 400 of our 238 years. (Yes, that’s correct.)

It’s so obvious that it seems silly to say it, but all of these are just people who want nothing more than to earn a decent living so they can live a pleasant life and provide the best for their children, just like the rest of us. But we don’t think so. If we did, we’d do everything in our power to ensure equality for everyone. Instead, the real welfare of most of us erodes, while the super rich accumulate ever more wealth. Instead, one political party works to increase inequality. Instead, our school systems, on which the future depends, are systematically underfunded in poor neighborhoods, thus ensuring ongoing poverty and all its many sequelae.

Democrats are losing
the intolerance race
by a landslide.

We have also constructed a criminal justice system that allowed the hugely devastating Wall Street criminals to go unpunished (the banks were fined, but no one is serving the long prison sentences they deserve) while millions of minority men are sentenced to decades in for-profit penal institutions for far lesser crimes. Read Alice Goffman’s On the Run to understand how the system works, or more accurately, doesn’t work.

Then there is the political intolerance. Democrats are certainly not immune to this trait, and the anonymous internet sure as hell hasn’t helped, but at the moment Democrats are losing the intolerance race by a landslide. We are daily deluged by the most gross stupidities, hatreds, and falsehoods from Republicans. All gays should be confined inside a fence. All black people should be in jail. Only Christians should be citizens. Science comes from the Devil. All Latinos should be run out of the country…

We will never achieve a perfect world, of course, but it would be rather nice if we could eliminate at least some of the ugliness and injustice at home by improving our personal attitude. This we don’t seem to be doing.

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