“I’ll break you in half,” Congressman Michael Grimm informed a startled reporter. “Like a boy.”
That addendum seemed redundant. The former Marine and FBI agent appeared capable of the feat; the milksop reporter appeared capable of imitating a wishbone with the application of slight pressure.
The post-State of the Union temper tantrum, over something as petty as a question about alleged campaign finance violations, reveals an anger issue in Congressman Grimm. Our reaction to it reveals something worse in us.
We are weak. There are many males, few men.
So, a former FBI agent and Marine whose presence reminds us of this softness quite naturally provokes our enmity. If you don’t believe that we’re drifting to become a nation of cowards, ask yourself what figure we revile most? It’s the schoolyard bully, a character who all but those suffering from a stunted maturation eventually get over. But America can’t seem to transcend its fixation with Buddy Hinton, the Gooch, Moody, and other imaginary bullies.
Richie Incognito attracts our “two-minutes hate” now; tomorrow some other temporary devil figure will. The ironic hounding that perceived bullies — whether the former Dolphins guard or teenage girls who happened to once tease a classmate who eventually committed suicide — endure from anti-bullying crusaders in the press reminds us of the human capacity to become what we despise.
Kids hate bullies because they make them feel inferior; adults subconsciously love them because they make them feel superior.
Of course, everybody professes to hate bullies. Real bullies offer really emphatic professions of this hate. Like so much bad behavior, anti-bullying bullying wins the blessing of conscience because it’s done with the sense that it rights a wrong. Glorious ends often tolerate terrible means.
We hate bullies not because of what they stand for but because what they reveal about us. We dread physical conflict, ironically the only proven cure against such antagonists. Neither telling the teacher nor a public service announcement stops the browbeater. A hard punch to the face can put an end to the harassment. One needn’t even win the battle, only to show the backbone, to win the war here.
A bully needs a mark. If you refuse to be one, the tormentor will move on — if not from bullying at least from you. The anti-bullying campaign betrays a cognitive dissonance by condemning both bullies and the violence required to free oneself from their grip. The campaign wants not so much to make the world a dangerous place for bullies but to transform it into a paradise for marks. That’s utopian.
We hate bullies for the wrong reasons. It’s not because they pick on their peers or ostracize them. Political correctness, of which the anti-bullying movement appears as a subset, relies almost wholly on these tactics. Rather, it’s because they resort to the thing we hate most — violence — and force us to employ that if we want earn their respect or at least escape their emotional terrorism.
It’s not taboo to hide behind trifling litigation, the anonymity of the internet, or the security of a locked moving vehicle to make the lives of others unpleasant. In passive-aggressive America, it’s taboo to punch back. Tattletale to the principal, call your lawyer, start a support group — just rebel against the part assigned to you by the bully by acting like a man.
The New York Times quotes a source ominously noting that Congressman Grimm “blew his top” at another member of the Fourth Estate. He suggested they settle their differences by “taking it outside.” Surely that’s a more humane way of putting a dispute to rest than a duel, no? The Times and other outlets struggle with the testosterone question. Men produce twenty times more the amount of the chemical than women. But they’re increasingly expected to act like PBS’s Mr. Rodgers and look like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. Representative Grimm doesn’t represent this not-so-brave new male.
A journalist dreads becoming the story. But would it have been the worst thing in the world for any of the various members of the Fourth Estate intimidated by the congressman in their attempt to intimidate him through unfavorable stories to have stood up for themselves?
They’d feel better. The bully would receive his comeuppance. The world would be a better place. But there would be no public crusade to save the world from bullies, and, like so much else, that attempt to satiate the do-gooder impulse remains the point of all of the demonstrative handwringing.