What makes a good man?
During a speech at the National Conservatism Conference last month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo), the 41-year-old Yale Law graduate that is considered a prime contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said: "A man is a father. A man is a husband. A man is somebody who takes responsibility."
If Hawley had stopped there, he would have been in good, non-offensive shape, but he did not stop there and, in his push for a "revival of strong and healthy manhood in America," went on to state that, "This is an effort that the left has been at for years now and they have had alarming success...American men are working less, they are getting married in fewer numbers, they're fathering fewer children, they're suffering more anxiety and depression, they're engaging in more substance abuse."
Sen. Hawley was not done, as he blamed the left for defining "traditional masculine virtues like courage, independence and assertiveness as a danger to society; Can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness, and pornography, and video games?"
So, this past year, I have had a chance to read some of Sen. Hawley's thoughts on American history and current affairs and while I strongly disagree with some of his positions on history (he has a tendency to whitewash America's racist past) and current politics (his own role in the January 6th MAGA riots has yet to be fully determined), I recognize that he is a very intelligent man—too bright for the conservative base pleasing sophistry about manhood that he stated above.
First, let's be clear that the majority of the time when conservatives start talking about the "war on values," be it wars on Christianity, Christmas, political correctness, traditional family values, cancel culture, or Critical Race Theory, what they really are griping about is their frustrations with being held accountable for their acts of religious bias, racism, sexism, race and gender oriented violence, and the desire to say anything—at anytime, in the crudest possible manner to anyone who doesn't genuflect at the altar of white male patriarchal supremacy.
To this specific point, I've long since concluded that Hawley and some of his ilk long for a return to the 1950s, a time when white men worked outside of the home; white women stayed home (and were seen but rarely heard when it came to important familial decisions); Blacks "knew their places” as “The Help” and second-class citizens, and Protestantism was considered supreme to Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. To folks of this mind-set, masculinity had distinct looks that were glamourized by Hollywood leading men, be it the Native American fighting John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the speed demon James Dean, or the chain smoking (but silver tongued) Humphrey Bogart.
But most rational people realize that Hollywood is fiction, as each of the aforementioned stars (and countless others) were human beings who fought personal demons with racism, sexism, depression, substance abuse, and every other sociological and psychological construct that you wish to name.
Such is why I believe that Hawley barely scratched the surface on the very serious issues that he raises about defining manhood. For example:
*Was it manly for thousands of mostly white men to storm the Capitol Complex and leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake?
*Is it manly to praise 17-year-old killer Kyle Rittenhouse for shooting three Black Lives Matter protesters, while pillorying an unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a Black boy who was stalked and killed barely a few feet from his father's home by a white Hispanic vigilante, George Zimmerman?
*Is it manly to marry a woman simply because the pair conceived a child, or to stay married in a loveless marriage just because that's what the couples on Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and The Brady Bunch did on the syndicated shows of our youth?
*Is it manly to "suck it up" when life's stressors are beating a man down, like my late father and every ball coach I ever had used to exclaim, or is it manly to seek counseling and/or medical treatment for mental health diseases, including porn addiction?
Again, I find no issue with Sen. Hawley raising this important issue, but I do think that he and other conservatives want to ask the questions—but their biases are so strong that they are ill prepared to discuss or debate the answers that will be divergent depending upon one's personal points of view.
Toxic Masculinity in Court on TV
If you have watched any of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial up in Wisconsin, or the McMichaels/Bryan murder of Ahmaud Arbery trial in Brunswick, Georgia, then you have seen some very explosive moments in both venues.
Whether it is Judge Bruce Schroeder screaming at a prosecutor in open court with a live microphone, or Kevin Gough, one of the defense attorneys for the McMichaels/Bryan clan, saying that he didn't want "high-profile members of the African American community like Rev. Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, or whoever, in the courtroom," you are witnessing some of the worst human behavior in real time—but behavior that is not atypical despite its deplorability.
As to Wisconsin Circuit Judge Schroeder, there have been times in my past when I appeared before (or watched) judges that became similarly unhinged on the bench, talking in nasty tones to counsel or defendants in ways that they would not if they ran into the same at the local deli or shopping mall without their bailiff's protection. Some of these judicial branch men (and women) think that such vile tones make them look strong, when in reality they simply look mean-spirited and weak.
Ditto for counsels in litigation, like Attorney Gough, who will say something in anger about pastors in open court, but would cower in the bathroom or hallway if opposing counsel during a break asked them if they wanted to step outside to get all that anger off their chests. To Judge Tim Walmsley's credit, he shut down Gough's objection and immediately called it a "distraction," which it most certainly was during the proceedings.
Still, there are some who have watched both trials and consider Judge Schroeder and Attorney Gough as "manly men," to which I remind that the mark for a real man, one that we all should aspire to be, is the ability to disagree without being disagreeable and, to remain professional and courteous in tone, especially in professional settings.
Real Men own Mistakes
Many years ago, I worked as a young prosecutor for Second Judicial Circuit State Atorrney William Meggs and while in his employ, I will never forget a comment that he made during an investigation that I assisted him with involving a fight at the local fire department. Meggs, after listening to one of the defense counsels go on and on about why his client did not want to meet with us, said: "if your client was in the right and has nothing to hide, why are you preventing him from sitting with us for a proffer?"
Mr. Meggs's comment popped into my mind last night when I read the following breaking news headline on The Hill: "A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the National Archives from handing over Trump administration records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and agreed to fast-track former President Trump’s request to deny them altogether. A three-judge panel from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction to block the administration records ahead of today’s deadline to produce them. The decision gives the appeals court time to consider Trump’s claims of executive privilege, which he is using in an attempt to keep the records out of the hands of investigators."
Now, cognizant that U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan denied Mr. Trump's dubious claim of executive privilege (dubious because one must be the sitting executive to hold the privilege) thus, affording appellate courts the rights to render a final ruling on the matter, I cannot help but pose the Meggsian question: "If Mr. Trump has nothing to hide, why doesn’t he agree to let the records get turned over to the Congressional investigative committee?"
Well, I already know the answer to my question—there are potentially damaging e-mail and text messaging that could show some level of coordination between the Trump administration and the January 6th MAGA rioters. Ergo, Trump's lawyers will fight the release of those records as hard as they can—for as long as they can—until their appellate rights are exhausted.
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