One of the problems with bullies is all the people around them who claim to be their “friend” who won’t call them on their bullying. The bully therefore has support, tacit or otherwise, and can then pretend that what they do meets with approval. The victims not only then have to deal with the bully but with the social problem of the bully support network.
When adulthood is reached, something like this continues on in certain arenas, and we’ve just seen another example of it, leaving many people, both victims and victim advocates and people who are just repelled by bullying dismayed and feeling as if their actions to deal effectively with bullies are thankless, sometimes hopeless, causes.
The president pardoned Sheriff Joe.
I’m not using his last name, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, I hope you enjoyed the extended vacation on Mars from which you have just returned. Catch up.
The Toughest Sheriff in America was a bully. You can dress it up any way you like, that’s what he was. And that “toughest” appellation? That’s the kind of cinema-myth crap we need to get over if we’re ever going to deal effectively with the job of building an actual civilization. “Being tough” is one of those things which we claim, as a culture, to admire, but seldom recognize as the excuse for behavior we wouldn’t tolerate in our own neighborhood or from a family member for a minute. It is characterized by a reduction of everyone to an algorithm of Sameness that says “You have no special cause to complain and if you do you’re just trying to get something you don’t deserve.” It then proceeds to mete out stringent behavioral modification as if people were cattle and fear and physical coercion must be applied to keep them “in line.” We claim to admire tough guys. But what really is it we’re admiring?
An inability to listen, an unwillingness to rethink stereotypes, and an assumption that the way you think things should be is based in some kind of moral absolute. It then comes with a ready willingness to beat people up to make them conform to your standards. Because the people you mistreat have no real voice, all the rest of us see is a surface quiet and a false dignity and a jovial facade that says “I’m keeping you safe! Thank me!”
We’re admiring a bully.
Tough is not the same as disciplined. We mistake them all the time. We used phrases like “hard-nosed” “tough-minded” or “no-nonsense” to describe what we assume we’re seeing, but when you go behind the facade and look at what is actually going on we are often appalled.
Sheriff Joe was a repository for all the fears of his constituents who were terrified they would be robbed, raped, or murdered in their beds unless someone was willing to truncheon the faceless hordes of brown people just itching to run riot in their communities. The same people who cut their grass, fixed their roofs, ran their errands, and generally did many of the jobs their young adult to college-aged children think beneath them. The same people who make a great deal of farming possible and keep the prices of produce low. People who, once we see them as people, we would never fear or distrust, at least not most of us, but when lumped into the generic threat that enables the Sheriff Joes to act as they do just frightens us unmanageably. America’s toughest sheriff maintained a prison system little better than a gulag. That the only thing that lost him his job and got him a jail sentence was his vocal refusal to obey a judge is a sad commentary on the fact that his constituents liked what they thought he was doing and didn’t mind being his friend.
When we’re kids it’s hard to parse responsibilities with presumed friendship. The desire to be liked, to be accepted, to be part of some in crowd is so strong that we learn to overlook the obvious in order to keep from being cast out. Consequently we often make “friends” with assholes.
Most of us grow out of that. But the lessons don’t come in neat packages with guidelines, so from time to time we find ourselves doing it again as adults.
The president pardoned his asshole friend.
If you think that makes the president your friend, what does that say about you?