Toughness. It’s about standing back up more times than you’ve been knocked down. It’s about facing down the odds stacked against you. It’s about withstanding pain and suffering for a greater good. It’s a theme at the core of these United States. In our myths toughness is John Wayne and Rocky and Ford trucks. We love it in our myths, but in reality, toughness is Fred Hampton, Fanny Lou Hamer and the Poor People’s Campaign. America hates toughness in reality.
We used to all agree on the basic idea that toughness itself was a particular mix of strength and resilience. Even if you hated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.at the time, his continuous risings up from brutal public beatings displayed a toughness that you couldn’t deny. Say whatever you want, do whatever you want; he would never be made to cower. If you hated him, you hated him for the obvious reasons, but you were outraged by his toughness.
Having a common understanding of toughness is important because it means we also have a common understanding of pain and suffering. This is especially important now as white liberals are beginning to understand how consistently conservatives refuse to go along with reality. Like, at least twice a day I see a post about how aggravating it is that “they don’t even believe in science!” As if that kind of thinking is new.
But a common understanding of pain and suffering has always been there. The same pain and suffering was intended with the words said against both MLK and Colin Kaepernick for their protests, though they were decades apart. Chants of “white power!” soon followed chants of “Black power!” just the same as chants of “all lives matter!” soon followed chants of “Black lives matter!” all for the sake of continuing the pain and suffering. But like I said, we used to all agree.
It’s perfectly reasonable to put a quick-draw, steel-jaw, damsel-saving cowboy with a slow-win, steel-chin, redemption-seeking boxer under the umbrella of toughness. But what if I told you that under that umbrella I was also going to put a silver-spooned, lying whiner? All things being equal, you’d probably tell me that I didn’t quite understand the purpose of umbrellas.
But all things aren’t equal. From the first moment he toyed with running for president in 2011 until right now, republicans’ favorite thing about the Commandorange in Chief has always been his toughness. Or should I say, “toughness” as in “hair?”
Now, look. Before I get too far here, no, this isn’t about what a liar the president is. If you haven’t figured out who he is by now, then you need to find Jesus. Also, this isn’t about what hypocrites the republicans are. If evangelical support of the president hasn’t shown you that by now, you ought to take them with you on your search.
And no, it’s not about how divided our nation has become—not how we currently frame that idea, anyway. When it comes down to it, there’s really only one truly divided group: white men. Black people aren’t divided over whether or not#BlackLivesMatter. Women aren’t divided over #MeToo. People without equal rights aren’t divided over whether or not they want equal rights. It’s only the people they want to be equal to who aren’t quite so sure. And right now, those people don’t even agree on the definition of toughness. This means they also don’t agree on the meanings of pain or suffering, either.
They probably never did, but like the rest of these divisions, it’s only become clear recently. Some white men define toughness the same across all social lines, but some define it as cruelty toward others. We’ve been seeing this for a while here in Maine under our soon-to-be ex-governor Paul LePage.
LePage’s exploitations are widely known. His actions have also hurt women and children while simultaneously helping along the opioid epidemic, and that’s just with one set of vetoes on a Wednesday in April. The arguments LePage gives to support his decisions probably sound very tough to his supporters, but man oh man are they just objectively the straight up whinings of a shitty kid. If you’ve ever heard his voice, then you know the tone I’m talking about. If you haven’t, please don’t.
But some do believe him to be tough. They feel the same about the “president” and in that belief, these fools have thrown away the very last bit of their national identities. Because inside toughness is stoicism and sacrifice and nobility and modesty—but now, no more. How can you respect the sacrifice and nobility, the toughness of a Purple Heart recipient if whining and bone spurs are also included in the definition?
The truth is that even toughness, the very core of American Exceptionalism itself, was just another and perhaps the last remaining veil of white supremacy in the American Myth. John Wayne, Rocky and Ford did their best, but it’s all out in the open now and everyone can see their (white) national(ist) identities for what they are.
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