Angry White Boys

Brett Kavanaugh and Lindsay Graham are angry about the same thing: a woman has challenged their entitlement.

I love being a music teacher. It's physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging--by the time I leave school, my Apple watch tells me I've completed all my exercise goals for the day, and at the end of my commute, I frequently take a nap in the driveway before leaving my car--but it's the best work I've ever done, and it saddens me to imagine not doing it when I retire in a few years.

The previous paragraph is actually a slight exaggeration: I'm rounding up from 96%. That's the percentage of children I typically see who, despite their many problems--and this includes homesick kindergartners crying for mommy, emotionally disabled kids hitting each other (or me!), hyper kids that literally can't stop wiggling, impulsive kids who can't keep themselves from touching and playing instruments without permission, anxious kids who hide in the corner, obsessive-compulsive kids who can't adjust to small changes in the classroom, and all the other quirks and challenges that keep teaching from being routine--still come into my classroom to learn about and make some music. We have a lovely time, even with, and sometimes because of, the challenges these children face. And yes, seriously, that's 96% of my job. I could go on teaching these children for the rest of my life, until they have to roll me out of the music room on a gurney. 

The other 4% make me want to retire now.

These children exhibit a behavior pattern I'm coming to refer to as "early onset bro culture." For purposes of this essay, I define "bro" as an entitled white male who, in the company of other entitled white males, becomes aggressive and obsessively competitive. In prepubescent boys, this personality mostly manifests itself on the playing field. By themselves, these boys can be polite, respectful, and focused on schoolwork. In the presence of their friends, their voices become loud, their play becomes violent, and they act abusively toward children outside their clique and even those within it. If they haven't hit puberty yet, they're meanest to girls and other boys who are friendly with girls, teasing them mercilessly. Once puberty clicks in, this trait transforms to boasting of their sexual prowess, as the same girls who were objects of derision before now become potential conquests. Once they're big enough, and powerful enough, some of them will begin sexually forcing themselves on girls so they can boast about it to their buddies the next day. They'll take the same approach to alcohol, bragging about how many beers they were able to guzzle before they blacked out.

In school, pre-puberty, these boys make a game of disruption. They come in hot and loud, and there are few consequences they fear, nor rewards for good behavior that can compare to the endorphin rush of making your buddies laugh by being rude to the teacher. At times they can make it impossible to teach, forcing me to send them to another room for discipline. That creates a dilemma for public educators who believe in teaching every child: with these boys in the room, no child is learning. 

The good news for me and my colleagues is that we work together on solutions to these problems, knowing that, if we can nip this culture in the bud now, there's a chance these children may not grow up to become Brett Kavanaugh.

Yes, that Brett Kavanaugh: the white man who believes he's entitled to a Supreme Court appointment, who angrily lectured the Senate committee that had delayed his rushed approval a few days to hear from a woman he may have sexually assaulted at a drunken teenager, and who has denied, under penalty of perjury, that it ever happened, but is incensed that his forceful denials aren't enough to get him passed through to the highest court in the land.

Reading about the privileged white bro lifestyle Brett Kavanaugh enjoyed as a teenager and young adult--binge drinking with fellow prepsters, unsupervised beach weeks that were all about heavy drinking and molesting girls, blackout benders that turned him into an aggressive jerk who can believably claim the next day not to remember what he did while intoxicated, and most of all, the toxic competitive bro-ness of it all--and I see the future of these boys should our efforts to rein in their aggression prove futile.

I did not watch Thursday's judiciary committee hearing: the morning in which a professor of psychology patiently and movingly explained her certainty that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when she was fifteen, leaving permanent emotional scars and, when she managed to escape into a locked bathroom, laughing with his co-intended-rapist at her dismay over what they had attempted as the two of them stumbled down the stairs, finally clearing the way for her to flee the house; nor the afternoon session, during which Kavanaugh came in hot and loud, roaring out his anger at being held accountable for something he insists he didn't do when he was seventeen. I didn't watch because I was teaching. I did, however, hear excerpts from both parts of the event, again and again, on the political podcasts I usually enjoy commuting and exercising to.

Contrasting the contrast between Christine Blasey Ford's respectful eloquence and Brett Kavanaugh's entitled tantrum made me wonder why that wasn't simply the end of it. If it were up to me--if I were a senator on that committee--I'd be urging Dr. Ford to get a law degree so I could vote to put her on the Supreme Court. Then I'd tell Blusterin' Brett to shut his entitled trap and never darken my committee's door again. How dare he come at this committee so disrespectfully, view this powerful position with such entitlement, and insist with such certainty that none of this ever happened? The calendar he presented as proof of it was riddled with events that looked exactly like what Dr. Ford described. His yearbook is packed with references to binge drinking and jokes about sexual conquests. If he seriously doesn't understand that any of those euphemisms are about drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning, slut-shaming girls who say "no" strongly enough to be left alone, and forcing himself on girls intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness, then he's far too out of touch to be a traffic court judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice. If, on the other hand, he is knowingly playing dumb, committing perjury to protect his nomination, and genuinely embraces the extreme partisanship he demonstrated during that opening tirade, then he needs to lose the job he's already got, on the powerful DC circuit court. He's unfit to judge.

Of course, he was nominated for this job, and counseled to testify this way, by the most unfit president in the history of the republic, a man whose own toxic masculinity is the very thing that keeps his core voters loyal. And those core voters--angry older white men, fearful of losing their unearned privileges to women and persons of color--are a significant enough portion of the Republican electorate that, without them, there won't be a Republican majority in any house, whether it's the Capitol or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That's why a testimony that should have disqualified Kavanaugh from the nomination did just the opposite, saving it and, but for an eleventh-hour bout of conscience on the part of Jeff Flake, a retiring senator who need have no fear of losing voters. Flake voted to send the nomination on to the Senate, but added the caveat that he would only vote for Kavanaugh in the larger assembly if there was, first, an FBI investigation into Dr. Ford's charges.

That investigation is now underway, severely curtailed by a White House that knows how tenuous its grasp on this Supreme Court seat has become. I have my fingers crossed in hopes that, even if Dr. Ford's testimony can't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, there will be enough evidence that Kavanaugh has perjured himself to lead Flake and a few other Republicans to withdraw their support for the nomination.

I'm not just hoping for that outcome because I fear a court dominated by extreme partisan conservatives and the damage it can do to civil rights, labor rights, environmental laws, and so much more that is essential to perfecting our democracy. I hope for it because toxic white male entitlement is killing us. It's closing our borders, empowering our cops to brutalize persons of color, hastening climate change, beating down women, shoving gay people back in the closet, infuriating our allies, endangering our world with its mindless quest for ever greater profits, no matter what the cost; and it's been able to do this because century after century, these men have gotten away with it. There have been no consequences for their violence, only rewards.

I know both my senators will vote against the nomination. That may not be the same for you who read this, though, and so I'm appealing to you to contact your senators with this message: whether or not he committed a drunken sexual assault when he was seventeen, his behavior on Thursday, September 27, disqualifies Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. We need respectful, reasonable, intelligent, humble individuals on the court who will consider every case based on its merits. Brett Kavanaugh demonstrated in his tirade that he is none of these things. Please don't reward behavior like that, or it will continue to proliferate, dragging this country even deeper into an aggressive, exploitative abyss.


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