Republican Men Are Toadies
You can’t call yourself an alpha male and be a suck-up at the same time
I know conversations about gender norms can be tedious but if some people insist on living by them I feel like it’s fair to call them out when they fail to live up to their own standards. If you are a man who thinks men should be strong and silent, for instance, don’t whine. I don’t normally accept binaries of any sort because the world is wonderfully complex.
But you cannot be an alpha male and a toady. It is impossible to be a rugged individual and a shameless suck-up at the same time. That is, of course, unless you’re a modern-day Republican man. If that is the case, then, I guess lick the boots of power like they’re made out of chocolate.
I mean, why fight a bully when you can scurry behind him, laughing at his jokes and telling him he’s big and strong, right? To act like a Republican man, in this day and age, one must slither before a boss and beg to be trodden upon. It’s as if, as children, these men proudly told their fathers they wanted to be hand-wringing yes-men when they grew up.
I have spent my whole life being told by Republicans that real men don’t compromise their values. There were times I wanted to believe them. It turns out that was always a lie: the moment they were offered power without responsibility their values went down the garbage disposal.
This hypocrisy came into focus for me this past week. I spent Thanksgiving with my mother in Texas which means I watched a lot of cable news while she stewed frijoles de la olla. One of the upsides of being part Mexican-American is that beans are cooked in your honor. It didn’t matter which network I watched because the only story seemed to be Republican men either defending or flattering the President of the United States, a man who can lie twice in one sentence. Toadies, every last one of them.
One of those men, outgoing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, told Fox News that he met with the President and told him he was ‘the chosen one.’ That god was using him the way he used the kings of the Old Testament. I can’t stand performative Christians who pretend the New Testament is just the Old Testament 2. Nevertheless, it was shocking to watch a grown man brag about kissing up to a man who will take a photo with you then deny ever having met you if it suits his ends.
Even the Republican defense of the President during the recent impeachment hearings amounted to conservative men like California Congressman Devin Nunes or Ohio’s Jim Jordan sputtering and sweating and try to run down the clock by asking credible witnesses questions that sounded like answers. They may as well have just turned to the CSPAN cameras and blown kisses to the president.
If you turned down the volume, they looked like hostages reading their own ransom letters. Here were conservative men whose reputations were built on grand speeches about honesty and hard work and family values desperately fight the truth to protect a deceitful, lazy, philandering old man.
These are men who swore to uphold immortal ideas: that all are created equal. That power is shared. No man is king. But these ideas have been replaced with naked ambition as if the Bill of Rights was just a list of suggestions. It’s the rule of tooth and claw now, not the rule of law.
There was a time, not very long ago when Republican men prided themselves on standing up for their principles but that’s not the case anymore. They talk a lot about masculinity — huffing and puffing about who is manly and who isn’t and that sort of thing — but it’s all talk. Podcast filler. These days conservative men are more interested in standing on their knees.
I then turned the channel to another channel and watched a video of a veteran confronting conservative South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. He says, to Graham’s face: “I’m a Marine, I went to Iraq, and I believe, as I believe that you do, that President Trump is not acting in accordance to his oath, the oath that you took and I did to defend the constitution.”
“Yeah, I did, I don’t agree with you, and I gotta go,’ replied Graham, who then scampered into his office. One of the talking heads asked, “What happened to Lindsay Graham?” I, mean, he became a toady is what happened. When he’s not running away from citizens Graham is threatening to investigate his old friend, Joe Biden, who he has publicly accused of a debunked conspiracy theory designed to confuse the public and protect the President of the United States.
Republican men rant about nepotism but dutifully salute the Commander-in-Chief’s children as if they were, also, Commanders-in-Chief. Republican men oppose corruption unless we’re talking about using U.S. tax dollars to prop up the president’s various tacky hospitality businesses. A toady knows right from wrong; they just don’t want anyone to know they know the difference.
The GOP is facing demographic oblivion — their angry white base is aging quickly and not growing — so I get their impulse to close ranks. But, my god, the groveling. It’s as if these Republicans have taken a secret oath to uphold and defend the President from the other two branches of the U.S. government. I don’t think there’s ever been a generation of American men so eager to roll over and show their bellies for a few votes.
The human brain can only take so much bullshit so I put on a movie. My mother’s movie collection is large and eclectic — -towers of DVDs found at thrift stores all across Austin. Dreamgirls, The Great Escape, Legally Blonde. Lawrence of Arabia and Mary Poppins. Then there are the movies that are family favorites: The Terminator, In The Heat Of The Night, and A Christmas Story.
So I put on A Christmas Story, which was a flop when it came out in 1984. Since then, the nostalgic comedy about a boy and his toy gun has become a classic. Every holiday season it plays on an endless loop on cable TV. I figured I’d get a jump on the onslaught.
I don’t normally like Christmas movies. And, no, Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a movie about an emotionally unavailable husband who finds a way to get back with his long-suffering wife. But I was feeling sentimental. ’Tis the season, I guess.
I hadn’t watched that movie in years. I watched it so much growing up it’s basically a repressed memory. In my family, ‘you’ll poke your eye out’ is synonymous with ‘Merry Christmas.’ That quote, of course, is what A Christmas Story’s deadpan hero, Ralphie, is told whenever he asks for his heart’s desire, an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock. He gets what he wants and you know the old adage about being careful what you ask for.
The movie has some problematic moments, most notably a patently racist scene in a Chinese Restaurant. But the scene where stressed-out shopping store employees dressed as elves drag sobbing children to meet an impatient Santa Claus is still hilarious.
The movie spoke to my dad’s generation — Depression-era kids who were happy to eat red cabbage for dinner every night. His Christmases were modest but magical, nonetheless. He really loved A Christmas Story because it built a cultural bridge between his childhood and mine. All little boys make heartfelt wishes, no matter the time or the place. All little boys also face the same struggles.
There are a pair of bullies in A Christmas Story: Scott Farkus, a boy with yellow eyes, and Grover Dill, his toady. In Ralphie’s words: “In our world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless rabble of victims.”
I learned the word ‘toady’ from this movie and, as a result, I learned there are few lifeforms in society more loathsome than sniveling suck-ups. A toady compliments the cruel and praises the vain. They have the courage of other people’s muscles. A toady kicks you when your down. If you have a toady watch your back.
There’s a scene in the movie when Ralphie beats Scott bloody. Ralphie is pushed too far. A snowball to the face. His rage terrifies both bully and toady. He curses and sobs as he punches, his mittens attached to his sleeves. Meanwhile, Grover runs away in terror, threatening to tell his dad. That’s a toady for you.
My mom always liked that scene. I have no idea how parents are told to deal with bullies today but my mom told me to kick them in the balls and run. “You fight bullies,” she would tell me. “You stand up for yourself.” Behind her, smoking a cigar, my dad would agree. She had grown up in a tough neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, and while she knew I was a sensitive boy, she wanted me to be tough like a woman.