The age of The Waltons is gone, gone, gone. John-Boy's had the crap kicked out of him, been held up by his ankles and had all his lunch money dumped out. TV screens are crawling with grim cops, steely interrogators and glitzy, state fair-level talent/weight loss competitions. Popular music is dominated by angry, tattooed, fist-pumping, crotch-thrusting teens. And the character of a nation corresponds directly to its popular heroes, its personality gauged like that of an inmate under psychiatric observation. Given this admittedly simplistic theory, there can be only one conclusion as to what values America now embodies and what form our national spokesperson takes: a snot-nosed yuppie with a big freakin' chip on his shoulder. Forget the "aw, shucks ma'am, it was nothing" archetype. He is now a boisterous, text-messaging fathead in a sports bar, his rosacea flaring at any mention of the word "turban". And though he is not without experience and has ambition galore, his open-up-a-can-of-whup-ass temperament trumps any wisdom and humility he might have picked up along the way to where he is now.
Winning At Any Cost has become the staple diet, replacing good ol' honesty and fair play. It has become the primary goal in American life. It's on all the brochures and in the instruction manual. It's made Jesus into a jock and Joe McCarthy into a martyr. It's made humility humiliating and turned the global community into a big, scary Them. And how does the world regard us, who were once greeted by grateful and war-weary Europeans with an admiring "Hi, Joe!"? As arrogant, petulant, strong-arming, sabre rattling, pissed-off ogres who clearly have had enough of the nancy-boys' mewling. Peace is for pussies. America™'s Bush and Cheney's ham-fisted and ham-headed leadership has the country in a headlock and there is no choice but for the body to flop around helplessly wherever the head's being dragged. This smarmy, two-headed tyrant and all he embraces has made America appear as a strutting behemoth who stomps where it was supposed to tread with care.
Virtually every incident the media reports is permeated with bilious rhetoric that would have had a pre-repentant Lee Atwater twanging out a sneering victory dance on his Telecaster, the kind of stories that subtly promote the triumph of the musclebound over the meek while making it seem like that's the god given right of a modern democracy. The Right's political theatrics have even gone so far as to promote their cadre of perspective presidents by bestowing upon them the classic traits of stereotypical strongmen: the heroically monikered Mitt Romney's square jaw and graying temples, as if conceived by Stan Lee instead of Brigham Young; the scarred warrior John McCain's well documented refusal to fold under torture and his nervously admired temper positively cause conservatives to swoon and willingly drown in their own lubrication. Throw these guys up against the dweeby, cerebral but passionate Dennis Kucinich---the poster boy for egghead outrage---or the dripping-with-charisma-but-tragically-pencil-necked Barak Obama and you might as well air it on ESPN as "Bully-Palooza '08".
You have to think that so many bullies means so many bullied and this is so. That's balance. But despite bloody, historical episodes of colossal hubris, bullies get their comeuppance eventually. That's balance, too. If not, the snake eating its own tail would have consumed itself long ago. Because as everyone knows who's ever been pushed into a hedge, slammed into a locker or had his or her patriotism questioned, inside every bully is a self-loathing coward. No wonder no one wants to play with us.