The Angry American Male
My mother, who lives in Miami, was telling me how friends of hers now say long goodbyes to family members when they go out shopping. They simply don’t know if they will be gunned down at Walmart.
America is fast becoming one of the most dangerous nations on earth. Take your pick. Any one of the following can get you shot and killed. Going to school. Visiting a nightclub. Buying Skittles. Walking through a shopping mall. Driving down the highway. Praying at synagogue or church.
The debate that is ensuing in the wake of the massacres in El Paso and Dayton is whether, according to the Republicans, violent video games and mental health are to blame, or, according to the Democrats, America’s lax gun laws and military-style assault weapons.
What no one seems focused on is American rage. Why are so many Americans, mostly men, so filled with anger? What level of insane rage is leading them to such violent crime? Nearly all these shootings are being perpetrated by men.
The American male is fast becoming broken and enraged. He’s at fever pitch. Not all, of course, are shooters. But in his brokenness, even the much healthier men are compromising their marriages and crippling their children. Immersed in a culture that is obsessed with success through competition and defines success as the possession of things, the American male is trained to forever feel like a failure. Rather than peering inside himself to discover his own unique gifts, he is looking ahead to see who has surpassed him, and behind to see who is catching up.
Look at the horrific spectacle of Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself last Saturday morning. From the outside he appeared the quintessential American success story. His own private plane. His own private townhouse. His own private island. Only once you peered beneath the hood did you find the horrors of women being treated as part of his possessions, with all the abuse that entailed.
The modern American male is caught in the grip of an increasingly material culture that does not value his heart but his hands, not his convictions but his earning power, not his capacity to love but his capacity to produce.
Many a man is a muddle of broken dreams. He lives in a society resembling not a circle, in which all are treated more or less as equals, but a triangle, in which only a very few are perched at the top and the overwhelming majority are made to feel that they are various stations of the bottom.
The American male is painfully aware that the recognition and respect of his peers will not come from helping his kids do homework or remaining faithful to his wife. All around him, the culture glorifies men who have built businesses even as they have abandoned spouses for younger models, quite literally. Treating his co-workers with dignity won’t help him on to the Forbes 400 list. Reading his children a bedtime story won’t get him an invitation to the White House or the Halls of Congress. Rather, money brings prestige and power brings respect.
Since he has little of each, the angry American male looks at himself as the inferior of men who may be far less moral. His children do not make him feel heroic and his wife struggles but fails to massage his macerated ego. Studies show that the number one reason men have affairs is ego, not sex. They want to feel desirable. But why can’t their wives make them feel that way? Simple. The man who sees himself as a big zero looks at the woman dumb enough to marry him as an even bigger loser than he is.
In his distress and feelings of failure, he turns to various forms of escape, designed to either make him feel better about himself or numb his pain. Becoming a sports fanatic allows him to live vicariously through his favorite team. By becoming a workaholic he convinces himself that one more hour at the office will make him a success. The attentions of other women make him feel special. Alcohol numbs his heart even as it poisons his soul. And pornography, which is becoming an addiction for so many American men, allows him to experience a similar numbness, the non-feeling of emotionlessness, which is the real reason that so many men masturbate, for the deadness that follows orgasm. He wishes not to feel because when he does feel, all he feels is pain.
He comes home a shell of a man, a defeated creature whose modest surroundings reinforce the feeling of failure. Because he doesn’t love himself, he cannot fully love his wife. His marriage is reduced to a series of meaningless and monotonous gestures, coldly functional, bereft of warmth or intimacy. The compliments his wife offers him bounce off. Since he doesn’t believe in himself, he treats her comfort as patronizing. Later he will complain that his wife does not lift him up when he is down, even as he has pushed her away on countless occasions when she has sought to offer comfort. He wants sex with his wife, not because he loves sex, but because it relieves him of tension and helps him fall asleep. And in his lifelessness he further alienates the wife who feels used and discarded.
Bereft of inspiration, he fails to inspire his children. He does not parent them so much as admonish them. So they are reduced to searching for substitute heroes, from sports figures to celebrities to rock stars. The company of their friends soon becomes far more satisfying than that of their father, further compounding his feelings of isolation and bitterness.
And some men become overwhelmed with the anger until it becomes rage. Why are they failures? Because immigrants stole their jobs. Why aren’t they employed? Because of a boss who abused them and co-workers who disrespected them.
The rage is funneling down all the way down to our children who both bully and get bullied at school. Some come back with guns in order to even the score.
My God, my God! What will we do with all this rage?
And the tragedy of it all is that the vast majority of American men who don’t own the multi-million dollar penthouse or have the corner office are still heroes. They work their guts out to feed their children. They do their best to be romantic and make their wives feel beautiful. They give their hard-earned money to complete strangers in charitable gifts. So if they’re heroes, why don’t they see it? Because real fake news of our time is the fact the media only elevates men of wealth, position, and power, making the rest of us feel invisible.
These are the consequences of the current epidemic of soullessness in America, an epidemic so widespread that the greatest heroes of all — American soldiers who risk life and limb in foreign wars — have one of the highest rates of depression, suicide, and spousal abuse. It is said that this is because of the horrors of war, and no doubt PTSD plays a significant role. But another reason is that we pay only lip service to them as heroes. They come home after long deployments to small houses, piles of bills, and a culture that quickly forgets them while worshiping the man who can throw a ball through a hoop or run a hedge fund.
America must begin to address the pandemic of anger that is now becoming so violent. We have to fix our broken men and address the soullessness that leads too many to nurse imaginary grievances and a feeling of disconnectedness from one’s fellow. We have to stop treating money as a commodity with which we purchase self-esteem. And we have to start respecting women and the nurturers in our midst so that we create a society which is softer, gentler, and more loving.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the author of The Broken American Male. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.