My Turn: Is it naïve to dedicate this Presidents’ Day to healing?

  • An American flag flies above the White House in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. AP PHOTO/PATRICK SEMANSKY

Published: 1/22/2021 7:05:56 AM

On Feb. 15, Presidents’ Day, Americans must sanitize the presidency. While custodial staff deep cleaned every nook and cranny of the White House before the Bidens moved in, after enduring four years of an authoritarian president injecting poison into the body politic, citizens also have a part to play in cleaning the presidency. I had hoped we could begin by dedicating Presidents’ Day to healing and reconciliation. In light of the violent insurrection at the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6, that is not possible.

Two months ago, a “Presidents’ Day of Healing and Reconciliation” promoting respectful dialogue seemed like a good idea. But that was before white, overwhelmingly male, domestic terrorists incited by Donald Trump, stormed the capitol. My dream had become a nightmare.

Nevertheless, Presidents’ Day Zoom teach-ins are appropriate for students from grade school through university, and among all faith communities, but not to create a more perfect union through discussions of “tolerance” and “deep listening.” We can’t do that until we address the clear and present danger posed by a segment of the white male population perpetrating violence and hate to mask their fear of losing power and privilege in a changing America.

With investigations revealing that the sedition was carried out almost entirely by nationalist white men, why isn’t gender central to our conversation? If we ignore white men’s gross sense of entitlement in this national emergency, we risk never bridging the chasm dividing us.

Among the men (and women) who voted for the vanquished president are a substantial number who say they are terrified witnessing “their” country becoming more diverse, multicultural and — in 25 years — minority white. While absolutely holding them accountable for acts of violence, any future Presidents’ Day of Healing and Reconciliation must acknowledge their fear and at the same time educate them (and ourselves) about white supremacy and white privilege, the twin diseases afflicting our country. That’s why initiatives like the 1619 Project are so urgently needed in our schools.

Jan. 6 was a master class in machismo, brutality, blind rage, bullying, domination, violence. Everything that is wrong with how men have been socialized was on full display during the traitorous men’s rampage. Look at the leadership: the misogynous Proud Boys; the civil war promoting Boogaloo Bois and their Last Sons of Liberty; the ex-military/police Oath Keepers and their allied Three Percenters; and, of course, QAnon fanatics.

Disciplined and organized, they were at the head of the line as rioters vandalized congressional offices, smashed windows (eerily reminiscent of Kristallnacht), and allegedly prepared to kidnap and assassinate elected officials. Undoubtedly among their ranks were the disaffected men who shoot up schools, nightclubs, houses of worship and movie theaters — willing foot soldiers in a white male supremacist army.

For more than a decade, I’ve advocated that the CDC pilot a program at Head Start to cultivate boys’ emotional intelligence and to nurture their innate sense of compassion. I’ve discussed this idea with an aide to Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal. If we want to raise healthy sons and not Proud Boys, we must begin with preschoolers. Congress: introduce a Raising Healthy Boys Initiative in the new session.

While the repulsive display of masculinity we witnessed on Jan. 6 is necessarily getting the headlines, there is another expression of manhood that offers a glimmer of hope. For nearly a half century, a movement has been growing of anti-sexist, anti-racist men who have eschewed the traditional rigid performance of masculinity in favor of a new more vulnerable expression. From promoting involved fathering to challenging domestic and sexual violence, it rejects bullying and authoritarianism and promotes empathy and compassion. It is the face of a new manhood emerging around the world. I’ve been chronicling it in the magazine I edit for a quarter century.

With the super spreader of toxic masculinity in home confinement at Mar-a-Lago, these men’s voices must be central in any dialogue aimed at addressing the treasonous assault on our country.

In 2020, long overdue conversations about race and racism erupted following George Floyd’s murder. This year, in the aftermath of white men pressing their knees into the heart of democracy, we must hold urgent conversations about white male supremacy. They, too, are long overdue.

Rob Okun (rob@voicemalemagazine.org), syndicated by PeaceVoice, writes about culture and politics. He is editor-publisher of Voice Male magazine.

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