Christie reveals a dark side of our society — a public enchanted by his tough guy antics and the press who encourages his sadism.
If the media had even a trace of independence, the instant Chris Christie declared like a dainty blossom trampled roughly, “I am not a bully,” the throng of reporters would have screamed, “Liar” in a single voice and hurled their cameras, pens, notepads, recorders, iPhones and shoes at him, burying his political career.
Then they would have exited the farce and switched to the tape for those at home, showing not the highlight reel of bullying moments compiled by his own staff to promote the Governor Smackdown brand, but the warm-up at a Jersey town-hall meeting in 2010 where he announced to the audience, with the salivating glee of a hound dog cornering a lame rabbit, that a bullying moment “could happen right here, ladies and gentlemen! … Get ready! If you have your own cameras, start rolling!”
No, Christie would vanish without the browbeating and thuggery that are as indelibly linked to his tenure as the Shore is to Jersey. The real question is not why the press is so sycophantic. It’s why does the public revere a bully as savior? Why do we no longer pine for the knight-in-shining-armor, itself a fairytale version of democracy, but the leather-masked Quasimodo executing justice with cracking bones and spurting blood, or in Christie’s case, cracking insults and spurting bile at those swept up in his spectacle of torment?
It’s because these days Americans have as much familiarity with democracy as they do with homesteading on the frontier. We like to imagine ourselves as pioneering statesmen, hewing a sturdy nation from the simple tools democracy has bequeathed us — messaging, voting, debates, elections, law-making — but we are lost in the wilderness when it comes to discovering the essence of democracy.
Democracy is not the same as the perpetual-motion electoral machine. It’s both a means and end built on dialogue, respect, relationships and reason, and it’s everything Christie pummels into submission. But don’t blame the public for this sorry state of affairs. Our lives are bereft of democracy. Virtually all schools are authoritarian, as are churches. Families teeter between parental authority and youthful insubordination. Few believe consumerism is democratic (but our democracy is consumeristic). Say “workplace democracy” to anyone at the office and blank stares is the best reaction you can hope for.
Few people know how to engage in democratic discussion and dialogue. I’ve heard the same story from food-justice organizers in Brooklyn, anti-fracking activists in Ohio, warehouse workers in Chicago, and home-foreclosure defenders in Oakland. It’s back to basics. Organizing now means first building community through socializing such as potlucks, block parties and softball games, and teaching people how to collectively listen to and discuss ideas with mutual respect.
We’re at ground zero when it comes to democracy. We feel powerless to stop oil companies from frying the planet, nuke plants radiating countries, stripping oceans of life and dumping them full of garbage, and are unable to help the homeless lying beside foreclosed housing, the sick dying in the shadow of world-class hospitals, and unemployed millions desperate for jobs, even shit ones. With government hijacked by the wealthy, it’s easier to hope an iron-fisted leader can wipe the slate clean. One who scapegoats teachers as the cause of high taxes and low-achieving children, and enjoys humiliating them publicly.
The harsh reality of Christie is not his vile political persona, but the public enchanted by his bullying and the press who encourages his sadism by casting him as “a tough-talking, problem-solving pragmatist.” Christie may have muscled Democratic politicians into supporting his re-election bid last fall, but he won strong backing from Democratic voters, allowing him to pursue policies attacking the poor and public education, and coddling the wealthy and corporations.
Christie taps into something dark in the American political soul — a desire not just for order or efficiency, but pleasure in humiliating the weak. Is it surprising women are a frequent target of his abuse, who are pathologized in our society as weak?
Like every bully, Christie crossed the line, or a bridge in his instance. The silver lining is his presidential ambitions may drown in the brewing scandal so the whole nation doesn’t have to suffer him degrading women with blow-job jokes. But others like Christie will follow in his wake until we realize our society does not suffer from a lack of authoritarian bullies but a deficit of grassroots democracy.
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