Ladies and gentleman, here is your United States Senate, then and now:
Sen. Daniel Webster on March 7, 1850: “It is fortunate that there is a Senate of the United States (with) a just sense of its own dignity, and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the country looks with confidence for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels.”
Sen. Markwayne Mullin on Nov. 14, 2023: “I’m not afraid of biting. I will bite. I’ll bite 100 percent. In a fight, I’m gonna bite. I’ll do anything. I’m not above it. And I don’t care where I’ll bite by the way.”
Scientists have long told us that we humans evolved from apes. Maybe now we’re going backward.
This week, the “honorable” Mr. Mullin – a meathead Oklahoma Republican with a martial-arts body who now inhabits what was once known as The World’s Most Deliberative Body – put on quite a show.
At a Senate hearing Mullin got mad at witness Sean O’Brien, president of the Teamsters union, because O’Brien had hurt his feelings in a string of mean tweets. O’Brien had challenged him to a confrontation “Anyplace, Anytime.” Senators since time immemorial had long ignored such silly taunts and conducted themselves in a manner appropriate to their high station in public life, but hey, was a manly man of real manhood supposed to just let a taunt like that go unanswered? Of course not!
“Sir,” he sneered at O’Brien, “this is a time, this is a place. We can do it right here…Stand your butt up then,” whereupon he rose from his seat and started to twist off his wedding ring to maximize his punching power because I guess what real men do in bars down near the tractor pull. Then came this classic admonishment from the committee’s chairman, Bernie Sanders: “Oh stop it! Sit down, you’re a United States senator!”
Mullin is just the latest manifestation of kickass machismo inspired by faux manly man Donald Trump, who set the tone in 2016 when he said this about a protestor at one of his rage rallies: “You’re not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher.”
Mullin subsequently doubled down on a podcast with those aforementioned remarks about fighting-biting, and then he went on right-wing Newsmax: “This is not anything new,” because “Andrew Jackson had nine duels while he was president and finished all nine of ’em.”
That is absolute nonsense. Jackson dueled a lot in his younger days, but never as president. And I question whether it’s wise to justify one’s behavior by invoking a genocidal slaveowner who liked to duel more than 220 years ago.
Anyway, Mullin’s self-advertised lust for fisticuffs – and, on the same day, ex-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s playground move, elbowing a Republican rival in the kidney – has prompted me to ponder why guys like that seem so compelled to assert their (toxic) masculinity. Forgive me if this sounds like dime-store psychology, but it would appear that deep down they feel threatened by our 21st century culture (gender equity, empowered sexual minorities, and much more), all of which have stoked their resentments and fears of appearing “soft” and “weak.”
Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, talks about stuff like this. So do macho motivational gurus like Joe Rogan and Andrew Tate. The latter, in particular, wants guys to step up and double down. If this strikes you as kind of sad, rest assured you’re not alone. Sean Illing, a commentator on the Vox website and former philosophy academic, has written: “It’s the weak person’s vision of a strong person. It’s the 19-year-old Nietzsche reader who didn’t make it past the preface.”
The local news folks in Mullin’s Oklahoma don’t seem impressed, either. They put him on the air and posed this question: “Senator, we tell our kids so often, ‘Do not resort to violence.’ You challenged someone you disagreed with to a fight. How do you justify that?” Well, Mullin sure put those snowflakes in their place: “Fights happen. Boys are boys.”
I’ll side with Bernie Sanders on this one. When Mullin rose up, ready to rumble, Bernie exclaimed, “God knows, the American people have enough contempt for Congress, let’s not make it worse!” But this is what happens when MAGA meatheads confuse muscle with governance.