Asshole Culture has carved out a very clear, unsavory role in American film, literature and life. Entitled, wealthy bros who take what they want, treat everyone around them like shit and then rise to positions of power is a common trope in our mass culture. And, if you have been following the news recently, you know that it exists at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
In films and books, these jerks usually get their comeuppance. From the downfall of the indulgent rich of Fitzgerald to Philip Roth’s tweaking of the entitled, from the sleazy elites of Bonfire of the Vanities to the snotty villains of every private school movie ever made to greed-driven bros of The Wolf of Wall Street, wealth and privilege set them up and karma ultimately knocks them down.
In real life, not so much. They usually just keep working their way up the greasy pole, covering for and enabling one another and rising generations of assholes to come, their paths assured by aging assholes who came before them and now sit atop big institutions.
Brett Kavanaugh, the GOP leaders in the Senate, and above all Donald Trump embody this subset of the ugliest Americans to such a degree that you can hardly believe they are real. They are cartoonishly smug and convinced that morality is for poor people, notwithstanding the slogans and mottoes found embroidered in Latin on their school blazers, or some of the platitudes they speak when they are either running for office, accepting awards, or presenting themselves to Senate committees confirming them.
Despite their sense they are the heirs to America, raised to take the reins of power, it is of course their moral and ethical emptiness and their greed and ambition that has corroded what’s best about the country and led to institutionalized inequality and corruption that threaten democracy in America today.
Trump, of course, is the ur-Asshole, though he is not, despite what he may think, the Alpha Asshole. Those are the ones behind the scenes, Wall Streeters and heirs to old money fortunes, who not-so-secretly despise him as a wannabe who will never be truly in their world. But they, like he, are all spoiled, shallow, self-absorbed, and contemptuous of those with less.
The battle over Kavanaugh centers on our anger not only about what these assholes have done to our country in general, but what in particular their culture has done to women, and how it treats them. Consider how in the past few days, the GOP elite led by their president have opened up an assault on women who have little to gain by revealing some of the most horrifying experiences of their life, discounting all of their claims and going so far as to argue that by coming forward they are the problem, that by making their accusations they are making it less likely that future generations (of assholes) will seek careers in public service.
We also cannot help but reflect on how young assholes-in-training morph into the champions of the patriarchy, the avatars of government by for and of the patriarchy. From Georgetown Prep keggers to Yale clubs where “no means yes and yes means anal” to the Senate to the White House to the Supreme Court, these pigs fight for their ability to behave piggishly not just because it is all they know but because they believe it is their right.
The vileness of it is compounded by the master class-level hypocrisy of those who defend Kavanaugh and Trump as champions of “values”: by the Franklin Grahams and Lindsey Grahams and all those other moralistic but two-faced Graham crackers who provide the smokescreen for the AC. (AC = Asshole Culture, formerly also found in bastions of asshole culture like men’s clubs where it was cultivated and celebrated and high school bros smoked cigars as their insides decayed literally and figuratively. Like the New York Athletic Club, the NYAC.)
Our revulsion at Kavanaugh is therefore compounded not just by his lying to the Senate or his extremism, not just by his callous abuse of women but by the reflexive response of Asshole Culture to come to his defense to protect themselves and their past and future transgressions.
There will be no fair and decent treatment of women until we break the grip on power of Asshole Culture, the Praetorian guard of the patriarchy. Let’s leave them to literature, where they can be suitable villains wearing white tennis sweaters tied over their shoulders. Leave them to movies where we can continue to laugh derisively at this nation of Doug Neidermeyers and Greg Marmalards. But whatever we do, let’s use this moment to just leave them once and for all. They have done too much damage to too many people for too long.