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Squires: America is learning: Countries that sow self-hatred, narcissism, and feminized masculinity reap self-destruction

Op-ed
Oliver Le Moal/Getty Images

One of the most fascinating developments over the past week has been watching political pundits and social commentators celebrate virtues in Ukraine, from armed resistance to national loyalty, that are frequently criticized in America.

My sense is that the ruling class assumes our citizens would have the same response to a hostile foreign invasion. They may be right, but the biblical principle of sowing and reaping suggests a very different outcome.

A recent tweet from NPR is one example of the type of seed that finds fertile ground in our culture.

“Russia’s attack on Ukraine means there’s a stressful news cycle ahead of us. The reality of conflict is always a shock to the system. Here are 5 ways to cope.”

The entire thread was completely on-brand for NPR, from the thumbnail illustration of an androgynous person of color laying in the fetal position to the language of personal therapy emanating from the subsequent tweets.

It was an easy alley-oop for the conservatives on Twitter who shared the post to the followers, but the post was an important snapshot of the character traits being cultivated in our society.

We have become a fragile nation increasingly unable to deal with the realities of life. The 2016 election of Donald Trump made this crystal clear. Colleges across the country offered students play dough, coloring books, hot chocolate, and bubbles to cope with the stress of an election outcome.

Previous generations of young men between 18 and 22 stormed the beaches of Normandy, fought the Viet Cong in Da Nang, and were beaten during Freedom Rides for civil rights in America. Early adulthood now is characterized by safe spaces and comfort animals.

The NPR post wasn’t just a window into American fragility. It was also another example of our most popular faith – the cult of self. One Army recruitment ad in 2021 followed the story of “Emma,” a soldier who talked about being inspired to join the military after reflecting on the activism of her two moms and adventure-seeking sorority sisters.

The video is a perfect distillation of America in the 21st century – the ultimate act of self-sacrifice has been transformed into a personal vanity project of self-fulfillment. Recruitment ads from China and Russia show young men leaving their families, engaging in physically demanding training exercises, jumping out of planes, scaling walls, and driving tanks. The virtues being promoted in their ads – bravery, sacrifice, honor, discipline, patriotism, courage – transcend language and nationality.

What makes things even more difficult is the extent to which the left uses every organ of culture, from sports to movies, to sell the message that America is irredeemably racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic. Who would want to die for such an evil country? Alienating your citizens from their nation is not a wise move when our adversaries in other countries are willing to exploit every perceived weakness to expand their own power.

These weaknesses have been exacerbated by the left’s forward assault on manhood. A Christian professor named Karen Swallow Prior tweeted a video of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a small group of men who committed to stay and fight for their country. She said, “I doubt these guys tweet about ‘manliness.’” The subtext was that conservative evangelical American men talk about masculinity more than they embody it.

What she failed to mention is that American society has been grinding away at men and manhood for decades. A desire to help men get more in touch with their feelings has morphed into something much more ominous. Every few months a new man in a dress is being upheld as brave and courageous for pushing the boundaries of gender. Men who object to the fashion choices of Harry Styles, Billy Porter, or Kid Cudi are seen as toxic and regressive.

This erosion of masculinity extends into the home as well, and not just through depictions of bumbling, incompetent dads on television sitcoms. The one tactical advantage women have in the gender wars is their words. Women who berate and disrespect their husbands are doing untold damage to both their mates and children. We went from mothers saying, “I don’t need a man” to daughters saying, “I don’t want a man” to sons saying, “I don’t want to be a man.”

The domestic power struggle that feminism has been encouraging for decades has led to men who are less assertive and more indecisive than their forefathers. Women who reject male leadership in the home often fear the misuse of authority, but that abdication also removes responsibility. It’s a package deal, in the same way the sun provides both light and heat.

I know many women who object to rigid gender roles, whether in the home or broader society. I don’t know a single one who wants to take on the role of protecting men from harm or the responsibility of being the sole provider in a household that has an able-bodied man present.

This contradiction is captured by a famous quote from C.S. Lewis.

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

One historian’s new book claims that white evangelicals corrupted Christianity in America with the rugged masculinity embodied by John Wayne. Reading contemporary cultural norms into the Bible can certainly lead to bad doctrine, but the reason some pastors feel compelled to speak about biblical manhood is because they understand what happens to a culture that embraces the church of Jesus and Elton John.

A country that promotes national alienation, paints masculinity as inherently toxic, and rewards fragility, neuroses, and anxiety is in no position to fight external battles. It must first address the corrosion that is occurring within its borders. It’s hard to envision bravery from people who crumble under the weight of microaggressions or go into a state of panic when they see someone without a piece of cloth covering their nose and mouth. War creates a fog for those in it, but it is clarifying for people fortunate enough to live in peace.
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