A Good Man Is (Still) Hard to Find
The jewel of an ending in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is nearly as complex as the story itself: “‘Shut up, Bobby Lee,’ The Misfit said. ‘It’s no real pleasure in life.’”
O’Connor, although trapped in the sexist language of “man” meaning “human,” forces readers to consider just who is “good”: Red Sammy Butts must be since he is a veteran, but can The Misfit, murderous and philosophical, be good as well?
The essential question of human goodness interrogated and confronted in O’Connor’s dark and brilliant gem of a short story has been the moral dilemma of my life — a dilemma I have not unknotted in more than 56 years of trying.
The seminal person of that dilemma was my high school’s football coach and athletic director, with whom I would also work when I became a teacher and coach not many years after graduating from that school. He was and continues to be revered as a “good” man although I witnessed as a student and then a teacher that virtually everything afforded the label of “good” with him was veneer.
Like many coaches, he hid behind a suit and tie as well as platitudes about character and hard work; he also hid behind being a “family man” and a church-going Christian.
These are all powerful armor in the South for a certain segment of so-called professional white men.
Although I am skeptical, I hope we may have lost our innocence since the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky abuse of such sacred trusts has been exposed.
But this isn’t just about the racism and hypocrisy that is rampant in big time scholastic and professional sports.
This is about the widespread evil that is white and affluent men in suits with nice hair cuts who hold positions of power all across the U.S. — notably, but not exclusively, in our government.
This is about many of them being Republicans who constantly hold up the God and family shields.
Conservative media pundits and the Ronald-Reagan Republicans have always bothered me in the same way that I have never been comfortable with the hypocrisy surrounding that high school coach.
With the rise of Trump, this discomfort has been intensified beyond expectations.
So as I have been mulling how friends and colleagues have been reaching out to our state’s Republican leaders, several people shared on social media Experts in the Field by Bonnie Nadzam — detailing the predatory patterns of older male writers and the women they’ve abused.
Nazdam’s expose has prompted many other women writers to speak out as well.
“A former teacher and I were discussing these things last week — how the hierarchies of power in the creative writing world resemble the hierarchies of power in Washington,” Nazdam admits.
And so I am nearly paralyzed with what to do with all this as we sit in the U.S. where Donald Trump was elected president, received a majority of votes from white women, despite his horrific and very public record of being the sort of sexual predator that disqualifies him from any position of power or any consideration for being a “good” man.
I am most disturbed, however, by something tangential to Trump, about whom there are calls not to normalize him: We continue to allow so-called mainstream Republicans — smiling, well coiffed, donning expensive suits and ties — to be afforded the mantle of “good,” to be treated with civility and deference, despite their bigoted comments and the inequitable policies they endorse and implement.
Having raised a daughter, an only child, and now regularly providing daycare for a granddaughter, my navigating the world as a man, a white man with considerable privilege, weighs considerably on my conscience.
I carry to this day the guilt I felt as a very young person when I learned about the male gaze — ultimately having to confront my being complicit in that culture and seeking ways to disentangle myself from both that gaze and the larger contexts of rape culture and objectifying women.
These formative years developed along with and after I was strongly immersed in superhero comic books and science fiction — both of which reflected and perpetuated the worst of these phenomena.
As a friend, companion, parent, grandparent, teacher, coach — I have always struggled with whether or not I have fulfilled my own obligations for being “good.” And that concern is often grounded in the sanctity and dignity of the females in my personal and professional lives.
I fear I have failed too often, recognizing good intentions are not enough.
Although I have not solved my essential moral dilemma about what it means to be “good,” I do know a really powerful way to investigate that question: How does someone treat those over whom he/she has power or prestige? How does someone use her/his power in the context of how it affects her/him and then other people?
Obamacare, while terribly inadequate, sought ways to expand healthcare while the proposed Trumpcare has been unmasked for potentially reducing who is covered and transferring tax breaks to the wealthy (and under either, of course, politicians making the rules and their families have the best of healthcare).
And thus, this is a test that Trump and his Republican minions fail — repeatedly.
“We each have a function and role in this culture, whether we acknowledge and are aware of and embrace it or not,” Nazdam argues, concluding: “Whatever your role or roles, at least be aware of your platform and responsibility….[I]n the current environment, it seems radical resistance may be as simple as noticing the truth.”
Therefore, I cannot and will not participate in or tolerate any more the charade that is treating Republican political leaders as if they are “good men” while saying and doing the awful and dehumanizing things they say and do every day.
A good man is (still) hard to find, and we certainly are wasting our time even trying in the Republican Party.