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An employee pushes shopping carts outside a Walmart store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2018.(Photo by: KAMIL KRACZYNSKI/ REUTERS)
No Holds Barred: The angry American male
America is fast becoming one of the most dangerous nations on earth.
My mother, who lives in Miami, was telling me how friends of hers now say long goodbyes to family members when they go out shopping. They simply don’t know if they will be gunned down at Walmart.

America is fast becoming one of the most dangerous nations on earth. Take your pick. Any one of the following can get you shot and killed: going to school; visiting a nightclub; buying Skittles; walking through a shopping mall; driving down the highway; praying at a synagogue or church.

The debate that is ensuing in the wake of the massacres in El Paso and Dayton is whether, as the Republicans argue, violent video games and mental health are to blame, or, as the Democrats argue, lax gun laws and military-style assault weapons are to blame.

What no one seems focused on is American rage. Why are so many Americans, mostly men, so filled with anger? What level of insane rage is leading them to such violent crime? Nearly all these shootings have been perpetrated by men.

THE AMERICAN male is fast becoming become broken and enraged. He’s at fever pitch. Not all, of course, are shooters. But in their brokenness, even the much healthier ones are compromising their marriages and crippling their children.

Immersed in a culture that is obsessed with success through competition and that defines success as being the possessor of things, the American male is trained to forever feel like a failure. Rather than peering inside himself to discover his own unique gifts, he is looking ahead, to see who has surpassed him, and behind, to see who is catching up.

Look at the horrific spectacle of Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself last Saturday morning. From the outside, he appeared the quintessential American success story: his own private plane, his own private townhouse, his own private island. Only once you peered beneath the hood did you find the horrors of women being treated as part of the possessions, with all the abuse that entailed.

The modern American male is caught in the grip of an increasingly material culture that does not value his heart but his hands, not his convictions but his earning power, not his capacity to love but his capacity to produce.

Many a man is a muddle of broken dreams. He lives in a society resembling not a circle, in which all are treated more or less as equals, but a triangle, in which only a very few are perched at the top and the overwhelming majority are made to feel that they are various stations of the bottom.

The American male is painfully aware that the recognition and respect of his peers will not come from helping his kids do homework or remaining faithful to his wife. All around him, the culture glorifies men who have built business even as they have abandoned spouses for younger models, quite literally. Treating his co-workers with dignity won’t help him onto the Forbes 400 list. Reading his children a bedtime story won’t get him an invitation to the White House or the halls of Congress. Rather, money brings prestige, and power brings respect. Since he has little of each, the angry American male looks at himself as the inferior of men who may be far less moral.

His children do not make him feel heroic, and his wife struggles but fails to massage his macerated ego. Studies show that the No. 1 reason men have affairs is not sex but ego. They want to feel desirable. But why can’t their wives make them feel that way? Simple. The man who sees himself as a big zero looks at the woman dumb enough to marry him as an even bigger loser than he is.

In his distress and in his feelings of failure, he turns to various forms of escape, designed to either make him feel better about himself or numb his pain. Becoming a sports fanatic allows him to live vicariously through his favorite team. By becoming a workaholic he convinces himself that one more hour at the office will make him a success. The attentions of other women make him feel special. Alcohol numbs his heart even as it poisons his soul. And pornography, which is becoming an addiction to so many American men, allows him to experience a similar numbness, the non-feeling of emotionlessness, which is the real reason that so many men masturbate, for the deadness that follows orgasm. He wishes not to feel, because when he does feel, all he feels is pain.

He comes home a shell of a man, a defeated creature, whose modest surroundings reinforce the feeling of failure. Because he doesn’t love himself, he cannot fully love his wife. His marriage is reduced to a series of meaningless and monotonous gestures, coldly functional, bereft of warmth or intimacy. The compliments his wife offers him bounce off. Since he doesn’t believe in himself, he treats her comfort as patronizing. Later he will complain that his wife does not lift him up when he is down, even as he has pushed her away on countless occasions when she has sought to offer comfort. He wants sex with his wife, not because he loves sex, but because it relieves him of tension and helps him fall asleep. And in his lifelessness he further alienates the wife who feels used and discarded.

Bereft of inspiration, he fails to inspire his children. He does not parent them so much as admonish them. So they are reduced to searching for substitute heroes, from sports figures to celebrities to rock stars. The company of their friends soon becomes far more satisfying than that of their father, further compounding his feeling of isolation and bitterness.

And some men become overwhelmed with the anger until it becomes rage. Why are they failures? Because immigrants stole their jobs. Why aren’t they employed? Because of a boss who abused them and co-workers who disrespected them.

The rage is funneling all the way down to our children, who both bully and get bullied at school. Some come back with guns to even the score.

My God, my God! What will we do with all this rage?

And the tragedy of it all is that the vast majority of American men who don’t own the multimillion-dollar penthouse or have the corner office are still heroes. They work their guts out to feed their children. They do their best to be romantic, to make their wives feel beautiful. They give their hard-earned money to complete strangers in charitable gifts. So if they’re heroes, why don’t they see it? Because the media elevate only men of wealth, position and power, making the rest of us feel invisible.

THESE ARE the consequences of the current epidemic of soullessness in America, an epidemic so widespread that the greatest heroes of all – American soldiers who risk life and limb in foreign wars – have one of the highest rates of depression, suicide and spousal abuse. It is said that this is because of the horrors of war, and no doubt post-traumatic stress disorder plays a significant role. But another reason is that we pay only lip service to them as heroes. They come home after long deployments to small houses, piles of bills and a culture that quickly forgets them while worshiping the man who can throw a ball through a hoop or the man who runs a hedge fund.

America must begin to address the pandemic of anger which is now becoming so violent. We have to fix our broken men and address the soullessness which leads too many to nurse imaginary grievances and a feeling of disconnectedness from one’s fellow. We have to stop treating money as a commodity by which we purchase self-esteem. And we have to start respecting women and the nurturers in our midst, so that we create a society that is softer, gentler and more loving.

The writer, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the author of The Broken American Male. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.

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