Yesterday, tech multimillionaire and GOP candidate for Montana’s at-large congressional seat Greg Gianforte allegedly hurled the Guardian’s Ben C. Jacobs to the ground after Jacobs asked him a question about the austere American Health Care Act. You don’t have to like Jacobs (I sure as hell don’t) to think that a political candidate assaulting a journalist for asking questions is bad news, and, in the aftermath of Jacobs’s account, people almost uniformly agreed with that. On Twitter, scores of journalists decried Gianforte’s sloppy clinch throw and lauded Jacobs.
But predictably, there were outliers in the conservative media. (I’d say these people debased themselves as journalists, but modern conservative media started with Bill Buckley defending segregation and presently consists of psychotic bathroom warriors and amoral kiss-ups defending Donald Trump’s demented flailing as Machiavellian genius, so it’s not like they’ve gotten much worse.)
“What kind of a wuss files charges over broken glasses?” wondered the Daily Caller’s Derek Hunter; in reply to audio of Jacobs’s assault, Town Hall’s Kurt Schlichter tweeted, “I’ll go find a breeding kennel if I want to listen to bitches.” Longtime conservative know-nothing Laura Ingraham, meanwhile, asked, “What would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?”
Maybe all this right-wing bravado stands to reason. As a nation, we’re into violence that looks awesome and puts us at pitifully minimal risk, like murdering foreigners with remote-controlled high-tech weaponry and arming ordinary street cops with machine guns. Americans in general (at least modern ones) don’t have that much experience fighting, after all. For the most part, we’re just not a fighting people. We lionize fighting in movies and TV, but watch any video of antifa beanpoles and gelatinous irredentists flailing at each other at Berkeley, and you have to face it: Most people in this country cannot fight their way out of a wet paper bag and have no clue what they’re talking about when they opine on it.
Despite having a politics built entirely on symbolic grievances about statues, gay couples in soup ads and chicken sandwiches, the reactionary view is that everyone in the world is a wuss except you, and anything one of their enemies in the press, clinic waiting line, or Yemeni lower school does is proof of what a crybaby they are. I can’t imagine that a pear-shaped suburban lawyer, a rich media barnacle or a Daily Caller oaf have too much experience fighting, but that doesn’t stop them from declaring Jacobs the biggest wuss on the planet for calling the cops after getting assaulted.
Fighting is absolutely exhausting, and losing is worse. I’ve had my fair share of fights both in gyms and on the street, both winning and losing efforts. In my first real fight at age 16, I got absolutely torched by a more experienced friend. In my most recent one (3 and a half years ago, when I was a bar bouncer), I tossed a guy out of a bar by his neck after he bit me on the chest. Both in victory and defeat, I felt completely depleted afterwards. If you win, you’re high off adrenaline that quickly wears off and you barely remember what you did. You have someone’s fluids on you, your temperature is fluctuating, and you feel every conflicting feeling of violent triumph and regret at once. If you lost, your bell is most likely rung, your lungs are burning (most people only have about 30 seconds of gas in them), you’re confused and deeply ashamed.
Though he is not a fistic combat-averse American, Jacobs probably didn’t have all that much experience with the discombobulation one experiences after a fight. It’s more than understandable he felt distraught and called the cops. He was thrown and punched for asking some questions, after all.
The insistence that he spit out a cool one liner and saunter off like he’s Raylan Givens, however, exposes his right-wing critics as having virgin hands. Physical fights aren’t choreographed performances; they’re painful and bizarre and usually unexpected, and anybody who’s ever genuinely thrown down could hardly blame Jacobs, a reporter, for being momentarily stunned and then heading in for medical treatment and contacting the authorities. That Jacobs did so isn’t everything wrong with America; that a bunch of middle-aged pundits logged onto Twitter to strut their toughness in 140 characters or less isn’t either, but it’s closer to the problem than Jacobs ever has been.