More familiar instances of toxic masculinity concern the wanton infliction of violence, especially the sexual kind, especially upon women and girls. Yet on the other side of the wall was, it seems, another sort of toxic masculinity — a platoon of armed and trained men who had evidently come to rely so heavily on guns and armor in lieu of courage and strength that they found themselves bereft of the latter when outdone in the former. Instead they were beset by cowardice, evidently as convinced as the shooter was that the gun really does make the man, and that outgunned is thus as good as outmanned.
In its own imagination, Texas is the land of men who would never admit defeat at all, much less surrender instantly with decent odds and innocent lives at stake: Surely its police ought to feel the highest and noblest sort of calling to valor, the type of vocation that surpasses profession and speaks to a person’s mission in life. Or perhaps those things, too, all the militarism and bravado, the heady authority and free respect, the unearned certainty in one’s own capacities provoked by so many Punisher bumper stickers and decals, had the same corrupting effect as the guns and body armor. Eventually, one either develops their own virtues or finds they’ve developed vices instead.
Balko has often over the years pointed to the recruitment strategies of police departments, which commonly feature images of men in body armor riding in military assault vehicles. When your recruiting strategy targets people who get excited by that kind of thing, you get what you ask for — instead of, for instance, finding people who take satisfaction in serving and protecting the community. But even if you get emotionally immature recruits, you can train them in better ways. Alas, as Bruenig suggests, at places like Uvalde the emphasis seems to be on exacerbating their recruits’ vices rather than cultivating their virtues.
You have to hope and pray that the shame of Uvalde will cause police departments around the country to reflect on the kind of men they’re hiring — and the kind of men they’re making. But the rot is so deep that it’s hard to be hopeful.
UPDATE: Arthur Rizer: “So much of this turns out to be LARPing: half-trained, half-formed kids playing soldier in America’s streets and schools. Many of the thousands of SWAT-team members in this country don’t have the training and expertise to respond like they’re SEAL Team 6. It’s time to stop pretending that they do.”