Last month, the ice maker in my refrigerator broke, just days after the extended warranty lapsed. I called the repair line and was told I was “out of luck.” I called the store right after and was also told there was nothing I could do. Frustrated and angry, I told the sales guy in a calm voice, “You should know I’m going to spend several hours savaging you on Yelp, Facebook and anywhere else I can find.” I hung up and proceeded to make good on my threat, sending tweets, e-mails and leaving a trail of bad reviews. I was only getting warmed up when the store called me back. “We’ll give you full value on a new refrigerator. The original sales guy made a mistake.” I swapped out my dud for a new refrigerator that day.
I don’t know why I had to go apoplectic to get them to make good on their product. It was a lemon with previous problems, but instead of doing the right thing, they waited to see how big an asshole I would be about it. I knew the game, so I gave with gusto. In America, you can’t get ahead unless you’re willing to be one, and as a society we’re reaping the rewards of the asshole ethic in the marketplace, social interactions and especially in our politics. I was especially struck watching the last GOP debate that there seems to be no downside to being the biggest and most ignorant prick on the planet -- and in fact the biggest assholes seem to suck up the most benefit.
I didn’t start off acting like an asshole. I was always a “nice guy.” I got screwed on financing deals, paid too much interest and let people walk all over me. I was poor and undereducated. When I tried to assert myself, I often ended up in a worse deal. Being poor or marginalized in America makes life both expensive and humiliating. Once I reached some level of financial security and education, the whole thing turned around, and I tapped into the great buffet open to assholes, culminating with a real estate deal that helped me dodge the worst effects of the market crash. Why is it so hard to let everyone get a good deal on a mortgage or a car? Our market-based society creates two classes of people—exploiter and exploited, and that’s enough to turn even the nicest person into a raging asshole.
My personal experience is just a tiny example of asshole privilege, but it might help to understand the extreme attitudes at work in the highest levels of business and government. The people at the top are the most invested in this culture of taking what you want while screwing everyone else. Think of hedge fund operators, bankers, CEOs, politicians and anyone who has fired your dad. They are the ones who have perfected the asshole art.
For instance, we all love the toys that Steve Jobs created that fit into our pockets, make life easier and give us all the chance to ignore our children, but Jobs was by all accounts a huge asshole. He wasn’t your standard “dad at a little league game,” but rather a dick of Biblical proportions. I know this is a sort of heresy, but there are hundreds of testimonials about why and a movie, just in case you need more. And Jobs was no unique case. In June, a New York Times exposé laid bare the cruelty that is the heart of Amazon. The company itself creates a culture of assholes preying on others, a Darwinian blood sport of asshole privilege. Are people’s souls worth so much less than a company’s stock price? Is success possible without this kind of evil?
The word “evil” brings me necessarily to the current GOP presidential contest on CNN. There was little policy or debate, and the entire thing devolved into a playground shoving match, led by a man who has made his fortune and entire brand by being the biggest asshole of them all, Donald Trump.
Trump supporters claim that he’s fighting “political correctness,” but in reality, he’s pulling down his pants and shaking his shriveled junk at all of humanity. I’m all for saying what you mean and standing on principle, but acting like a decent human being is not the same as political correctness. It’s what we should do, and something that Trump never, ever does. He calls people fat, ugly, stupid and worse, even as he speaks like someone who dropped out of third grade. The more base and stupid he acts, the more the reactionary and tribal parts of America eat it up. Something is wrong with a society that finds this titanic asshole “refreshing.”
During this election cycle we have elevated the angriest, most ignorant and meanest politicians. We’ve always given too much credibility to screeching, salivating assholes and homophobes like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, but raising Donald Trump to the level of serious presidential contender shows a whole new low in American ignorance and asshole-worship.
I understand why Trump does it—it works. I have embraced my own inner asshole at times for the same reason. Lifetime liberals are less able to tap into this secret asshole power because of their tendency toward conciliation, but I was spawned from the right and it feels natural to me. I don’t think rewarding assholes is a good move for our country or society, but the continued success of notorious, public assholes makes me think that we’re likely to see more of it rather than less. Until there is some downside to being an asshole, I for one have no plans to unilaterally disarm.