Listen to the stories repeated around this state. Bear Bryant playing football on a broken leg. Or that time Bo Jackson ran over The Boz.
We love NASCAR fights, gritty basketball and light-em-up football hits. John Wayne movies would win Oscars this year if the votes came from this state, and Jack Bauer would be the Secretary of Defense.
We love tough.
We just have no idea what it is anymore.
That thought struck me the other day as I read through the comments on a Facebook post, in which a couple of “friends” were going on and on about the attributes of president-elect Donald Trump. Among the attributes was, of course, Trump’s toughness.
He’s going to put China in its place. He’s going to tell those radical Muslims to pound sand. He’ll turn the Middle East into a parking lot if they keep it up.
You could almost hear the “Freebird” guitar solo playing in the background and see the American flag waving in the too-hot-for-you breeze.
And there’s the problem: we in Alabama – in a number of conservative strongholds across America – have somehow started confusing bravado with actual strength.
That’s how we ended up electing a schoolyard bully as our president.
And make no mistake, Trump is the classic American bully – a man who uses petty insults and false bravado to mask his incompetence and shortcomings. A man so thin-skinned that he sits up late at night tweeting insults at a sketch comedy show.
Because insults and mindless threats are easy.
It’s hard to detail during debates how you plan to defeat ISIS or fix the economy. It’s much easier to refer to a fellow candidate as “Little Marco” or “Lyin’ Ted” or “Crooked Hillary.”
However, the most startling thing about all of this is that a large segment of the population lapped up that childish, immature behavior, considering it a good thing that a candidate wasn’t conforming, wasn’t too politically correct. Somehow, Trump’s willingness to voice the never-ending stream of insults, wild promises and insanely unconstitutional ideas made him seem tough.
He’s going to be tough on crime (which is a code word for “the blacks”). No more Black Lives Matter marches under Trump’s watch. He’s going to shut that down, get tough on … um, crime. He’s going to make it so it’s OK for all of us to use the N-word again. And Mexicans, well, adios. We’re gonna build that wall and then Trump – ‘cause he don’t take no crap – is gonna make Mexico pay for it! Wooooo!
Tough. Tough. Tough.
If Trump started driving a jacked-up pickup and put one of Saban’s straw hats on, hell, we’d put him on our money … when we get it again.
Of course, none of it was a sign of strength.
Not of physical strength. Not of strength of mind. Not of strength of integrity.
In reality, it was all a sign of weakness — one that should make us all fear for the future of this country and the weak nation we could become under such a weak leader.
Because by now, we should all know what strength looks like. We’ve seen it almost daily from the man who has resided in the White House for the past eight years.
You think Trump has it tough because a union leader in Indiana called him a liar?
Try having your heritage questioned daily. Try having your love of country questioned. Try having your religious faith questioned.
Try having your young daughters be the targets of racists who would belittle a child because her skin is darker.
Try walking into a school where 20 kindergarteners were slaughtered, meeting personally with each of the broken and distraught parents, providing comfort in the midst of a real-life horror scene, and then have to answer questions about the authenticity of your tears.
Try dealing with a nation split by race, balancing the very real concerns of people who have been ignored for far too long with the dangerous tendency to paint too broadly the good men who have sworn to protect us, and then having it all placed at your feet because you just refused to stop being black yourself.
Try handling it all – on top of being the leader of the free world and president of a country whose economy was on the verge of collapse – with a level of grace and humility that we are unlikely to ever see again.
That’s true strength. That’s a true tough guy worthy of admiration.
That so many can’t see that, I’m afraid, is an indication of America’s weakness.