Do Assholes Know They’re Assholes?

I’m surely not the only person who has wondered how some of the high-profile assholes we all see all the time can behave the way they do in public? Who would choose to be such shameless assholes, telling lies, standing in the way of common decency, allying themselves with racists, spreading conspiracy theories in exchange for their pursuit of fame, fortune, and time on Fox? What normal human being would choose to be a Ted Cruz, a Tucker Carlson, or a Moscow Mitch McConnell if they actually knew, deep in their dark hearts, what assholes they were, or how unspeakably badly they were behaving? Surely, even these guys had moms. Or teachers.

I’ve probably been an asshole a time or two, but I honestly can’t think of a time when I set out to be. I can’t recall ever thinking, “what is the worst possible thing I can do in this situation?” and then having set out to do that very thing.

When I was a kid, we all knew the little rhyme that found causality between cracks and harm to our moms. “Step on a crack, you break your mother’s back.” That one. There was a time or two when I was angry at mom, saw a crack in the sidewalk, and jumped on it. But even then, five or six years old, I was struck with instantaneous remorse, and I kept a close eye on mom in the days that followed, truly fearful if she complained of a back ache. The sense that I’d done wrong was heavy. I truly didn’t want to be a bad kid, and even that little boy I was knew that I’d crossed the line in the direction of becoming a real asshole, something I really, really didn’t want to become, though I doubt I even knew the word back.

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