Political Asylum — November 8, 2012, 6:03 pm

Angry White Men

Can the G.O.P. genuinely change its attitude toward minorities and women?

Today was a good day. Any day you get to vote as a free man in a free country is a good day.

My polling place—the Alfred E. Smith School, named for the original Happy Warrior of politics, the one man ever to truly rise from our city slums to win a major-party nomination—was jammed again, just as it was four years ago. People stood patiently in line for an hour or more on the soft, stained, ancient parquet floor of the gym, waiting to give their names and get their ballots, then fill them out in the silly “privacy booths” with the special pencils, then scan them on the machines where the poll watchers stare quite openly at your ballots.

But it was wonderful to see the turnout, amid all the familiar trappings that have been there for at least the past thirty-two years: The translators standing by to help anyone who might need them; the ponderously slow but meticulous election volunteers; the parents’ organization outside, seizing the opportunity to raise money for the school by peddling homemade cupcakes and coffee.

Most of all, it was good to stand around with my neighbors and appreciate once again just what an amazingly diverse, patient, and tolerant mix of people they are. About the only exception was a short, fastidious, white-haired man who seemed enraged by the very idea of Barack Obama. He was arguing furiously with a woman from his building, scoffing at all of her arguments with the peculiar logic the right-wing blogosphere has come to generate.

“Obama never ran so much as a Dairy Queen before he was president!” he raged, tilting his head up as if to appeal to the heavens. Those of us around him looked away and pretended not to hear, with the forbearance born of years of ignoring the domestic squabbles, toddler meltdowns, and couple break-ups every New Yorker sees played out our streets.

Our patience reached a breaking point, though, when his sparring partner pointed out, “But Obama killed bin Laden!” and he replied with the same, seething anger, “Yeah, but did he get rid of all terrorism?”  

Whereupon one of our number pointed up at the mostly blue sky and announced, “Look, there’s a cloud! Wasn’t Obama supposed to get rid of all the clouds?”

Angry aging white men seemed unable to contain themselves in the days leading up to the election (not that such restraint has ever been their stock-in-trade). A couple of days earlier, I watched another such individual emerge from a local market, spy a sidewalk stand filled with Obama buttons, and bark, “Leading from behind!” before scuttling rapidly off down the sidewalk.

Such sentiments were amplified in the media, and with no more sense or logic. As the race progressed, Fox and friends seemed to careen through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief:

First, there was the denial, usually in the form of secret knowledge, of special polls and subterranean data-gathering. While scores of right-wing commentators mocked and taunted pollsters such as Nate Silver—sometimes in the crudest, most homophobic terms—the likes of Dick Morris, and the Washington Examiner‘s Michael Barone predicted a Romney landslide.

Peggy Noonan confided the day before the election, in her usual pseudomystical, pseudofascist style, that “something old is roaring back.” Evoking the volk, she told us that she thought “the American people were quietly cooking something up, something we don’t know about . . . a Romney win.”

The real story, a “former political figure who’s been in Ohio” told her, was that “church-going Protestants and religious Catholics” were on the move, though “what’s happening with them is quiet, unreported, and spreading: They really want Romney now, they’ll go out and vote, the election has taken on a new importance to them.”

“Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s really in front of us?” she gushed. “Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.”

Just in case the march of Noonan’s phantom churchgoers wasn’t what was happening, George Will preemptively attributed President Obama’s re-election to the naive, overly generous spirit of a nation that “seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African-American president.”

Come election night, Karl Rove, of course, threw the Fox newsroom into disarray by refusing to accept the idea that Obama had won at all. Eventually it got to the point where Charles Krauthammer had to be brought in to bluster consolingly that Obama “did not campaign on any ideas.” (Romney, by contrast, campaigned on all the ideas.)  

And Bill O’Reilly keened, “It’s a changing country, the demographics are changing, it’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. The white establishment is now the minority.”

Contained therein were all the same old dog whistles, the same ridiculous, no-longer-so-coded racial appeals. The usual “affirmative action of the mind” through which the right has convinced itself that minorities are always given an advantage in any contest—and that they cannot succeed without it. (Romney himself, in a joke that wasn’t really a joke, mused about how much better off he’d be if he were Mexican-American.) The insistence that all those people of color “want stuff”—unlike the selfless ascetics who populate white America. (In fact, 72 percent of the electorate was white this year.) The simultaneous assertion that, waiting somewhere, like the lost king under the mountain, lies a white, old-timey America, just waiting for its moment to march.

Sadly, this toxic mix of rage and delusion, and its concomitant sense of oppression, have become the defining political features of much of white America today, and particularly white men. Neither group has voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, no matter how conservative the national Democratic Party has become in order to accommodate them—or how unqualified, extremist, or just plain daffy their Republican opponents become.  

This year, whites appear to have given President Obama no more than 40 percent of their vote, which is disgraceful. They have frequently been just as intransigent—and just as irresponsible—in state and local races. Talk about invisible empires—not so many years ago, a majority of whites even voted for a Klan chieftain as governor of Louisiana, saved from this truly shameful choice only by the intervention of people of color.

For almost fifty years now, confronted with the challenges of a complex and rapidly changing world, most American whites, including too many working-class whites, have chosen to vote their worst fears and prejudices—even when it meant undermining their own economic interests.  

They voted, and continue to vote, for the party and the individuals who most avidly support business’s “right” to break their unions, ship their jobs overseas, lower their wages, and diminish the mass buying power of America. They failed to notice even when their sainted Ronald Reagan actually raised the overall tax rate for most working people by hiking Social Security and Medicare taxes.

They continue to fear people of color no matter how many of their predictions about them are proved wrong. Over the past twenty years, crime has plummeted throughout the United States, most inner cities have revived and flourished, middle-class blacks and Latinos have filled suburban neighborhoods without setting off a crime wave or a race war, and a black president with a Muslim name took office and promptly started knocking off Islamic terrorists and deporting illegal immigrants.  

The proof of decades now is that, having won their equal rights under the law, American citizens of color—old and new—aspire to nothing so much as the very same values and goals of most white Americans. And nowhere is this more true than with those who have felt the need to enter the country without our permission, such as that father, gunned down at the border the other day by some trigger-happy Texas chopper cop—a poor man trying to sneak into the United States to pay for an operation for his son. Far and away, these people work harder, for less money and under worse conditions, than most of “us” have since the nineteenth century.

Yet the reaction of right-wing whites has been to fill their gun shelves with automatic weapons, their ears with radio rants, and their heads with absurd conspiracy theories.

So cosseted are they now within their own fears and inanities that they haven’t even been able to figure out that Mr. O’Reilly’s “50 percent of the voting public who want stuff”—just like the “47 percent” of the country who Mitt Romney feels are “victims and dependents”—includes many of them.

In the wake of Romney’s loss, a few scattered Republican politicians and commentators are talking about how they have to appeal more to black and Latino voters; to women and maybe even to gays. But the trouble with any such strategy is that the modern “conservative” message is all about divide-and-conquer. No doubt these new ideas of outreach would simply be designed to slice and dice segments the Democratic coalition. Hispanics and even some blacks, for instance, will probably be courted on issues of “cultural conservatism,” such as opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights. But this will only further alienate gays, lesbians, and women in general.

The aging white men who make up the G.O.P.’s spine have become so accustomed to talking in terms of “the other,” and they’ve spent so much time mentally dehumanizing anybody who might disagree with them on anything, that they’re now almost congenitally incapable of forming a coalition with the rest of America. This won’t change until they finally feel able to make an argument that consists of more than spouting a slogan and running away.

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  • Bob Dobbs

    Or, it might change when they become less than 50% of the electorate. How they treat “the others” between now and then might have some bearing on how they are treated then…

    • hernan

      There will never come a point when whites will be treated equally. Even if the only drops to 10% white, they will still be maligned and disregarded as racists, xenophobes, etc. The politics of guilt does not end no matter how far they bend.

  • Drew

    What concerns me is that the longer we have this sort of ideological gridlock in Washington, the stronger and bigger this bat-sh** insane extremist right-wing movement seems to get . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Allen/100000285050369 Greg Allen

    Almost half of “whites” (we all look the same don’t we) voted for Obama. I’m in my 50s and “white”, as though the great grandson of Italian immigrants is as white as George W Bush, and have never voted republican in my ENTIRE life, and I’m from the south. Many of us saw the republicans for what they are from day one. Many of us old “white” guys have been fighting this fight our entire lives and are happy to finally have some help!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000221720428 Steve Stone

      Good for you, but no, according to the exit polls, only (1st) 45 pct and (2nd) 40 pct of voting “whites” voted for Obama (which IS disgraceful, considering what “principles” Romney was or was not running on ) . The rest (give or take a few) voted for McCain and Romney and, (if they were other than rich) therefore voted against their economic interests.

      And, if it weren’t for single white women it would have been worse.

      As far as voting “Republican”, what does that prove? Southerners had been voting Democrat ever since they realized copperheads were the only non-southerners that would give them a break as far as the business of slavery was concerned and only stopped, more than a century later, when lyndon Johnson recognised the aspirations of the Adlai Stevenson/Hubert Humphrey wing of the party.

  • Alex O’Berra

    “whites appear to have given President Obama no more than 40 percent of their vote, which is disgraceful.”

    According to an article at Slate dot com, (“Eighty-Eight Percent of Romney Voters Were White.”) we find: “Obama’s support was 56 percent white, 24 percent black, 14 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian, and 2 percent other.”

    Further down, we read: “we find that 2 percent of Romney’s voters were black, 6 percent were
    Latino, 2 percent were Asian, and 2 percent had some other ethnic
    classification.”

    TWO PERCENT of Romney’s voters were black.
    But when whites ‘appear to have given President Obama no more than 40 percent of their vote’, it is “disgraceful.”

    Mr. Baker, you’re blatant attempt to shame whites for voting for their best interests – yet not holding blacks to the same ‘moral standard’ – are quite telling.

    • Sam

      You have a point…a small one at that. You seem to have ignored an important factor in doing this calculus: the history and dynamic of race in this country. The burden is (and should be) on the Whites, not on the blacks or the people of color.

    • zdrav

      Blacks also voted over 90% for Al Gore and John Kerry. Were they Black too?

      When has White America ever given the majority of its vote to a Black politician? Oh yeah, never.

      Shut up with your brainless false equivalencies.

      • hernan

        Because there was a black candidate running in those elections right?

        When has Black America ever given the majority of its vote to a White politician when they had a choice? Oh yeah, never.

        Shut up with your brainless false equivalencies.

        • zdrav

          Black politicians couldn’t even get to the primary stage b/c they couldn’t get funding from donors. But I’m certain that in your mind, there are lots of benevolent White voters who were willing to vote for Black candidates, even in the 1950s, except those irresponsible and lazy Blacks just couldn’t muster the will and ambition to run for political office

          And your ignorance is astounding. Blacks have frequently voted for White politicians over Black ones. Some prominent examples include Richard Daley, the mayor of Chicago. Or Lynn Swann, whom Black voters rejected in favour of the White candidate. Look at the failed presidential bids of Carol Mosely-Braun, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson…

          You lose.

  • samgfromdc

    I’m as liberal as you are and I consider Peggy Noonan a dope but stop with the pseudofascist nonsense. Where do you get off with that without a bit of evidence? Furthermore, the white people who have cleaved to the Republican haters are basically frightened. They fear losing what they have. They fear the “others,” the blacks, hispanics, gays, feminists, and liberals like us and, pre-eminently, their government, are ignoring them. The way to get them back is not to hate them, as you do, or denounce them as Stupid White Men as Michael Moore does, but to try to deal with at least some of their grievances, and try to get some of them back into the Democratic Party. That way mebbe we can take the House two years from now. Just pure contempt for them, which you express, will only make the divide bigger and serve no useful purpose. You’re becoming as much a hater as Rush or Michael Savage. That doesn’t work, any more than their hate does.

    • Sam

      So, the people of color have the burden to “woo” the White men by satisfying their “grievances”?!?…their primary grievance directed at the increasing diversity which had usurped the power that the White men used to have in calling ALL the shots as in the “good old days”?!? What about the “legitimate grievances” of the Blacks and other people of color. Oh please…

    • amorostom

      That was Obama’s mistake. As was Neville Chamberlain some 72 years ago. You can reason with these people. Any attempt at reasoning is looked upon as weakness by them and they think the progressive forces will cave in. And you know what? They have been right for the most part.

    • zdrav

      Fuck white people who think that they’re being oppressed because they have to make the “sacrifice” of only having 70% of all the power, as opposed to 100%.

  • Alexandre Richard

    I don’t think it helps to view this rather vocal segment of conservatism in the traditional, old-whitey-off-his-rocker lens. True, most of them are old and white. What I seriously doubt is that they were all kneeling at the church pews when the rest of their age group were indulging in free love, Jimi Hendrix and LSD. Enter the theoretical Hippycrit: He had his fun when he was young, gave us sexed up marketing tactics, conspicuous consumption and the youth fixation. Then he got old, way past the point where boner pills can help him and retired from his ego empowering well-paid job, he is now trapped in the terminal insignificance of his own creation. He wants to gloat as “that little slut from across the street” struggles to find an abortion clinic, he conspires to make sure that young punk doesn’t get as good of a job as he did to avoid being lorded over by some young buck with hair on his head and pocket full of disposable income. He burns the bridges to prosperity he helped to build, so that he may feel better about himself and his shallow ego. Don’t hate old whitey, but kill that damn hippycrit, please….

    • zdrav

      The Millennials are a far better generation than the worthless Baby Boomers. Don’t worry.

      • il dueno

        Ha! You damn minIs are stupid and we boomers are to blame.Especially the white ones!!!!

  • Icouldabenacontendah

    “The truth never triumphs. Its opponents just die out. Science advances one funeral at a time.” — Max Planck.

    He was speaking of science but could as well have been describing our current political climate and its prospects.

  • Look for the Truth

    One thing that never gets talked about seriously is the discrimination against Caucasian non-Hispanics in the U.S. and against Caucasian non-Hispanic U.S. Americans who dare to live outside of the country. I’m all for immigration rights and revamping the system allowing people to have tax ids, pay into the system and get a living wage without get free citizenship for their children just being born here. That’s what Canada does. That’s what Sweden does and they have far fewer problems with illegal immigration. However, we need to address the intense hatred of Anglo-Saxon U.S. Americans both by people who are moving to the U.S. and by those in other countries who chase U.S. Americans down the street or harass us everywhere we go. Yes, there IS racism against Caucasian non-Hispanics both on and off the job, both in and out of the universities, on the street and in a variety of uncomfortable situations. Is there white male rage? Surely there is. But, then again, who doesn’t get angry about being discriminated against just for their skin color, just for their accent (in other countries — and, yes, many U.S. Americans are multilingual. Sorry to bust up that stereotype too), just for being born and raised in the U.S. I can’t help where I was born any more than you can. I can’t help my ethnic background any more than you can. And I can’t help my gender (I’m female and women’s rights on a downward spiral everywhere, but that’s for another article/comment). And I’m sick of being expected to apologize for my supposedly privileged background when I come from a poor family. I question how privileged some Caucasian non-Hispanic U.S. American men are when they are living out of their cars because they have lost their jobs, their houses, their families and their job opportunities. They only have their cars left and nowhere to go to find valid work. Racism and discrimination exists everywhere and, although I don’t agree with the chest-thumping, name-calling, anger-perpetuating right-wingers who go on and on against other ethnic groups and races, we need to take a serious look at the discrimination against whites that DOES exist in the U.S.

  • Seattle

    Wow, Harper’s has really gone downhill publishing this drivel. Republican pundits effed up in predicting this election because they relied on an effluvia of smarmy anecdata. Just like this article. Further, it makes no sense for Republicans to appeal to Blacks and Latinos- they lose them so badly there is no position they could possibly take to win either group over that Democrats could not also take. Instead, the incentive is for Republicans to appeal to those white voters, some 7 million, who did not vote, through a mix of economic populism and immigration restrictionism. Right now, the Democratic party receives about 95% of the Black vote, 85% of the gay vote, 75% of the Asian vote, and 70% of the Jewish and Latino vote respectively. They get ~40% of the white vote. Republicans best strategy is to reduce that last percentage by 5 points and presto- victory. Ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Slowly but surely, we will see a similar percentage of whites voting Republican. Welcome to multicultural democracy- where you vote with your tribe. And do you know what will help this trend along? The vicious, anti-white invective of articles like this. An ugly future awaits.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000221720428 Steve Stone

      But, look! Whaddya gonna do? To a fiscal conservative, pro business voter with libertarian leanings, Romney could have been an attractive candidate but the way he kowtowed to the reactionary core of the party raised, to that particular voter, legitimate concerns about Romney’s strength and what he would cede to that core in order to govern.
      In the end, the son of George Romney was made out, by his own doing, to be a terrible candidate. When you put the post-primary debates Romney alongside Bush’s legacy he should have lost by 10 points.

    • zdrav

      Have you checked out the voting patterns of young whites? They’re not gonna go 65% for the GOP.

  • Fiskadoro

    saying “most inner cities have survived and flourished” is completely ridiculous. Detroit most famously, but even formerly solidly middle class black inner city areas that came through the turbulence of the 70′s and 80′s fairly unscathed are now nearly crippled. Chicago has the nation’s largest black and homogenous middle class, but we/they have pretty much deserted the south side, with the slight exception of Hyde Park, Obama’s “home”. And the reason that suburban whites have learned to live with the middle-class blacks and Latinos who are living in the suburbs is not so grand success of harmony, it just means (at least in most of the urban areas of the the midwest, south and northeast) cities have expanded as far as they can and there is nowhere else to move to. It ain’t harmony, it’s logistics.

    IMO, when you use such obviously garbage claims to back up your argument, it suggests that you are either:

    1) willing to lie outrageously in order to make your point
    2) completely clueless about the realities of the very people you (rightly) accuse the GOP of being scared of. You seem as out of touch as they do hateful, and I am not sure which is worse.

    Yes, it matters. It’s what many dislike about so many of Harper’s writers. You seem so completely out of touch with the very working class, minority, and standard issue work-a-days that they really, really, truly care about.

  • amorosotom

    I grew up in a very conservative Pentecostal church belief system.We neither smoked nor drank. No dancing or rock and roll. I left the church some 50 years ago. My sister remained. I was shocked when she told me members now go to the movies and listen to country music. People’s narrow, bigoted ways change, but it takes years. I figure by 2050 the Republican party will have abandoned much of their culturally crazy views.

  • JT Foxx

    JT Foxx from jt
    foxx
    is here to give and serve you because together, we are
    the difference in each other’s success. Check out JT Foxx from jtfoxx
    if you are ready to join me in this fight to stay ahead of an ever-changing
    market economy.

  • TheColdWarNeverEnded

    Sigh. Identity Politics did not get validated with this election. The Spectres of Marx are not suitable foundations for a new economic order. It’s just the last gasp of a generation who still has a grass-is-greener obsession with the now defunct Soviet empire..

    http://www.ghetmedia.com/download/thePlan6.png

  • Dirk in MO

    We need legislators and executives like Ron Paul. Democrats and Republicans have not acted in the interest of of ordinary Americans for a long time.

  • rowdy

    Angry white males…..
    What amazes me and never ceases to amaze me is the number of threads devoted to
    angry white males and their comments often miss the target– their comments altogether except for a few men who arent blind and willing to be honest with themselves..
    But the insight of a good few do not politically lead the many angry white males and then it simply becomes becomes a waiting game for this generation of males to die off.
    And then we can only hope that the next generation of white males are more sensitive,
    and they have to compete for the same jobs as the rest of the world and that wars are not always necessary or beneficial.

  • mvjfnrjf74

    What about women and lgbt Americans? I’m white but I know that the republicans want only to harm people of my gender and orientation.

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