I’m An Angry Old White Guy. Here’s Why.
I keep reading that people like me — older white guys — are angry about what is happening to their country. In recent years, their grievances have been voiced by Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. Then they found an outlet in the Tea Party. Now they are filling the seats at Donald Trump rallies and perhaps propelling him toward what seemed unthinkable, the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump explained his own anger this way in the last Republican debate he took part in:
I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our health care is a horror show. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people.
Hey, Donald! I’m angry, too. But the sources of my anger are quite different than yours. Let me explain.
I was born in 1954, just a few months after the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, dealt the biggest blow to white supremacy since the beginning of the republic, when a bunch of property-owning white men — to whom the franchise was restricted at the time — drafted a constitution in which Black slaves were considered three-fifths of a human being.
When I was in grade school, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminist Manifesto, and the pill liberated women to begin the long and still-incomplete march to full participation in the workplace and in political life. A vibrant and courageous civil rights movement brought about the landmark civil rights acts of the mid-1960s, which also saw the establishment of Medicare and the end of racist immigration quotas.
When I was in high school, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, and the Stonewall uprising marked the dawn of the modern gay rights movement whose arc, yet unfinished, led to last year’s glorious Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land.
When I was in college, the Roe v. Wade decision ended back-alley abortions and affirmed the right of women to control their own bodies and therefore their full personhood.
I’m angry not because all these things happened. I’m angry because they are in jeopardy from the likes of Donald Trump and his fellow Republican presidential candidates. They rail about “political correctness” to justify bigotry and cruelty, when in fact the most vigorous enforcer of political correctness is the far right “base” of the Republican Party and its amen corner in the media. Thanks to them, no candidate may dare buck the NRA’s absolutist — and murderous — stance against any sensible gun regulation. No candidate may acknowledge the reality of climate change and what is needed to save the planet, or the humanity of immigrants and refugees who deserve a medal for enduring untold hardships to make it to this country — where they are a vital part of its economy and its very fabric — not the scorn and abuse that has been heaped upon them.
I’m angry because I’m sick and tired of the lies we have been told. That raiding the Treasury for huge tax cuts for the rich will trickle down to working people, when in fact the gulf between the superrich and everyone else has grown to unsustainable dimensions which threaten the very social compact. That waging a war of choice in Iraq would usher in a democratic resurgence and make us safe, when it has left the Middle East in lethal turmoil, cost the lives of many thousands of young soldiers, maimed many multiples more, and sapped the country’s capacity to attend to the urgent needs here at home, like roads and bridges and schools. When my grandson’s pre-K teacher tells us that she has to spend hundreds of dollars from her own pocket for school supplies, it makes my blood boil.
I’m angry because the first African American president, elected to do something about the wretched mess he inherited, with a financial system on the brink of collapse and a soaring unemployment rate — and who has done something about it — has been opposed and vilified at every turn, from a right-wing which questions his very legitimacy (down to the facts of his biography) and whose most passionate cause is to strip away health security from millions who now have it, thanks to this President, for the first time in their lives.
I’m angry because Black Lives Matter is so necessary, given the epidemic of police murders of Black and Brown people trying to go about their lives. The law, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, may not be able to make a man love me, but it can stop him from killing me. But when it is the law that is killing you, we have come very far from King’s hopeful promise.
I understand that many white men — and women and people of color as well — who have been left out of this economy, who can’t make ends meet, who feel that the American dream is not working for them, are very angry about this, and justifiably so. But I cannot countenance the misdirection of their anger, and the ugly bigotry that has been stoked by opportunistic politicians like Donald Trump. Their anger should be focused on the greedy and lawless and their enablers in politics, not on those who, like themselves, are casualties of a political and economic system that operates for the benefit of a privileged few, not for all of us.
My grandson will grow up in a country in which most people don’t look like him, in which people of color and women will be the overwhelming majority. If work hard to restore the momentum toward a just and inclusive society that filled my younger years with optimism and hope about the future, this new majority will take its rightful place in the leadership of our key institutions, from boardrooms to capitols. There will be room for him, too, if we turn this country’s priorities around. But he will make his way without benefit of the rigged rules that men of my generation grew up with, where women and minorities were largely excluded from the game. When everyone is included, everyone benefits. That’s why I’m channeling my anger into pushing for policies and the candidates who will back them, that make our democracy and our economy work for all people.
Gara LaMarche is President of The Democracy Alliance.