Saturday, May 28, 2016

Angry White Men. Understanding Donald Trump's Supporters with the Insights of Michael Kimmel.

Angry White Men was published in 2013; two years before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. Though author Michael Kimmel could not have anticipated the announcement, his book is surprisingly insightful regarding the people who support this anger-spewing media figure. Few sources will better explain Trump’s popularity among white males, or his unpopularity among women and minorities.

Kimmel states that there has been a change in American society. “I’m not chronicling a change that is coming. I’m describing a change that has, in most respects, already happened…the era of unquestioned and unchallenged [white] male entitlement is over.” (Kimmel, pp. xi-xii). He explains “it’s probably never been better to be a person of color, a woman,  or LGBT in the United States…whether by race, gender, or sexuality, America has never been more equal…I’m thrilled that I’ve lived long enough to see a black man in the White House, women heading national governments and major corporations, lesbians and gay men proclaiming their love for the world to see…I am not saying we have ‘arrived’ at some postracial, postfeminist, post-civil rights utopia..I’m simply saying that women are safer today than they have ever been in our society, that LGBT are more accepted and freer to love whom they love, and that racial and ethnic minorities confront fewer obstacles in their  efforts to  fully integrate.” (Kimmel, p. xi).

In this environment of greater equality, Kimmel’s book is about “those men who refuse to even be dragged kicking and screaming into that inevitable future. They are white men who aren’t at all happy about the way the tides have turned.” (Kimmel, p. xii). White men who counted on benefitting from the “dramatic inequality,” who thought of themselves as “entitled to occupy the leadership positions.” (Kimmel, pp. xiii).

These are the men to whom Donald Trump appeals. His verbal attacks against women like Megan Kelly (“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”*), and Carly Fiorina (“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”**), mirror the anger of his supporters concerning the waning of male privilege. His comments on Mexicans (“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”***), and his unconstitutional plan to prevent Muslims from entering the country for a period of time****, resonate with white men who have seen non-whites coming closer to equality.

Kimmel continues “It is a world of diminished expectations for all white men, who have benefitted from an unequal system for so long. There are still many in this generation of men who feel cheated by the end of entitlement. They still feel entitled, and thus they identify socially and politically with those above them, even as they have economically joined the ranks of those who have historically been below them…those angry white men…who experience a sense of …’aggrieved entitlement’—that sense of  entitlement that can no longer be assumed and that is  unlikely to be fulfilled. It’s about rear-guard actions, of bitterness and rage…trying, futilely to hold back the surging tide of greater equality and greater justice.” (Kimmel, p. xiv).

Trump is that man who is economically “above them.” His invective speaks directly to their own rage. This is why they flock to him despite the disparity between their incomes and his. The irony is that it’s moguls like Trump who are largely responsible for the anger of his minions in the first place. Large corporations shipped most of the well-paying unionized industrial jobs overseas, drove individual farmers off of their land with agribusiness and drove small stores into bankruptcy with Walmarts. Much of this constituency’s anger stems from unemployment and decreased economic possibilities. Valued work has always been a source of self-esteem for men. Its loss has made them angry. “It’s largely the downwardly mobile middle and lower middle classes…native born, white, middle class—that had bought most deeply into the American Dream of upward mobility, or at least of holding the line. And now they feel that they’re treading water at best, and more likely drowning.” (Kimmel, p. 22). But, if those voting for Trump think that he is going to support their interests once he’s in the White House, and not the interests of the wealthy business elite to which he belongs, they are deluding themselves.

“Angry white men are genuinely floundering—confused and often demoralized…But their anger is often…given shape and directed at targets that serve other interests.” (Kimmel, p. 36). Those interests benefit Donald Trump and his cronies. A Trump presidency will harm not only women and minorities, but also the economic standing of angry white men themselves. Unfortunately, these supporters are blinded by their anger and are about to give Trump all the support he needs. This is the consequence of having a Republican Party political discussion degenerate from a cool, reasoned approach to political solutions. Instead, we are confronted with a festival of rage, accusation and emotionalism, which has brought-out the worst in our candidates and voters. 

We could correct these harmful excesses in the general election, with a more rational debate about the issues. But honestly, that scenario is unlikely. Trump is going to continue with what has thus far been a successful strategy: stoking the rage. He will attack the Democrat's candidate with the same narcissistic tantrum that he used to bombarded competitors in his own party. Angry white men will continue to follow the sound of his jarring tune. 

There remains the chance that the rest of America will oppose the man, his name-calling and his manipulative hate-message. It's up to us, without the support of leadership, to stop emoting and start thinking. When an individual's adrenaline is pumping, the antidote is to step back from the source of incitement, take a deep breath and calm down, so that one may coolly observe the cause with a more detached intellect. We can only hope that there is enough time for the nation to take its' deep breath before some news anchor is heralding the next four years with "President Trump."

Kimmel, Michael. Angry White Men. American Masculinity at the End of an Era. New York: Nation Books, 2013.