Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Angry White Male: It's Mostly About Money, But With A Spin

By Manifesto Joe

The modern American political phenomenon of "the angry white male" has baffled me for a long time. These are working-class and lower-middle-class guys, age ranging from around 25 to 55, who vote overwhelmingly Republican, against their true economic interests. These aren't men who own hedge funds, and it's been shown repeatedly that supply-side tax cuts at best do nothing for them, and at worst shift the burden to them in insidious ways. For them, voting GOP is like being chickens for Colonel Sanders.

But after reading a recent Associated Press report on income trends in America, comparing 1974 earnings to the most recent available census stats, I think I understand this a little better. It's mostly about wages and salaries -- but with an ironic demagogic spin.

From AP's report:

"New analysis of census data challenges the historical presumption that each American generation will be wealthier than the one before, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project.

"A generation ago, American men in their 30s had median annual incomes of about $40,000. Men of the same age today ... make only about $35,000 a year, adjusted for inflation.

"That's a 12.5 percent drop between 1974 and 2004, according to the report."

It's not easy for me to relate to the men who have been most profoundly affected by this trend. I've been in the work force since the late '70s. It wasn't hard for me to do a little better than my parents did, because we were a relatively poor family. At the time I came of age, poor kids like me were getting help that isn't so available anymore, so I got to go to a good college and graduated in 4 years.

But the following decades weren't kind to working-class, and even middle-class, white guys. A lot of the bread-and-butter blue-collar jobs were exported -- from places like Flint, Michigan, to places like Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. As more women, often with college degrees, entered the work force, and more minorities finally began climbing the ladder, The Angry White Male suddenly had competition that Pops never faced. That big promotion, or even the gold watch at 65, were no longer givens.

At the risk of seeming "illiberal" for just a moment, I have seen, and have been personally affected by, all the things that the pissed-off white dudes complain about. I've seen people hired in haste for jobs they were unprepared for, and unable to perform -- but they were still tolerated. I've seen people get promotions they weren't ready for -- but, true to The Peter Principle, they stayed there. I've seen mistakes swept under the rug time after time.

But, Angry White Dudes, let's be honest. Was it really different in 1950? If you were able to talk to the vanguard of women and minorities who were trying to break through an almost impregnable glass ceiling back then, wouldn't they be expressing the same frustrations, only worse?

But, back to the report. Upon closer examination, what becomes clear is that the puppetmasters are getting you fellas, y'all Angry White Males, to blame people who are largely in the same predicament you're in. Someone I know told me that he walked into a 7-Eleven one day and heard Rush Lardbaugh on a radio, railing against "Feminazis" and such, and the guy who had the radio on was a fortyish man in a red smock who was probably making eight bucks an hour. And he was grooving to the bashing.

The report suggests that, instead of listening to Lardbaugh's rant, this guy should have been checking out what his company's CEO makes. In the same period, from the '70s to the most recent stats:

"Chief executives' pay surged to 262 times the average worker's pay in 2005, up from 35 times in 1978, according to the report's analysis of Congressional Budget Office statistics."

A coincidence? "Free market" fundamentalists would have us believe so. The market is supposed to be some kind of primal force that, like the Ned Beatty character in Network says, mustn't be meddled with. But it's funny; they meddle with it in other countries, and to general good effect. Back to the report:

"The Pew report also found that in many countries, including Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and France, there is more economic mobility than in the U.S. when measuring by the income differences between generations."

OK, thirtysomething white males, go on being angry. But please, redirect the anger at those who really deserve it. You've got some pretty corpulent swine getting a free ride on your shoulders. It's time to start blaming them, and not your co-workers who happen to be of a different race or gender. Stop listening to the demagogues.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas.

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