Skip to main content

The Trouble with Old White Guys

I had a zoom call the other day with an old friend I’d neither seen nor communicated with in about five years. We schmoozed and caught up and trashed Republicans and shared our amazement over this whole pandemic thing, and then he said something I had to think about:

“It’s not a bad time to be old.”

Hmm. To be sure, it’s a great time to not struggle in the job market. It’s an excellent time to not worry where your next meal is coming from. It’s a sensational time to not be raising small children.

More than that, being old puts us in Covid’s high-risk category. Which, besides sending us to the head of the line of any vaccine that comes calling, has given us about a year of staying home doing nothing.  If you’re prone that way to begin with, it can indeed be a brilliant time to be old.

But for a lot of my generation, it’s not a good time at all. Covid aside, the economics of the past twenty years has been devastating. The Dotcom Bust of 2001, followed by the Great Recession of 2009, was a one-two punch that knocked a lot of us out of the job market, and a lot of us never got back in.

Many people were simply discarded at the peak of their skills and experience, only to find that those things were no longer marketable. For many of them, it has meant the difference between a reasonable retirement and a nonstop scramble to survive the rest of their lives.

Old white guys get a bad rap these days, and I’m sure we deserve it. The world we’re passing on looks, in many ways, a lot worse than the one we inherited, and I’m both dismayed and embarrassed by that.

And nobody’s madder at my age group than I am. I’m furious that my generation contains a disproportionate number of Trump voters. It revolts me to think I share any demographic with so many racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic fools.

But when I think about it, it shouldn’t be such a surprise. Because we’re not just old. We’re white. And we’re guys. Let’s take those one at a time.

Old

We’re one of the few generations that had it better growing up than we did as adults. Economically speaking, we watched the country create spectacular wealth, then squander it all on the wealthy. My spoiled age group was brought up to expect the best of everything, so the subsequent disappointments were many and hard.

Too many of us lost our entire livelihoods, in no small part through the failure of government to be good faith stewards of our economy. We can talk about self-reliance all we want, but the truth is most of us got our identities from our jobs, and when those jobs were gone, our identities rapidly followed. And since those identities weren’t readily replaceable, too many of us looked for someone to blame for their loss. Responsible government could’ve helped, could’ve offered a better safety net. But it was sabotaged.

The Great Recession didn’t need to be as bad as it was. But all that deregulation under Bush set the stage for disaster, and Republican obstruction of the Obama rescue agenda led to a weaker than necessary recovery. Many of my fellow boomers have not eaten well since, and they’ve completely misread the reasons for that. Their resentment turned them to Trump, which is like treating snakebite with rat poison.

White

Of all the specious claims to any sort of supremacy — a stupid notion to start with — skin pigmentation must surely be the lamest. It’s also the one most likely to lose relevance as society grows more diverse.

But in my age group, there are any number of people — most of them with weak minds and poor educations — who can look at the world and somehow decide that white people are the underdogs.

And in their case, it might even be true. Having lost so much — or having been doomed from the start by the zip code they were born into — they feel they’re being looked down on. Being white might just be their only remaining identifier, their only source of self-esteem. Which means that when they themselves need someone to look down on, all they can see is people of color.

And that’s where demagogues come in. That’s where scapegoating comes in. That’s where the demonization of the “other” —Black, Muslim, Jew, anyone — leads to a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is ethnic cleansing.

Trump isn’t the first demagogue to take advantage of such resentment, though he might be the stupidest. And he surely will not be the last.

Guys

While I will stipulate, with reluctance, that male dominance may have served some useful purpose in past societies, it is clearly past its sell-by date. One need look no further than the Republican caucus to feel the sheer dead weight of toxic masculinity.

For some reason that defies logic, it’s still a man’s world. In most of nature, the female of the species is dominant, and there is no reason to believe homo sapiens is any different. While overcoming ten thousand years of suppression is not something that happens overnight, female ascendancy has — in what is historically the blink of an eye — taken on a certain inevitability.

Women are demanding, and getting elected to, leadership roles all over the world. Their organizational skills, emotional attunement, outraged empathy, and innate sense of responsibility are the exact opposite of toxic masculinity. These assets are finally being recognized for the value they convey, and women are now actively reshaping the political and economic landscape. Better late than never.

A lot of these women are young. A lot of them are anything but white. And while a lot of men — and some women, for that matter — will resist their rise, I expect them to be kicking ass and taking names well into the future.

And if white guys my age can’t handle that, they should just get out of the way.

Comments

  1. Another issue is that in school they taught us that "this is how things will be." It was as if WWII settled everything. Holy shit were our schools wrong. Our expectations
    have dimmed continuously since sixth grade.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The GOP's Weaknesses are More Apparent than its Strengths

  Anyone who’s paying attention now understands that this election is a whole lot scarier than it ever should have been. It’s a shame — and an indictment of our constitutional system — that it comes down to an election at all. Surely, the Trump problem should have been settled by now, with no further elections required to get him out of our lives. His crimes were such that the real crime was letting him remain at large. All those checks and balances we were taught to revere should have somehow found a way to rid us of this monster. But the Supreme Court seems to have Trump’s back, though it’s not clear what that gains them. If anything, it makes one wonder what Trump is holding over them, and what might happen to their families if they don’t keep him out of prison. So it will come down to the election, and the lines couldn’t be drawn more indelibly. I prefer to think this can work out well — that these scorched-earth hacks can be overwhelmed at the ballot box

The New York Times has Gone Over to the Dark Side

  A week or so ago, Trump took a break from the courtroom and held a rally in a picturesque corner of New Jersey, a state he has no hope of winning. His speech at this rally was even more unhinged than usual, featuring his now-famous tributes to Al Capone and Hannibal Lecter — the latter being as fictional as Trump’s medical records, but seemingly real in his mind. These speeches are growing worse over time, and they seem to betray a worsening cognitive condition. Unfortunately, the New York Times doesn’t see it that way. Their reporting of the event was basically a puff piece . To them, this rally was Trump’s well-deserved break from the rigors and indignities of his criminal trial. They marvel that, “after a long and tense week,” he could now head to the Jersey Shore for some much-needed rest and adulation: Against the backdrop of classic Americana, Mr. Trump repeated his typical criticism that Mr. Biden’s economic policies were hurting the middle class.

Trump and Pecker Sittin’ in a Tree

  Before there was Fox News, before there was Rush Limbaugh, before there was the sprawling rightwing ecosystem of fake news and vicious smears we so enjoy today, there was the National Enquirer . For most of our lives, the Enquirer stared up at us from the checkout aisle of our local supermarket. Somehow, we never made the connection that its readers would one day fit the stereotype of the Trump voter — under-educated, gullible, malleable, easy targets for disinformation. The Enquirer nurtured those targets over many decades, got them to believe virtually anything, and helped lay the groundwork for the sort of know-nothing insurgency that brought Trump into all our lives. Decades ahead of its time, the Enquirer was peddling fake news long before it was fashionable. It appealed unapologetically to humanity’s baser instincts, the ones most of us try to rise above. It was always flamboyantly sleazy, and always there in plain sight, something we could dependably