A Whole New Spin on the Bully Pulpit

June 23rd, 2016

Enemy is FearA lot has been written about Donald Trump’s appeal to the Angry White Man (AWM) voting bloc. The term was popularized in the early 1990s as wh
ite men coalesced politically in reaction to the perceived injustice of increasing numbers of minorities taking jobs traditionally held by whites. According to Wikipedia the AWM is, “a derogatory reference to a white male holding what is viewed as a typically conservative viewpoint, especially in the context of U.S. politics, characterized by opposition to feminism, racial quotas, political correctness, positive discrimination and other liberal policies.”

It is now well documented that Trump’s supporters come primarily from just one major social demographic comprised of male Republican voters who didn’t go to college, in other words AWM. Analysts repeatedly explain that AWM don’t like political correctness. For example they like Trump because he talks about getting rid of illegal immigrants and banning Muslims from entering the country.

Well here’s a bit of political incorrectness. These people like a white bully because they have received the most benefit from a country that was founded by and for white bullies. White explorers and settlers bullied their way across the continent stealing from, raping and massacring the Native Americans. Then privileged white men stole black people from Africa and property-owning white men drafted a constitution that called black slaves only three-fifths human beings. Notice I said men drafted that constitution? That’s because women weren’t considered fit to vote. Are there any more egregious forms of bullying than genocide, mass slavery and relegating half of even one’s own race to the status of servant and broodmare?

Despite the notion that the American Dream means anybody in America can work hard and climb the ladder of opportunity, this has never been as true for women and people of color as it has for white men. But more recently, uber-wealthy white men have manipulated politics and financial systems to create an economy that bullies just about everyone else. I believe this is at the heart of the angst of the working class AWM and they have no idea what to do about it.

One thing I’ve noticed in speaking with Trump supporters is a prevalent longing for the return of American exceptionalism. They love Trump telling them he’s going to, “Make America great again!” They seem not to mind that he offers no concrete policy platforms, flip-flops like a fish on dry asphalt and seems to have learned about foreign relations at the International House of Pancakes. It’s enough to hear he’s going to build a wall, deport Mexicans and ban Muslims.

While this emotional, seemingly uninformed response might frustrate people on the other end of the political spectrum, it’s worth considering that, despite a backdrop of white privilege and perhaps a dangerous response to their current sense of insecurity, AWM do have a legitimate reason to be angry. The majority of them are living paycheck to paycheck and could lose their jobs at any time. According to David Frum, of The Atlantic, half of Trump’s GOP supporters received no formal education beyond high school, many not even earning a high-school diploma. Less than twenty percent have college degrees. Thirty-eight percent earned less than $50,000 per year and only eleven percent earned more than $100,000. Many analysts point out that these people represent the eroding American middle class. Robert Reich has titled them the “Anxious Class.” They’re angry and worried. A whole lot of women and people of color have been living with those fears and stresses for a few decades and it ain’t fun. It’s not just AWM who feel insecure about finances, the direction of our nation and future prospects for our children. Very legitimately, AWM sense that the country is not getting better for them. Reasonably, they want things to go back to the way they were.

But there is no going back. America earned a type of greatness by bullying. We grew vast and wealthy on the devastated lives of conquered and enslaved peoples but tragic opportunities like those are gone. And there is no turning back the demographic trends either. In just a few decades America will have more black and brown faces than white ones. The only real question is how can we find a healthier pathway forward?

In the early 1900’s the word bully meant wonderful, fine or splendid, like a bully lad. At that time President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit” by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda. Since then the term bully pulpit has been defined as a high-profile position that provides an opportunity to speak out and be listened to.

In the current political cycle Senator Bernie Sanders came closest to addressing the really important issues we must face to move forward as a nation. He too fired up voter blocs, mostly of young people and older progressive activists who wanted something other than status quo democratic party politics. His campaign made an important contribution to what was otherwise an appallingly ugly, mean-spirited political discourse devoid of any substantive discussion or coverage of important issues. He made great use of the “bully pulpit.”

Meanwhile, a privileged from birth, billionaire AWM blustered and berated his way to the top of the Republican ticket for President of the United States. In so doing he gave bully pulpit a whole new and sad definition.

America will not be great because a bully says he’s going to make us so. We will never be as great as we can be if we continue to foment racism and tolerate sexism. But, just as importantly, we will not be exceptionally great if AWM continue to feel erosion in their ability to take care of themselves and their families. They are right that our country is not on a healthy trajectory – it’s not on the right track for any of us.

We are at a serious point in the evolution of the American experiment. We have some challenging decisions to make.

And if you’re thinking about just throwing up your hands and checking out, remember the warning from Plato, “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Cylvia Hayes

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