The United States currently has the highest standard of living in its history, the longest life expectancy and the most extensive and expansive level of freedom, for all its people, since its foundation as an independent country. Certainly, the persistence of poverty, the draconian “war on drugs,” the garrison quality of the federal budget, and the undue influence of corporate power over political power demand aggressive actions of correction and reform. But they do not culminate in the creation of Dante’s Inferno, especially considering that the United States once enforced Jim Crow, subjugated women into secondary roles and excluded gays from mainstream society. The victories of the left have steadily made America more livable, humane and just.
Conservative white boomers, unwilling to look at the totality of progressive change, see only the distance between the authority they currently exert and the authority they once enjoyed. Delusions of grandeur and illusions of the apocalypse cloud their vision.
Barack Obama (in the conservative white boomer view) is not a moderate president who, among his flaws and failures, can claim the accomplishments of presiding over 78 months of consecutive job growth and helping 20 million people acquire health insurance for the first time. He is a black militant usurper of all that is good – a Zulu warrior committed to performing unwanted abortions on every Christian woman. The willingness to address minorities with respectful language is not an enhancement of societal decency and civility; it is “political correctness” gone mad, the suffocation of free speech that will forever end education and destroy the exchange of ideas. The growth in Latino immigrants and other foreign-born citizens is not a continuation of the American tradition of hospitality and diversity; it is an invasion of exotic saboteurs who will demolish America’s economy and cultural norms.
Throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the straight white male boomer’s story enjoyed cultural hegemony. To live as one of these men was to have an all-access VIP laminate around your neck, and a lifetime permission slip in your pocket. You could view and treat women as toys for your personal amusement, denigrate gay men as freaks fit for the circus, and stratify men of other races into a category of inherent inferiority. Life was good for the white male boomer, but suddenly it all started to end. Uppity blacks started to demand liberty and inclusion. “Nasty” women began to assert themselves as equals, and LGBT people demonstrated themselves to be “normal” folks as capable of achievement and decency as anyone else. Each morning the conservative white boomer wakes up realizing that his story matters a little less than it did the day before.
Enter Fox News, talk radio, and a growing online conspiracy industry catering to ignorant, delusional losers. Faced with the erosion of their cultural power white boomers have decided to opt out of reality and take their brains out of circulation.
Paranoia could not be sustained by reality, so an alternative reality was invented. The economy improved but not in the brains of certain white males. There the economy was always going down, down down! Crime rates fell, but in white male brains hooked on pretend “news” it was up, up, up!
Evangelicals in love with the “End Times” signed on. Trump, based his media tour “campaign” on various forecasts of doom. Armageddon had found its presidential candidate at last.
“America is going to hell,” Trump claimed. We’re the “Third World!” In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, said we were a “divided crime scene.” And now Trump says democracy is dead and that the election is “rigged.” He fears that ISIS will “take over this country,” and warns that soon America will have a “one-party government.”
Trump’s favorite conspiracy claim is that the entire media has collaborated to make a fool out of him. Even facts have conspired. To talk facts is a conspiracy! Trump’s world is one where facts themselves are “liberal” and a plot to discredit his truth that is bigger than truth.
The ultimate insult to the white right comes from reality itself. How dare the economy improve? How dare the stock market hit record highs? How dare criminals commit less crime as crime rates fall? How dare women have less abortions as abortion rates fall? How dare teens have less sex as teen pregnancy rates fall? How dare reality not conform to the right’s dark apocalyptic vision? How can any good thing be happening when white old men aren’t in charge, when women, blacks and gays get a say?
The same polls that show white older males are cynical about politics, depressed about the economy and fearful about the future, also show that an overwhelming majority of black and Latino citizens are hopeful. The title that the University of Chicago gave its report on the emotional divide of the country offers a definitive summary: “The Public Mood: White Malaise but Optimism Among Blacks, Hispanics.”The Wall Street Journal reports that the most optimistic group of Americans, regardless of race, comprises those under the age of 35.
When commentators repeat the cliché that Americans are “angry” and “want change” – some important policy debates aside – what they’re presenting the despair of white male baby boomers weened on thirty years of right wing alternative universe fantasy.
The same angry people who supposedly want revolution now give President Obama a 58 percent approval rating. So why are we Americans only hearing about “working-class anger?”
Not only white working-class Fox-watchers matter. In fact they no longer represent either reality, or the truth about most Americans. The media hypes their story again and again because it’s dramatic.
In the real world things are good and getting better. In the real world the Obama years are a great turning point in American history to the good. And ironically for the white rubes hooked on catastrophes that don’t exist, the one actual disaster facing us–man-made climate change–is something they don’t believe in.
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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Available now on Amazon
Please read about my journey through then out of the religious right and Republican Party.