03 November 2009

Undead Conservatism

If reactionary candidates do well in today's elections, Gary Younge's column in the October 26 issue of The Nation may help explain it:

The right's ability to cast white people as victims is possible only because of the dramatic downward spiral of power and influence for white Americans at home and abroad that, paradoxically, accelerated under Bush.... [N]eoliberal globalization has left white Americans feeling insecure in a world where they once called the shots. Among citizens of forty-six countries polled in 2007, Americans had the least positive view on foreign trade and one of the least positive on foreign companies. With unemployment edging toward double figures and a once stagnant median income now shrinking, white Americans do not experience their lot compared with nonwhite Americans as
one of relative privilege, because compared with last year they are poorer.

Add to this the fact that numerically, white Americans will be a minority by 2045, and you have the basis for the panic that has been unleashed. Obama's election did not create these anxieties. (Were he more radical in his policies he might actually alleviate some of them.) It has simply provided a focus for them and, conversely, proved that there is a vast constituency -- particularly among the young -- who do not share them. [Emphasis added]

The country these right-wingers keep saying they "want back" is a white one in which their exclusive entitlement to the exercise of power, locally and globally, goes unchallenged. The fact that that country isn't coming back is what makes their voices so shrill and their actions so extreme....In the absence of any meaningful analysis of class, race or internationalism, white Americans are understandably disoriented. Never having considered the unearned privilege of being white and American, all they can see are things being taken away from them. Never having considered solidarity with blacks and Latinos, they see them not as potential allies but as perpetual enemies. Obama's election showed that these appeals to fear can be defeated; events since then indicate that they can still be destructive.

Younge goes too far only in accusing rightists of wanting to reserve power to whites. I think they would welcome any nonwhite who convincingly repudiates all notions of group or class solidarity in favor of "personal responsibility." But there does seem to be a mentality peculiar to white voters, though not necessarily typical of them, that rejects any identification with the working class or the poor in favor of anything that allows them not to be "losers" in spite of actual economic circumstances and enables them to stick that label to others who actually dare protest against conditions. Poor whites often act as if there's some spiritual reward in store for them if they affirm that the system is fair and keep playing by the rules without questioning them, and these same people often seem to hate no one as much as a complainer, a "whiner." For them, "whining" defines the true loser, and they can't be losers if they don't complain. The fact that other people have protested, "whined," even, against the rules and gotten results doesn't dispel the illusion but only infuriates this element. This analysis needs more development than I have time for tonight, but we need to delve deeper yet into the psychology of the reactionary working class if we're going to figure out how to persuade them to set aside flattering yet self-defeating ideologies and see things as they are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

or simply let them go extinct, like the dinosaur their ideology represents. It wouldn't surprise me to find out within a year or two that many such people are flocking to Alaska as the last bastion of rugged and self-reliant individualists.