Tuesday, March 22, 2016

White Rage (and the Orange Thing)

My first encounter with working class white rage was in 1990. My best friend Derek and I were being driven by his father to go see then-W.W.F. Champion the Ultimate Warrior defend his gold bald eagle belt against "The Macho King" Randy Savage. (Yes, we knew it was staged. No, we didn't care.) The truck told me Derek's dad worked construction, and that only added to his coolness. Being twelve, and a pro-wrestling fan, I thought it was amazing being driven in a vehicle where all these potential murder weapons slid around every time he came to a sudden stop.

Before Road Rage had a cute nickname, Derek's dad had a full-on tantrum, including threatening to bludgeon to death a woman who cut him off. (He did have the right of way, to be fair.) Then he was going off on the damn taxes, and how you couldn't even take your kids out for a good time anymore without getting ripped off. He almost took us home. Thankfully, we talked him off the ledge and we got to see Warrior lose by count-out. (Tangent: we also met the Big Boss Man.)

If you remember 1990, George H.W. Bush was president, and boy does he look moderate compared to the slobbering remains of the current Republican establishment. He knew better than to remove Saddam and create I.S.I.S. He broke his promise not to raise taxes because the government needed revenue and he was an adult pragmatist rather than a dead-eyed free-market zealot. And the economy he inherited was really just Reagan's bills coming due and aftershock from the deregulation-fueled crash of '87. Bush Sr. has even been an excellent ex-president.

Unfortunately, he did little to undo the radical deunionization, merger madness, and deregulation hysteria that led to my first encounter with working white rage. What struck me most about Derek's dad was how nice he was the entire rest of the night. I was a bookish queer dweeb. He was supposed to hate my guts. Instead, he made small talk about school and wrestling and sports in a way that didn't seem forced or awkward.

He had every right to be mad, but he wasn't political or well-read, so he had no idea where his anger belonged. He knew he was working harder than ever for less money, and if he's still in construction, I can only imagine his rage growing tenfold. Even 26 years ago, when Reaganomics were only a decade old, he knew he was mad, but he had no idea where to aim it. And the dark lady in the next car was an easier target than the wrinkled white fuckers who were actually responsible for the policies eating his wallet. He was overtaxed, (because "only the little people pay taxes", if you're old enough to remember...) and that was part of the problem, but the far larger problem was that he was underpaid for his labor. Illegal immigration played a role in that, to be sure, but illegal immigrants weren't the ones demanding cheap labor to satiate their greed. Like Derek's dad, they were desperate and exploited.

I wonder if he's still being convinced to rage in the wrong direction. I wonder if he's thrown his support behind a certain empty hairpiece...

Consider the contradictory beliefs you have to unironically hold in order to be a Trumpette:

The system is inherently unfair/I will inevitably be a billionaire too one day, and so I vote for tax cuts for the rich.

The elites ruined this country/We need a successful elitist businessman to solve Washington's problems.

The market is a mighty force of nature we all must defer to/The market is so frail it shatters the instant you regulate it slightly.

We need a non-intellectual "buddy president"/Non-intellectual "buddy president" George W. Bush was a disaster.

We're going to build a wall/Government spends too much money/No new taxes or debt/Mexico will pay for it without us undertaking a big expensive war to make them pay because _______?

To say nothing of the biggest lie: people who are good at business will be good at government. I propose the opposite. The skills it takes to enrich oneself might be the exact opposite of the skills it takes to act in the greater good.

I understand the logic behind these illogical thoughts. Believing all of these bad ideas is easier than believing the truth: Globalization was forced on us by both major political parties, and it isn't going to reverse itself overnight, even if we elect the "right person".

If you're a bookish liberal like me, what you see now at the orange head-white rage rallies scares the hell out of you. I understand the snarling resentment, I really do. We've been ripped off for decades, but does anyone really think politically powerless illegal Mexican immigrants ever had enough clout to infect the entire political landscape with the toxic philosophy of free trade? No. The powerful are supposed to be the most responsible by default. When we punish the weak for the crimes of the strong, we're just being bullies and tools.

Anger makes logic go bye-bye. The first victim of over-reaction is nuance. You can see it in the halls of any school. Big kid pushes medium kid, medium kid sizes up big kid and realizes he can't take him. So he levels the next small kid he sees.

I hate the ugliness of it: the appeal to that tiny part of each person only concerned with stacking cash and ammo as high as possible and starting every argument with "me" and "my". I hate how many working people are so focused on the dollars they lose in taxes, they miss the hundreds coming out of their base salary. Most of all, I hate how the radicalization and lobotomizing of the right has ended the potential for civil political conversation in so many circles. Everyone who isn't a billionaire has a right to be angry, but we really have to be more careful about where we aim it.

We are, in all seriousness, following a nasty hairpiece down a whirlpool. Please, let's not. I know the left also got sidetracked by corporate money. I know political correctness has spoiled into censorship in many places (college campuses, in particular). But electing a narcissistic amateur president would be an act of national suicide. Being disappointed in your kitchen isn't a valid reason for blowing up your house. Anarchy is not the alternative to our current oligarchy. Chaos is not a viable alternative to injustice. This one billionaire has no interest in ending the free-trade policies that have lined his pockets (and emptied ours) for 36 years. He isn't even trying to sell you a new deal, just an imaginary wall and some point-and-punch road shows. Our anger needs to be logical righteous indignation, or the worst of the orange head-white rage rallies could become the new normal.

That wrestling show, like George H.W., looks pretty damn dignified in retrospect.


P.S. On a happier note, 2015's Saints and Sinners New Fiction from the Festival, featuring my story "Femorph", is up for INDIE FAB's book of the year award!