50 Years of Angry White People: Dividing the Democrats

In 2016 angry white people were in the news.

Why were they angry?

Michael Kimmel, a Professor of Sociology, called it an aggrieved entitlement.

A November 2015 survey of 3,257 US adults conducted by Esquire and NBC produced the following bits of data: white people are more likely than black people to say their current financial situation isn’t what they thought it would be when they were younger, and they were also more likely to put that down to difficult circumstances rather than “wrong choices”.
When asked whether they ever hear or read anything on the news that makes them angry, white respondents were more likely than black ones to say they felt angry at least twice a day. There were gender differences too – men were more likely than women to say that they felt angry about the treatment of white men.”Esquire

In the 1960s, Southern whites were angry about integration and desegregation.

They hated John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson for using the power of the Federal Government to protect the civil rights and the safety of black students who wanted to enroll in school.

Art by Rob Goldstein
Wanted poster from Dallas, Texas, November 1963.

When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, angry white people decided the Federal Government was a ‘problem.’

The Government was too big, they said.

The Government had no respect for individual liberty (white privilege).

In 1969, GOP strategist Kevin Phillips wrote The Emerging Republican Majority.

 

Newsweek called The Emerging Republican Majority the political bible of the Nixon Administration.

Kevin Phillips stated to New York Times Magazine in 1970:


“All the talk about Republicans making inroads into the Negro vote is persiflage. Even ‘Jake the Snake’ Senator Jacob Javits of New York only gets 20 percent. From now on, Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote, and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
New York Times Magazine

In my research of Kevin Phillips and the Southern Strategy, I found image files at the New Yorker website of a 1971 Memo to H.R. Haldeman from Pat Buchanan. Pat Buchanan wrote ‘Dividing the Democrats anonymously. 

George Packer, a columnist at the New Yorker, describes how he got the memo:

“I wanted to hear tales of the Nixon years, and Buchanan—between writing his syndicated column and getting ready to drive to the studios of MSNBC for a televised political talk, which he called “bread and circuses”—was happy to oblige. After all, he’d been present at the creation of the themes and tactics that led to forty years of conservative domination of American politics, and he was proud of it. At one point, he mentioned a memo that he’d written for Nixon in 1971 under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.”

Art by Rob Goldstein


Packer describes Dividing the Democrats as a Machiavellian primer on the vulnerabilities of the New Deal coalition.

“It reminded me of how relatively gentle and civilized the supposedly vicious campaign of 2008 has been.“  George Packer

Art by Rob Goldstein


Dividing the Democrats was the foundation of the Republican Southern Strategy to stoke racism and division to turn White Southerners against the New Deal.

Journalist Dan Baum wrote in the April cover story of Harper’s about an interview with John Ehrlichman in 1994 while working on a book about drug prohibition.

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Harpers

Dividing the Democrats Screenshot 4

In 1980 angry white people elected Ronald Reagan.

They got their wish, and the government shrank.

Reagan cut funding for public education.

He closed community colleges.

He ended federal grants and scholarships to the poor.

He cut funding for community mental health programs.

Art by Rob Goldstein


When President George Herbert Walker Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, angry white people got even angrier.

They didn’t like Bill Clinton.

They didn’t like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

They didn’t like AmeriCorps and the idea of public service. 

And they really didn’t like his uppity feminist wife who wanted to give universal health care to the undeserving (black people).

So they organized, and in 1995, they elected a GOP House that did everything it could to destroy Bill Clinton.

The ‘Gingrich Revolution’ also did everything it could to further destroy economic opportunities for the poor:

More cuts to education.

More cuts to community mental health.

More cuts to federal vocational programs.

Lifetime limits on access to welfare.

In 2000 angry white people fought recounts in Florida to prevent a Gore Presidency:

“As angry as conservatives have felt over the nearly three weeks since Election Day, a clear turning point in this remarkably twisting story line came Friday, when Joe Lieberman stepped up to liken GOP protesters in Miami-Dade County to a “mob” trying to “intimidate” vote counters. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) chimed in, saying the Miami-Dade rally had a “whiff of fascism.” Conservatives see these statements – along with other Democrats’ invoking of the Voting Rights Act – as efforts to silence protests against recount outrages.” The Brooks Brothers Riot

At last, angry white people thought they had a ‘Southern’ President to make sure that no part of the government would go to the undeserving (Black people).

But something went wrong.

An African-American, Barack Hussein Obama, became President in 2009.

He spoke of a nightmare scenario of healthcare for everyone, including the undeserving (Black people).

When the Affordable Care Act was passed and signed into law in 2010, angry white people got furious and formed an angry right-wing Tea Party Movement. 

In 2014, with a combination of right-wing activism and liberal apathy,  the Tea Party Movement helped elect a partisan hard-right House and Senate.

Angry white people had a racist House and Senate that was openly hostile to the first African-American President. They had Fox News to tell them the lies they wanted to hear, and they used the power of their local governments to make sure that no one in their states got anything they didn’t deserve, and the lives of angry white people got worse, not better.

They have shorter life expediencies. 

They have less education, and their children are more likely
to grow up in poverty, sick, and malnourished.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote:

“…social collapse in the white working class is a deadly serious issue. Literally. Last fall, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attracted widespread attention with a paper showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans, which had been declining for generations, started rising again circa 2000. This rising death rate mainly reflected suicide, alcohol and overdoses of drugs, notably prescription opioids. (Marx declared that religion was the opium of the people. But in 21st-century America, it appears that opioids are the opium of the people.)
And other signs of social unraveling, from deteriorating health to growing isolation, are also on the rise among American whites. Something is going seriously wrong in the heartland.”
 
On Invincible Ignorance

In 2016 the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin launched a psychological attack on the United States and our 2016 Presidential elections.

Putin had a preferred candidate, and it wasn’t that uppity feminist, Hillary Clinton.

Putin’s preferred candidate won.

The nation’s angry white people finally have a president as white, and as dishonest, and as racist and angry as they are.

His lies have killed 200,000 thousand Americans.

He helps tyrants murder journalists and allows Vladimir Putin to place bounties on the lives of our soldiers.

He disparages members of our armed forces as dopes and losers.

He uses Russian propaganda to pervert the Constitution and subvert the rule of law.

He has destroyed the economy, alienated our allies, compromised our National Security, and brought the United States to its knees.

In 2016 Terrance Heath, a writer for the Huffington Post, compared America’s angry white people to two-year-olds:

“The behavior we’re seeing is basically the extreme of the Republican base kicking and screaming because they believe that if they throw a big enough tantrum, they can hold off change, turn back the transition period already begun, and keep things the way they are — or go back to the way they were.”

He suggested we pick them up and carry them forward with us:

“…we pick up the tantruming toddler under one arm — in such a way that he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else — and carry him forward with us. It doesn’t mean the tantrum ends right away.”
Terrance Heath The Tyranny of the Tantrum

But we have not carried our nation’s angry white people forward; they have dragged us backward and are driving us our graves.

It is 2020.

America’s angry white people are still angry.

And we are dying.

 

First published March 28, 2016-Revised and updated September 20, 2020

(c) Rob Goldstein 2016 – 2020 All Rights reserved

Header image by Rob Goldstein

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Rosa Parks and the Power of No

In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating bus passengers by race

Conductors had the power to assign seats to carry out that purpose; however, no passengers were required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and there were no other seats available.

Over time Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move or stand for whites.

Blacks had the ‘right’ to stay seated, but they had no support from law enforcement for exercising that right.

A right that isn’t enforced by law is useless.

In the South, when Blacks asserted any of their God-given rights under Federal law, the result was an arrest, a beating, or a murder.

When he (the driver) saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.” Rosa Parks

I live in San Francisco and use my legs for transportation.

My favorite walk is the five miles to Precita Park which takes me from the Fillmore District, through the Castro and into the Mission District.

Along the way, I see what we San Francisco old-timers call Reagan’s Children; ragged bundles of suffering, huddled on corners, under sheets, shoving carts, or motionless under the glaring sun.

Reagan's Children
Rand’s Children

President Reagan had a grand utopian vision of a shining city upon a hill, but he didn’t want to fund it.

Reagan's Shining City on A Hill
A shining city upon a Hill found at GIPHY

One would expect the citizens of a shining city to know how wrong it is to let the elderly and the disabled die on their streets.

One would expect these citizens to pay any expense to bring back the light.

I am no fan of Ronald Reagan, but he left office decades ago.

The United States can’t be the light of the world if we live in darkness at home.

Our leaders prance around the globe to promote the values of democracy.

But if we’re too cheap to feed our own children; if we allow a class of billionaires to incarcerate the poor for profit, if we allow racism to create an underclass trapped in a generations-long cycle of poverty, we look like hypocrites and hypocrisy breeds cynicism.

I think this is one of the many reasons we have a president like Trump: a cynical ideologue who uses the power of the federal government to enrich himself and his cronies. Trump expects us to accept his corrupt and empty vision of America and laud him as a great president when he lies.

We have a history of doing that.

Back in the before times, (Before COVID19) I boarded a crowded bus and took a seat next to a young mother who sat her daughter on her lap.

The child was about six.

She gazed out of the window and asked her mother about a man sleeping barefoot on the sidewalk.

“Mommy? Why is that man sleeping there?”

“He doesn’t have a home.”

“Why doesn’t he have a home?”

“I guess — because he decided he didn’t want one?”

“Why would he do that?”

A homeless man asleep on concrete

I smiled as I remembered a similar conversation with my grandmother when I was six.

We were walking through a park in Kew Gardens, New York.  I saw a man of about 50, in filthy clothes, stretched out on a bench.

“Grandma, why is he so dirty?”

She whispered: “He’s sick in the head, Robby.”

The man suddenly sat up and muttered to himself.

“Grandma, where is his family?”

My grandmother sensed my anxiety. She knelt and looked into my eyes: “If he doesn’t not have a family, Robby, America is his family. We have hospitals for people like him. The police will see him and take him to one of those hospitals. The doctors will clean him up. He’ll be safe. He’ll get treatment. We take care of each other, in America, Robbie. That’s what makes us great.”

My grandmother’s words made me feel safe.

Freedom from Fear-
“”Freedom from Fear” Ours to Fight For

If we are to restore our democracy, we must decide to live our principles in our daily lives: it’s the small acts of integrity that count.

Today I can marry my gay partner because I belonged to a generation of queers who said no to living like criminals.

We Americans are called to a mission, whether we are born here or come
as immigrants.

That mission is spelled out for us by our founders and the greatest President of the 20th Century.

To promote the idea that all people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Those principles became FDR’s Four Freedoms:

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

The New Deal was an experiment in regulating capitalism to fund federal and state programs specifically designed to prevent the conditions that breed fascism.

Roosevelt believed that access to the the kind of education that promotes class mobility is the best defense against fascism and the inequality that breeds it.

Most of the allied nations adopted some form of the New Deal, and some
of them kept it and are doing quite well.

The United States chose to dismantle the New Deal beginning with Ronald Reagan, and now we’re in the grip of tyranny, so I guess FDR was right.

The underlying premise of our system of government is that every citizen deserves of a chance to succeed at building a life worth living.

The U.S. Constitution was established to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.

A President incites violence against his own citizen violates the fundamental the basic duties of his office. This must not stand.

We must say no to the hypocrisy and corruption that drains us of our lives.

We must do as Rosa Parks did.

“I did not want to be mistreated; I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was an opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Rosa Parks

(c)Rob Goldstein 2020
‘Freedom from Fear’ by Norman Rockwell and Fingerprinting Rosa Parks are public domain.

“On Concrete’ and ‘Rand’s Children are (c)Rob Goldstein 2012-2020