Angry White Men By Michael Kimmel
Angry White Men, is Michael Kimmel’s new popular recognition of white American male rage. The first book on this topic – and most powerful exposé – by anti-capitalist scholar Mark Ames, Going Postal in 2005, was not recognized. Kimmel’s White Men describes the rage of American men, white, who have been cast out of their dominant roles within the economy, the family and personal life. The book does not discuss mass murder per se, but the fact that men are killing large numbers of people in America indicates a level of rage with no socially constructive outlet. Those men who kill are mostly, but not all, white. However, the groups of men that Kimmel discusses are all white. Kimmel correctly notes the way white men have been demoted from the economic and social dominance they once enjoyed. He blames white men’s now-lowered position on two developments. One is a vaguely referenced “neoliberal agenda.” The second is the movements for economic, political and civil rights for women and minorities. The civil rights and the feminist movements permitted more minorities and women to compete for jobs formerly reserved for white males.
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The book explores a wide range of white male attempts to recoup their lost hegemony. One is “hate radio” – where voices like Rush Limbaugh’ s channel men’ s lost confusion over their changed roles into hatred for “feminazis” and minorities who take “their” jobs. Another attempt to assert what Kimmel calls white men’s “aggrieved entitlement,” is the formation of men’ s rights groups who fight for divorced father’s rights to their children. Kimmel differentiates Men’s Rights Groups from Father’s Rights Groups. Father’s Rights Groups are composed of men who actually want to be close to their children and spend time with their children after divorce. Men’s Rights Groups claim rights to children without wanting to spend time caring for them. Men’s Rights Groups work to avoid paying child support, as well.
Kimmel explores the world of politically right-wing men raised to feel entitled to inherit the small businesses that their grandfathers built and hoped to hand down to their sons and grandsons. The small stores, restaurants and farms those white men built have been replaced by Walmarts, Home Depots, McDonalds and huge agri-businesses.
Some of the men who have lost their inheritance join “White Wing” racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, homophobic hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and the White Aryan Resistance (WAR). The White Wing blames their loss of male entitlement on women and minorities who now have access to “their” jobs. They blame large capitalist corporations for replacing their small farms and businesses. However, they blame international corporate capitalism on Jews, who, they imagine, are in an international Zionist conspiracy to capture America.
Kimmel does not directly critique White Wing logic. He exposes it as self-evidently absurd. However, this reader can understand how the White Wing builds on people’s outrage at their dispossession by international capital. The dispossessed suffer from an economic system in which the only consideration is profit, regardless of the damage that is done to people’s lives. The White Wing then manages the same kind of bait-and-switch as the Nazis. They take the fact that many Jewish people are involved in finance. They disregard the fact that Jews, a small percentage of any US industry, often entered finance because Jews were barred from agriculture and many other professions. Handling money – which was considered dirty work – was allowed for Jews. White Wing members direct their anger at the religion of some financiers and bankers rather than blaming the capitalist imperative to accumulate profit regardless of consequences. In other words, the White Wing blames Jewishness for capitalist greed. Anti-Semitism combines with racism, sexism and homophobia to create enemies of relatively less powerful groups, women, minorities, gays and Jews, who are safer to hate.
Kimmel suggests a general solution to the problem, another New Deal. He does not work out what that New Deal would entail and how it might work. Sadly, at this moment of US history, a New Deal seems impossible. First of all, the New Deal did not happen just because FDR was a nice, equality-minded man. Once elected, FDR responded to a crushing depression and also mass popular uprisings organized with the help and support of Socialist and Communist parties. The CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) – with the explicit help of communist and socialist organizers – brought millions of people into the largest, most militant labor union America had ever, or has ever, seen. Hundreds of thousands marched in mass marches of the unemployed organized by the Communist Party. In places like Nebraska, small farmers organized to stop the foreclosure of small farms. At what they called, “Penny auctions,” bidders were forcibly stopped from paying any more than a penny for anything being auctioned, thus denying the banks money from foreclosed farms, while allowing the farmers to buy back their land and belongings. Judges who foreclosed small farms were hanged by angry, organized farmers. In the South, black and white tenant farmers joined together in unions organized by active communists and socialists.
FDR could go to US capitalists and get them to pay high income taxes and corporate taxes to protect US capitalism. They paid because they were threatened. They paid the highest taxes ever to preserve capitalism itself. The chart below shows this far better than I could explain it.
Note how taxes on the highest earners rose radically, almost to 100 percent in 1933, after FDR was elected, and how those taxes began to fall radically when Reagan took over. The taxes on the wealthiest have remained low. In addition to their lowered personal income taxes and lower corporate taxes, the wealthiest Americans, like presidential candidate Mitt Romney, can publicly avow holding millions in offshore accounts on which they pay no taxes at all. Wealthy Americans hire tax lawyers to find ways to avoid paying taxes. They pay for the campaigns of candidates who will not tax them.
The New Deal was possible because of the threat to capitalism waged by a mass of Americans organized by the CIO, Socialists and Communists. That is NOT our current reality. In current capitalist America, wealthy candidate Romney bragged that on the portion of his millions that were taxed at all, he paid a tax rate of 13 percent – less than half the rate on income that average Americans pay. Warren Buffet, one of America’ s richest men, pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.
There is a second problem with Kimmel’s idea of another New Deal. As soon as the New Deal was enacted, US capitalists used their vast money to begin to undermine it. At the moment, corporate capitalists are succeeding splendidly. It is not enough to pass new legislation if you leave vast money and power in the hands of those with every incentive and economic ability to undermine the legislation you pass. Vague ideas of another New Deal are not possible for now. Organizing around economic, emotional, and political democracy and equality, and changing the wealth-power distribution in America, is obviously necessary to make changes. Those changes can stop the rage of dispossessed white men, which Kimmel so aptly describes.
The “New Deal” idea parallels Kimmel’ s throw-away line about a “neoliberal agenda” that shares the blame for white male rage. Both allow the book to evade a serious indictment of American capitalism or American violence in our military, gun culture, films, television, videogames, etc.
There is a second part of the solution that Kimmel does not even mention. That is a kind of democracy in personal relationships. The men he describes are unaware of what they miss. Their “manhood” that they so treasure left them out of touch with their emotions. They were socially forced into a male role that left them as polarized half-humans. They were robbed of tenderness, vulnerability and the right to perform daily care for their homes and children. That caring and emotional labor teaches people invaluable lessons about the importance of sustaining life.
Part of the anger of “entitled men” comes from the level of emotional deprivation they have suffered since they were little boys having to “man-up” and not cry. Their only chance to be vulnerable was through contact with the women they are now losing. Their limited definition of manhood prevents them from having emotionally close male friends in whom they confide and from whom they get comfort. The intimate emotional friendships many of these men could have are with wives or girlfriends. They allow themselves the need for sexual connection and hide their need for emotional connection under their expressed need for a regular sex partner. It is their women who do the emotional labor to connect them to the world of their own feelings. It is women who also overwhelmingly do the social connecting that permits these men to connect with their children and their relatives. Before women deserted them, many of these enraged men managed the illusion that they were “self-sufficient,” while their wives cared for their emotions, their children, and their homes, and maintained connection with family, and friends and community.
Without husbands, women still maintain sustaining emotionally intimate relationships with women friends, children and families. For the men described here, their imagined “self-sufficiency” did not permit that. Fewer and fewer working-class or middle-class women are willing to get married to men who cannot support them and still demand domestic, sexual and emotional services at home. The angry white men Kimmel describes are losing their positions of dominance at home and at work simultaneously. Sadly, they look to reclaim their sad “manhood” through violence and rage at women, minorities and gays, who remain easy targets in our culture.
Kimmel stays away from any specific suggestions or methods for change. However, his book exposes an urgent need for a strong, appealing, sensible Left movement that addresses the dispossession of America’ s angry men and replaces it with a movement that respects our needs emotionally, politically and economically. It’s really up to us.