The Perils of Clinging to White Male Privilege

It might be helpful to take a step back and remember that, during the primaries of this election, the big story was how both Trump and Sanders were appealing to the anger Americans had over the weak economic recovery. Slightly more than a month away from election day, that anger has become pretty difficult to track down. As a matter of fact, recent reports about the rise in consumer confidence have Kevin Drum asking, “Where’s the Anger, Dammit?!?

What’s even more interesting is how, during Monday’s debate, the candidate who is supposed to be tapping into the anger that working class whites feel these days, totally dissed them.

CLINTON: Well, let’s stop for a second and remember where we were eight years ago. We had the worst financial crisis, the Great Recession, the worst since the 1930s. That was in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street, and created a perfect storm.

In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, “Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.” Well, it did collapse.

TRUMP: That’s called business, by the way.

CLINTON: Nine million people — nine million people lost their jobs. Five million people lost their homes. And $13 trillion in family wealth was wiped out.

In other words, when Clinton pointed out that Trump was rooting for a housing collapse, he said that it was good for business…his business. I see no signs that a comment like that affected his supporters.

So, what’s up with that? Probably nothing more than the hundreds of other things Trump has said that we used to think would sink a presidential candidate. There is obviously something that is giving the Republican nominee a kind of staying power that we haven’t seen in previous elections. If it’s not white working class anger over the economy, what could it be?

As I said recently when talking about the particular challenges Hillary Clinton faces in this election, Rebecca Traister summarized what is happening pretty succinctly in an article titled: “The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power.”

The public spectacle of this presidential election, and the two that have preceded it, are inextricably linked to the racialized and gendered anger and violence we see around us…

Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…

This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke.

It’s true that Donald Trump’s supporters are angry. But with every day that passes it becomes more clear what they’re angry about. They find the changes we’re going through as a country demographically, culturally and globally to be excruciating. And nowhere are those changes more “in your face” than the election of our first African American president followed by the possibility of our first female president. The deplorable racism and sexism of the Trump campaign from day one is what this is all about.

That is why Sam Clovis, Donald Trump’s national policy adviser and campaign co-chair recently said this about why they haven’t bothered with a real policy agenda.

Our approach has been to provide outlook and constructs for policy because if we go into the specific details, we just get murdered in the press…

I think the American people, the American voter, will be bored to tears if that is in fact the way this thing goes. That’s not what they’re looking for.

The one thing I’ll say for the Trump campaign is that they know their audience. This is spot-on. Most of Trump’s supporters don’t care any more about policy than they do about the fact that he probably hasn’t paid any taxes in years and that he engaged in illegal business practices in Cuba. What they see in Trump is their last hope for a savior that will stand up against the inevitable changes that they find excruciating.

I have often thought that it is possible at times to see the damage that is done when people cling to their white male privilege. Being a sucker for Donald Trump is a perfect example of that.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.