Sanders, Trump, and their Angry White Men

This is the Election Cycle of the Angry White Person, Mostly Men. This particular kind of Angry White Person supports either Trump or Sanders, and is defined both by their privilege and by saying they’d rather stay home than vote for anyone else. A surprising number of Sanders supporters have said they will vote for Trump if it’s HRC/Trump. This phenomenon bears examining.

This is a certain type of Angry White Person, not all angry white people everywhere, just in case you’re feeling fragile and need a #notallwhitepeople or #notallmen. Or even a #notallSanderssupporters, because it most definitely is a subset, and a minor one at that, but so vocal, so active, so, well, LOUD, they’re impacting the election cycle as a whole. I may yet vote for Sanders myself, not that it matters, as I’m in California and our primary is like five minutes before the election.

This subset of Angry White People I’m talking about are attracted to either Trump or Sanders, period. Their personal politics will push them in one direction or the other, but the basic exchange between voter and candidacy is exactly the same.

Right now, white people are starting to lose their privilege (or, more accurately, fear they might lose it) as we strive as a culture for equilibrium. White people are being asked to examine their complicity in a system that’s racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, etc. Many white people, especially men, are upset and angry that they, who believe they are good people– who ARE good people– who believe they are “not racist” and “not sexist,” are still associated with systemic oppression, still asked to examine their privilege. Unjustly accused, they believe, of being “the bad guy.”

Along come two angry white men, both of whom say “America’s problems are not your fault. YOU’RE the victim of an unjust system. You have every right to be angry! The system is rigged against you, so get angry and fight back!”

This is music to the ears of a certain type of white person. Trump lays it at the door of “political correctness” unjustly oppressing white men, and Sanders lays it at the door of an unjust economic system. I agree that economic injustice is a massive problem in the US, but that’s immaterial to the point I’m trying to make.

Many Sanders supporters are baffled when their fellow Sanders supporters say they would stay home and allow Trump to win or even vote for him themselves should the general election be Trump v HRC. Liberal and progressive politics center around championing the vulnerable, and in general, those voters recognize the danger that Trump– and the GOP in general– present to the vulnerable in the US. They understand that the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good when actual lives are at stake. They know that the luxury to pretend that Clinton is the same as Trump only comes with the kind of privilege that insulates one from the consequences of the election. They understand what Sanders’ support of feminism and anti-racism initiatives means.

But, as we’ve seen, not every Sanders supporter actually listens to Sanders, and many are so caught up in the message that they, as white people, are victims of an unjust economic system that they refuse to consider how the consequences of this election might impact people more vulnerable than they, making them “Bernie or Bust.” And while there are indeed “Bernie or Bust” people of color, the vast majority of them are white– the vast majority of Sanders’ supporters in general are white. It’s been a problem dogging the Sanders campaign from the beginning and the reason he’s not likely to win the nomination.

This particular type of Angry White Sanders Supporters are defined by their response when it’s suggested that they should “vote blue, no matter who” in the general election to protect the vulnerable against the real dangers of a Trump presidency. They reject, with angry indignation, the idea that the actual lives of the vulnerable should take precedence over what they’re mistakenly calling their “conscience,” but what is really “my anger is more important than the lives of the vulnerable.” They say, “If I’m Bernie or Bust, don’t blame me, blame Hillary Clinton,” which means exactly same thing: my feelings matter more than, to name just one example, protecting Muslims from the policies of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. They’re more than willing to sacrifice the safety of vulnerable Americans if they don’t get precisely what they want. They see compromise as a line impossible to cross, no matter the cost– especially when the cost is one they themselves will not have to pay.

This kind of Angry White Person is excited to finally be in a place where they’re back in the center, where they’re The Victim, where they’re no longer associated with The Bad Guy, The Man, The White Male Monolith, The Patriarchy. They finally have a place that tells them that they’re the true victims of injustice.

Of course they aren’t going to vote for HRC; of course they’re going to believe whatever debunked propaganda they can find about her, of course they’re going to disparage her in sexist terms; of course they’re going to demonize her. There’s a certain kind of person who needs to believe the propaganda about her, because he’s enraptured by a world wherein white people, especially men, are the victims of an unjust system, not the architects and enforcers of one. He can’t– or he won’t– entertain the notion that white people can be both simultaneously. “Bernie or bust” = “my worldview at ALL costs.”

(And here it is again, in case you tend to confuse “people who do this” with “all you people do this”: #notallSanderssupporters #notallwhitepeople #notallmen.)

While White Anger is pretty much the alpha and omega of the Trump campaign, it’s only part of the Sanders campaign. Yet it’s such a vocal part that it’s become one of the most persistent negative aspects dogging it, doing Sanders much more harm than good.

There are two kinds of anger dominating Sanders followers: The first is the righteous anger over decades of economic injustice bolstered by every aspect of the oligarchy we foolishly made of the republic we were given. It’s an anger that recognizes that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, Islamophobia, and every kind of injustice and bigotry are serious problems in and of themselves in addition to, not in opposition to, economic injustice, that recognizes the importance of intersectionality. These are people fighting for the vulnerable, whether their own intersectional identities fall into any of those categories or not. I believe these are the (somewhat silent) majority of Sanders supporters. I hope they are. I would count myself among them, no matter who I vote for in the primary. In the general, I will proudly cast my vote for either Democratic candidate, because these issues– these people– matter to me.

This brings me to the particular kind of White Anger I’m discussing– the second kind of anger dominating Sanders followers. It’s an anger that rejects any consideration of other issues, that rejects any consideration of others, period. The White Anger that revels in its own importance and cannot, even for a moment, entertain the notion of having to return to a place where their white privilege or their male privilege– their association with, and potential complicity with, systems of oppression– becomes important, instead refusing to leave the circle where they can claim that they are the ones against whom the gravest injustice has been committed, everyone else be damned. The people who would throw the vulnerable under the bus to preserve the illusion that they are the ones suffering the gravest injustice, deserving of the most urgent attention, and entitled not just to the front of the line, but to the entire line.

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Sanders, Trump, and their Angry White Men

  1. I will admit that not too long ago I was one of the people that this post is about. And I’m not even white… or male. I was judging Hillary way more harshly than the other candidates and I honestly have no idea why. Every time she had an encounter with a protester, she came off as defensive and mean. But who wouldn’t be defensive when they’re accosted by people who come at them in a rude manner? I know I would. She’s supposedly “untrustworthy”. But really, all politicians say and do what they have to in order to win, right? So I don’t really know what my problem was. A week or so ago, I listened to a podcast where she was the guest. The hosts asked her some fun questions and some tough questions. She answered the tough questions with grace and poise. She came off as very personable when answering the fun questions. She just seemed very sincere all around. And it really made me think “why don’t I like her?” I say all of this to say that I’ve changed my mind about my stance on Hillary. I still like Bernie a little more, but I won’t let that stop me from voting for Hillary if she wins the nomination. They should really just run on the same ticket anyway. Together than can easily win the White House.

    • gwangung says:

      Yeah, I think the right wing smear machine has really done a number on the nation (and can we really doubt that there’s a machine from the right wing that’s smearing people and institutions?)

      It’s quite rational to prefer Sanders over Clinton, but there’s a lot of animus against the latter that stems from leftovers from the 90s that really aren’t relevant anymore.

      • Paul says:

        I am a senior citizen and cannot understand why white men wish to put a “commie”, like Sanders, a show biz guy, like Trump in the White House , at such a critical time. America is faced with terrorism, Russia flying jets within thirty feet of our aircraft carriers and we are enthralled with unrealistic rhetoric from Sanders and Trump. After Sanders breaks up our large institutions.. then what..we start all over? After Trump builds the wall,does it mean we can no longer visit Tijuana? Sanders bashes the rich, but yet he uses nearly $400k of donors hard earned cash to take his family, entourage to the Vatican, feasting on steak and lobster for dinner. Trump bashes women unmercifully but yet you turn out in droves to vote for him. Sanders is far worst than Trump in that he preys on young people who operate on emotions rather than common sense. The vitriol espoused by the “Berniebros” through social media, pushes America,” never let go racism “to the forefront. I may be old, like Sanders, but i am not easily fooled by “shysters”. But like grandma used to say,”.be careful what you ask for”.

  2. Nailed it! “This brings me to the particular kind of White Anger I’m discussing– the second kind of anger dominating Sanders followers. It’s an anger that rejects any consideration of other issues, that rejects any consideration of others, period. The White Anger that revels in its own importance and cannot, even for a moment, entertain the notion of having to return to a place where their white privilege or their male privilege– their association with, and potential complicity with, systems of oppression– becomes important, instead refusing to leave the circle where they can claim that they are the ones against whom the gravest injustice has been committed, everyone else be damned. The people who would throw the vulnerable under the bus to preserve the illusion that they are the ones suffering the gravest injustice, deserving of the most urgent attention, and entitled not just to the front of the line, but to the entire line.”

    >

  3. I wish I had written this column. I also thought maybe my wife and I were the only ones who said this (in the privacy of our own home).

  4. Kiku says:

    We aren’t angry, we like his vision, his judgement, and his policies.

    • Sandy says:

      You trust his judgment and policies? He chose to be dishonest, unethical, and a bully. And his policies are either non-existent or undoable. You like that? Seriously?

  5. Callie says:

    This is brilliant.

  6. Louise says:

    Fascinating post. I recently wrote about the psychological underpinnings of people’s support of Trump, but I never thought how some of Sanders’ supporters might be similar.

    Psychologically, some people look for a strong authority figure to take charge when they feel threatened, vulnerable, or worried for their future. People who want this strong authority figure respond really well to Trump. The phenomenon is called authoritarianism, or belief in the Strict Father paradigm of government.

    Knowing this helped me understand Trump supporters better, because I had been baffled and horrified at how some people could support a candidate who’s so hateful.

    http://www.whitewomansmemoir.com/the-scary-racist-rise-of-donald-trump/

  7. I agree with the thrust of your argument, and in particular what a noxious and self-defeating position it is for Sanders supporters to say #NeverHillary.
    I would have preferred that you had added a sentence or two acknowledging the actual economic pain, and documented deteriorating health, that white middle aged American men are experiencing
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html
    Implying that their angry is rooted primarily (solely?) in bigotry and narcissism is not just inaccurate; it strikes me as counterproductive. Leaving out understanding and, yes, compassion perpetuates the “Us vs. Them” mentality that makes it more difficult to come up with solutions.

    • Louise says:

      Yes, white men in general are earning less, and their health overall is deteriorating. This is new for white men, and scary. When I was growing up, a white man with a blue-colar job could support a family, buy a house and a car or two; now, that’s much harder. And yes, we need to be fair.

      However, people of color have been earning far less for the entire history of this country, and have had worse health. It’s counterproductive for us white people to want to talk about our suffering, however real it is, as more serious *overall* than is the suffering of people of color.

      This country is already divided. Acknowledging it is essential.

      • “It’s counterproductive for us white people to want to talk about our suffering, however real it is, as more serious *overall* than is the suffering of people of color.”

        I’m not sure who says this — are you saying that Sanders and Trump supporters do? I certainly don’t.

      • Louise says:

        You’ve never heard/read anyone doing this? It’s when someone I know, a white man, talks about how if people of color *really* want him to be an ally, they wouldn’t say that his experience of racism doesn’t count. Or a white woman I know says that racism hurts her, too, and how horrible this one time was when she was the minority in a group and everyone else voted differently from her on a key point.

        But that white man’s “experience of racism” is *one* incident *once* in his life, that didn’t involve him being denied a job or promotion, being told there weren’t any houses for sale when their were, being arrested and convicted for minor offenses that a white man would have been given a caution for, being beaten or lynched.

        And that white woman’s experience of racism hurting her is *one time* being outvoted by a group of Latina women. But, again, she wasn’t denied a job, arrested, called a “wetback” or told to “go back home where you belong,” raped, or murdered.

        It’s when someone says, basically, “white men suffer too!”

  8. annehallinan says:

    I learned long ago that it is only from a position of privilege that one can allow the perfect to trump (small t) the good. My strong reservations about HRC have to do with her approach to foreign policy, but it is obvious that even her inclination toward regime change and combat pales in comparison with the alternatives.

  9. life with IC says:

    I shared the “Privilege” post on my FB and the response was incredible, and disturbing Somehow, the people who didn’t agree (vehemently so) failed to see they were actually doing what the article highlighted as ultimately destructive to progressive issues (in that Trump will win the Presidency.) And more interestingly, they DENIED that *some* Bernie supporters (themselves) ever behaved badly WHILE doing it.

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