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The 2012 Republican primary season has featured many head-scratching moments. From audiences that cheer the macabre and the cruel, a fratricidal nomination process in which the front runners seem intent on destroying one another, and a collective descent into madness where the most fringe Right wing values such as nativism, conspiratorial Birtherism, old fashioned white racism, and puritanical Christian theocratic identity politics are on full display, it seems that the bizarre has become the new normal.

Since the election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party GOP has embraced a kamikaze-like politics in which they are willing to destroy the proverbial village in order to liberate it. This appetite for destruction has reached a fever pitch during the last few weeks. Rick Santorum and the Republican Party have called for limiting women’s reproductive rights under the guise of defending “religion” from the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. A Federal Judge was caught forwarding an email to his friends suggesting that Barack Obama’s conception was the product of drunken sex between his mother Ann Dunham, and a dog. And Rush Limbaugh launched a viciously misogynistic attack on Sandra Fluke, a private citizen, who dared to testify before Congress in defense of a woman’s right to have equal access to birth control.

On the surface, these incidents appear to be unrelated. They are simply the desperate graspings and mouth utterances of an increasingly fringe and desperate Republican Party which is determined to defeat Barack Obama by any means necessary. However, these events are all symptoms of a bigger problem. In the Age of Obama white manhood—and a particular type of conservative white masculinity—is frightened, unsettled, and terrified of its obsolescence. White (conservative) masculinity finds itself in an existential crisis.

For outsiders looking in, the idea that white manhood is somehow imperiled, would in all likelihood, appear absurd. While non-Hispanic white men are only twenty percent of the American public, they control every major social, political, and economic institution in the United States. In addition (borrowing the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement), “the 1%” are almost exclusively white men. White people have at least twenty times the wealth of people of color: white men possess the overwhelming majority of these resources.

However, from the point of view of embattled white manhood, the situation is very much in doubt. If we reverse our perspective, or “turn the map upside down” as young Marines are trained to do in Officer Candidates School, the sense of crisis being felt by white conservative men is made all the more clear.

The election of Barack Obama has challenged a type of racial self-centeredness and narcissism, what is less precisely known as “white privilege,” which has historically put whiteness--and white men--at the center of all things. The white racial frame assumes white dominance as a given: for many, the symbolic politics of a black man, his wife, and children living in the White House, and doing so with grace and dignity, is simply too much to bear. This reality is an upending of their world, an affront to a very narrow sense of what the “American tradition” is, and what the limits of “common sense” actually are.

White people will no longer be a majority in the United States by the year 2042. China is an ascendant power; the United States is in decline. Women have continued to gain socially, politically, and economically—one is even Secretary of State, and a few heartbeats away from the Presidency. Gays and lesbians are winning their full and equal rights as American citizens. The United States elected its first black president. And ironically, while black folks and other people of color have seen the decimation of their middle class, and levels of unemployment approaching 30 percent or more, it is white people, and white men in particular, who are most pessimistic about their futures and economic security.

At its root, conservatism is ultimately about resistance to social change. When imperiled, conservatism becomes reactionary. In the extreme, conservatism yields to its most base authoritarian impulses. As outlined above, the social and political changes of the civil rights and post-civil rights era are a dagger at the heart of contemporary conservatism--and the electoral coalition that has grounded the Republican Party since the 1960s. The maddening politics on display in the 2012 Republican primary are a response to this reality.

For example, public opinion surveys and experiments have repeatedly demonstrated a close relationship between the idea of who is “American,” and a belief that “Americans” are “naturally” white. The courts and United States’ immigration policy have long reflected this idea, where until the 1950s, a person had to be of “white stock and ancestry” according to the commonsense norms of the “average” white person in order to be eligible for American citizenship. Therefore, if we grant that the national identity of the United States is tied to “white,” “masculine,” confidence and power (see: conservatives’ love of cowboy politics and the “swagger” of men such as George Bush) the rise of China imperils American Exceptionalism as an ideology, one which is inseparably linked to both race and nation.

Citizenship in the United States is gendered—the Constitution had to be amended in order to give women the right to vote. Citizenship is also racialized—Jim and Jane Crow white supremacy were formal systems of racial hierarchy that deemed black Americans as second class citizens, and where any white person, regardless of their mediocrity and low accomplishments, were judged to be better than the most gifted, genius, moral, and brilliant person of color.

Race and gender also intersect. (White) manhood has defined itself by controlling access to women’s bodies. Historically, white manhood has also been validated through efforts to dominate and control the bodies of people of color: in particular, those of African Americans. The American rituals of racialized violence, political exclusion and oppression, discrimination in the labor market, and the violent spectacle of the lynching tree, were/are means through which conservative white masculinity, specifically, and white identity, more generally, were validated.

We cannot forget that power is about more than controlling people’s bodies. Power, is also about dictating the contours of people’s life chances. The retrograde and fringe efforts by Republicans and Christian Nationalists such as Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh, and others to deny women their reproductive rights is a direct heir to a type of white manhood (and phallocentric politics), that validates itself through the control of female personhood. The white racial resentment which is the currency of the contemporary Republican Party also draws from this same wellspring.

My claim is not that there is something new about the current crisis in conservative white manhood during the Age of Obama and the Great Recession. For example, during the 1990s, movies such as Falling Down and the rise of “the angry white man” were signals to a sense of upset and malaise in which white men (and white people more generally) were believed to be under assault by immigrants, people of color, gays, lesbians, feminists, and “liberals”--all of who were enabled by an “oppressive” multiculturalism and agenda of political correctness.

More recent films such as Fight Club were efforts to work through the meaning of white manhood in an era of globalization, the rise of the service economy, and the decline of “blue collar” American masculinity. Nixon’s silent majority, and Reagan’s New Right, “working class,” white electoral coalition, were also backlashes against the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement, and a belief that white American masculinity was imperiled

Looking back more broadly, the United States struggled with what it meant to be white, male, and American during the great waves of European immigration and World War One during the early part of the twentieth century. It also worked through changing norms of white manhood as the country transitioned from one that was predominantly rural, to one that was urban, during the same time period. Ultimately, these are old questions that are still with us, and which are reoccurring, resisted, and renegotiated by succeeding generations of white men—as well as women and people of color.

The contemporary Republican Party’s return to the decades-old language of the Culture War is an effort to capture the lie of a past, the myth of the Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet America that never was. This America was one of conservative, white, heterosexual, male dominance. From the point of view of conservatives, the gays, women, the poor, and the minorities knew their place. The long history of resistance and defiance by oppressed and aggrieved populations to this racial and social order is overlooked in favor of a comforting lie that puts whiteness, and white middle class masculinity and manhood, at the center of social reality. In the white conservative imagination these identities were triumphant, safe, and never in doubt or challenged.

When Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh and their allies suggest that women should be denied reproductive rights, or that they should put aspirin between their legs in order to avoid pregnancy, white conservative manhood is reaching back to this fictive past. Likewise, when conservatives indulge in Birtherism, or wallow in white racism in order to delegitimize President Obama, they are reaching back to this lie of a dreamworld. To outsiders looking in, the claims by Pat Buchanan and Charles Murray that white civilization is under siege and in decline appear to be some type of agitprop theater, what is silly-talk that no reasonable person ought to take seriously.

However, for a particular type of white conservative the threat is absolutely real. The coarseness of the political rhetoric in the Age of Obama, and the Republican Party’s embrace of the most fringe elements of the Right-wing imagination, is largely driven by a desire to protect conservative white manhood and masculinity at any cost.

For them, American civilization is inseparably and irrevocably tied to whiteness, and a very narrow, “traditional” understanding of what is means to be a “man.” Therefore, by this calculus, the suicide bomber politics of the contemporary Republican Party are not insane—rather, they are the necessary and desperate actions of a people who believe that they are facing demographic suicide. The question then becomes: how far will conservatives go to protect a world in which white men and their sympathetic allies (such as Stockholmesque women like Sarah Palin and her “grizzly mom” brigades) are at the center of all things?

Originally posted to chaunceydevega on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 10:47 AM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is spot on!!! (12+ / 0-)

    Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. William Shakespeare

    by lutznancy on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 10:58:54 AM PST

  •  Another excellent diary. (10+ / 0-)

    I don't understand the mindset of these conservative white guys, although I am white and 56 years old.   I have been on a different track since I was young and just missed out on the things that seem to create fear in them.  Your explanation makes a lot of sense.  White privilege may matter most to those with less to begin with.  Perhaps this is driven by blue-collar, mostly non-union whites who have seen their economic place deline over the last 30 to 40 years, all the time voting for Rs who screwed them even more.  But that would not explain the federal judge.

    Anyway, this song seems to fit: "When They say they want their America back, what the fuck do they mean?" by Jill Sobule at Netroots Nation:  

    I wasn't there, but diod see her recently play it.

    I'm from the Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner Wing of the Democratic Party!

    by TomP on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 10:59:05 AM PST

  •  wow...that was a lot of work! (11+ / 0-)

    Yours, not the readers. Thank for such a compelling analysis of this viewpoint.

    Cats are better than therapy, and I'm a therapist.

    by Smoh on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 10:59:52 AM PST

  •  White Conservative Males (8+ / 0-)

    Seem to have a need to control everyone else. It's just twisted.

    And that business of them eventually being in the minority - to them, I say "So??"

    Why shouldn't you be in the minority? Especially when your mindset seems to be stuck in the dark ages??

    "We have only the moral ground we actually inhabit, not the moral ground we claim." - It Really Is That Important

    by Diogenes2008 on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:01:47 AM PST

  •  I do have to add this (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, TomP, coquiero, mungley, Catte Nappe, Avila

    I watched "The View" this morning, because Sandra Fluke was going to be on the show.

    Before she came on, Whoopi Goldberg was praising Patricia Heaton (Goldberg was a guest recently on "The Middle").

    Talk about poor timing, or just plain out of the loop, or.... I don't know what.

    In case anyone doesn't know what I'm talking about, take a look at what Heaton said to Fluke on Twitter:

    Heaton On Twitter

    "We have only the moral ground we actually inhabit, not the moral ground we claim." - It Really Is That Important

    by Diogenes2008 on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:07:31 AM PST

  •  Nicely done (7+ / 0-)

    A thought provoking read.

    They are afraid, because, as George Lopez said (paraphrasing), "don't worry, White America.  Latinos are poised to become the majority in this country, but rest assured we will do our best to treat you as well as you have treated us while we were the minority."

    I blog about my daughter with autism at her website

    by coquiero on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:13:24 AM PST

  •  The concept of hegemony might work here (4+ / 0-)

    In his prison diaries, the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci came up with a terrific theory to explain cultural dominance and domination: hegemony.
    If you know Marxist theory, it's a form of control exercised through the superstructure.  If not, here's what Merriam-Webster.com says

    1: preponderant influence or authority over others : domination (battled for hegemony in Asia)
    2: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group
    Losing power is one thing, but losing influence is something else again.

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:17:21 AM PST

  •  Entitlement vs. Resentment (4+ / 0-)

    Or, to put an even more touchy-feely spin on it, narcissism vs. insecurity.  

    It seems to me that conservative white men divide into different categories.  The Masters of the Universe are rich, educated, and blind to how they obtained those benefits.   The right parents, the right schools, the right contacts, the right government subsidies, direct and indirect, are entirely absent from their field of vision (as Elizabeth Warren has noted).  The only things visible to them are their own "accomplishments".    

    They don't so much hate or resent the Other (black people, brown people, women, gays, poor people) as fail to see them as anything but the subhuman means to  their own goals.   Employees should ideally behave like office equipment - silent, dependable, cheap to acquire and easy to replace.  

    Conservative upper-middle-class professional white women (who infest my workplace to an annoying degree) can also behave like narcissistic Masters of the Universe - a fact they like to disguise by engaging in a number of high-profile "charity" activities that usually involve some sort of demeaning recipient participation like bringing toys to the houses of poor people right before Christmas.

    The Bitterly Envious, on the other hand, do hate and resent the Other, because the Other is a frightening reminder of the fact that they themselves are just one paycheck (or unemployment check) away from becoming the hated poor/welfare recipient/loser they secretly fear  themselves to be.  

    If I had to choose, I prefer the Bitterly Envious because if and when times get tough enough, their self-interest might lead them to a little enlightenment.  The Masters of the Universe will never change.

  •  Excellent overview (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coquiero, Odysseus, Avila

    I have been thinking the same thing for a while.  I tend to take a dim view of traditional masculinity, so won't be sorry to see "white conservative masculinity" continue to decline over time.  I do make a distinction between masculinity and male, and males of "white" European descent will hopefully still remain a vital part of this country but without the traditional negative aspects of the masculine identity.

  •  Great diary. Excellent analysis. (7+ / 0-)

    The fear in which these folks live is very strange.

    I have wondered in the past, if part of their fear is due to the expectation of retribution.
    If women, people of color, and gay people followed the conservative white model, then once one of those groups reached ascendancy, it would be time for payback.

    That, of course, is not the mindset of most people. I wonder if being ignored and disregarded would be as painful to the as payback.

    Please Vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2012.

    by mungley on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 11:38:54 AM PST

    •  Historically (4+ / 0-)

      that fear of retribution and payback is what characterized the white slave-holding aristocracy of the antebellum South. Having used, abused and exploited the slaves and constructed the edifice of white supremacy on it, they were utterly petrified at the prospect of payback. So terrified in fact they were willing to leave the Union to avoid it. John Brown's call for an armed insurrection and slave rebellion seemed to them to be the End of Days come in the flesh.
          What they were never able to digest (and in some ways to this day their descendants still can not) was that when the Civil War came the slave reaction was not desperate rebellion but either mass escape to the nearest Union lines or simple labor strikes. They really thought Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was a call to take up John Brown's shriek for revenge....and it never happened.
           But the fear of just that haunted them all their days. They had to invent Jim Crow and black codes and 'race etiquette' to make SURE that didn't happen. And even when it didn't they still feared it.
           I have found it fascinating to note that when the Civil Rights movement started making real headway in the mid 1950s down to the 1970s, abolishing de jure white supremacy (we are still working on abolishing white privilege as the diarist notes) one side effect was the rise of the Televangelists. Falwell, Robison, Swaggert, Lindsey, Bakker: virtually all of them white, Southern males of roughly the same age. As they came of age in this same period they thought they saw everything they had been taught as true crumbling before their very eyes: racial equality, women's liberation, the sexual revolution, the fledgling gay rights efforts.
           They saw the world (as they knew it and expected it to be) passing away before their very eyes. They ran to their Bibles and began preaching in essence "since MY world view is collapsing before my eyes, the WHOLE WORLD must be coming to an end." Hence the apocalyptic/millinerian fears and hopes preached among the fundagelicals starting in the 1970s (Lindsey: "The Late, Great Planet Earth.")
            I still tend to think the diarist is spot on, that having broken legal white supremacy in the 1960s, white privilege was the residue. The election of a black man to the White House is a public sign that now white privilege is on death row. They still have the same uncontrollable fears but much less power than before. This accounts for their desperation and straining now, to try and hold the last line.

      They will fail.

      Shalom.

      "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

      by WineRev on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 01:34:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "The New Hate" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoldlady, Avila

    I'm currently reading "The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right" -- oddly named since what it demonstrates is that there is a very old unifying pattern of paranoid, narcissistic hate that has constantly mutated, reformed and reemerged throughout American history. Your diary is a compelling living autopsy of this enduring beast in its most current form, connected as always to its oldest and most primal fears.

    "The notion that a majority must have its way, whether in matters of opinion or in matters of personal conduct, is as pestilent and anti-democratic a notion as can possibly be conceived" Columbia University president N. M. Butler on the Scopes trial

    by teachme2night on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 12:15:41 PM PST

    •  i will check out that book (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Avila, teachme2night

      thanks

      •  Quote from book: (0+ / 0-)
        The core proposition of the not-so-New-Hate: that there are those of us who are not really "us" and those of us who are essentially "other" -- aliens, interlopers, pretenders, culture distorters, parasites and freeloaders who bear the blame for the fact that being a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant American no loner suffices to make one the cynosure of the world.

        "The notion that a majority must have its way, whether in matters of opinion or in matters of personal conduct, is as pestilent and anti-democratic a notion as can possibly be conceived" Columbia University president N. M. Butler on the Scopes trial

        by teachme2night on Tue Mar 06, 2012 at 09:54:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The whole term "conservative" is itself dubious (4+ / 0-)

    here.  

    I thought conservatives were supposed to believe in stuffy old-fashioned ideas of courtesy, such as referring to women as "ladies", etc.  They don't seem to be doing that lately.

     And what of this idea of wars on the credit card, dismantling of things like Glass-Steagall, 125% loan to value mortgages -- none of that sounds "conservative" to me.

    The correct term for Republican "conservatives" these days is "reactionary".

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 12:26:48 PM PST

  •  Great post, as always (4+ / 0-)

    But to answer your question, "How far will conservatives go . . . "

    The SPLC is reporting a sharp uptake in the numbers of hate groups in the U.S.

    A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president's country of birth.
    The Secret Service reported that on average, the President gets 30 threats per day, stretching their already thin resources.  Although the vast majority of these messages are from what could charitably be described as mentally disturbed individuals, the law of averages suggests that some are not.

    What comedian Wanda Sykes says is true - 'That's not reverse discrimination, that's Karma" - but the loss of their hegemony is no laughing matter to some of them.  

    After centuries of being the Mighty Hunter, they are now a prey animal, wounded, gasping, and desperate.

    There is no creature on earth as dangerous.  

    Don't practice. Train.--Brian Harvey

    by luvsathoroughbred on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 12:39:26 PM PST

  •  Growing up (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jack 1966, Odysseus, Arakiba

    In a suburbanrural community my exposure to other cultures was minimal. then I joined the Army and things were radically different than what my little spot in the US was. The military is a lite brown color in skin tone. We were all on standing orders to think in terms of camo in terms of individual people. With some people that kind o thinking took root and stayed. I know it did with me.

    So now I view people that way and its much easier for me to talk to just about anyone. I don't always like everyone I meet, but that is the human condition. As for the rest humanity it is an ocean of individuals and you have to make your own assessments of each one. My guide is intergrity, and Martin Luther King's quote about judging based on the content of character.

    I must admit to some profiling as the military gave me that as well. I am intolerant of the willfully stupid. Stopped learning? Best start digging your grave. This primary by the republicans has displayed an bunch of white men working really hard to get those graves dug.

  •  Question that needs answering Please (0+ / 0-)

    Why would any black or brown or red or yellow American or any woman or union member or public employee or even anyone capable of simple math vote for any GnoPer

    Tea Parties are for little girls with imaginary friends.

    by J Edward on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 02:00:36 PM PST

  •  good question. (0+ / 0-)
    how far will conservatives go to protect a world in which white men and their sympathetic allies (such as Stockholmesque women like Sarah Palin and her “grizzly mom” brigades) are at the center of all things?
    at first, it was almost amusing, the tea party, glenn beck, rush limbaugh, rick santorum, et al. it's become scary, for these are the people that own guns, lots of guns, and lots of ammo for those guns. like a scared animal, backed into a corner, they have lashed out at those who, in their paranoid delusions, are threatening a way of life that never actually existed for most of them.

    what i can't figure out (and you briefly alluded to it, in your question) is why any self-respecting woman would buy into all this? or is that actually the answer to the question?

  •  I knew it. (0+ / 0-)

    I knew if I went looking for it, I'd find it somewhere on DKos

    Why am I not surprised to find it under cdv's handle...

    Most excellent and thank you, again, for the time you take to teach.

    "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." ~ Steven Biko

    by Marjmar on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 02:49:57 PM PST

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