White Men Have Given Up.
Bill Clinton was the first. Presumably bored by overseeing peace and prosperity, Bubba had to break the first law of Washington and get caught with interns. Still, he was responsible enough on the things that mattered, or was at least capable of not mucking up the benefits of a technological revolution.
But then came the Bush administration. Unprecedented terrorist attacks, foreign policy adventures, agency mismanagement and politicization, capped off with an historic financial panic that wiped out 8 years of gains in the equity markets, his administration’s one arguable accomplishment. Tended with congressional hearings of white male executives of manufacturing and finance, the two poles of White Male power, the hard and soft worlds. Greed, lack of innovation, and intransigence had led Detroit to its knees; Greed, over-innovation, and indifference to decades-long regulation led Wall Street to cause near ruin of the world financial system.
White Males have given up. Maybe women have realized guys don’t do no good for the world. The High Arts have taken note. The ascendance of Will Ferrell was no accident. I believe George W. Bush would not have won had Ferrell not presented him as a willfully uninformed, yet ultimately well-meaning buffoon of the people. He rode this wave and image through Old School (about men who are unwilling to grow up so they form a fraternity without enrolling at a college) into his magnus opus, Anchorman. This is the greatest comedy of its time, about a Bushian local news anchor who believes diversity is “an old old wooden ship from the Civil War era” and, like 44, read uncritically word-for-word from the teleprompter. Ferrell continued with gem after gem, from Ricky Bobby to Step Brothers to the more dramatic Everything Must Go. In all of them, he played a grown man incapable of handling the obligations of adulthood yet at his core still charismatically earnest enough to have a woman of charity help him along. The list of lesser comedies that Judd Apatow continued to spit out after Anchorman all included the same archetypal white male underachiever who audiences sympathetically rooted for; these slackers were all intelligent and meant well, and it was simply the demands of the workplace and marriage are too much for them.
Ferrell outdid himself in his collaboration with Danny McBride when they created the greatest of white male flameouts, Kenny Powers in Eastbound and Down. Based on the Trumpian Atlanta relief pitcher John Rocker, Kenny Powers is an uber-Ferrell. Although packing twice the bluster of Ron Burgundy, he seethes with rage about the good times that passed him by, without being able to overtly acknowledge that he alone was the cause of all his problems. Season 1 is required viewing for anyone who wants to understand the discontentment, disillusion, and sense of disenfranchisement among the white male. As a follow on, I recommend Justified, which shows that America’s betrayal of the working poor is nothing new and that even the well-intentioned welfare state (crafted to benefit the whites of Appalachia) has been no match for the avarice of the mining industry and the steamrolling despair bred from hard labor and then economic desertion. But Justified is essentially a comedy, full of grandiose verbal reparte, lovable villains, and charmingly flawed heroes. Eastbound and Down, while formalistically comedy, whereas Eastbound and Down, is one of the darkest shows ever released. If you want to know what it feels like to be a white male who thought the world was his and now must realize it is not, Kenny Powers is Jeremiah. This clip (notwithstanding the first disturbing 15 seconds) exemplifies the white male abandonment of ambition and mindset of settling.
Of course, it’s not all despair. Fareed Zakaria seemed downright gleeful to note that white males are simply failing to keep up with the progress of women and minorities. It was a good run, but now the old ruling group is killing itself off with opiates, alcohol, and guns. The economy doesn’t need them any more. Increasingly, women either don’t need them or have simply reached a breaking point and won’t put up with them any more. White males have been such a reviled demographic for so long that it’s hard not to enjoy watching how the mighty have fallen. And perhaps the death of this wicked witch will bring joy to those previously held back for not better reason than their race, sex, and sexual orientation.
The caveat, and it is big. White males still control the Commanding Heights, and don’t seem intent on giving ground. The tech and financial services industries, where the new plutocracy is growing, remaining overwhelmingly male. Whether it’s the glass ceiling, discriminatory cultural values, or the overt sexism of the bro culture, this group of men just don’t quit.
But in political leadership, white males seem to have abnegated responsibility for governance. The only candidate in the field who actually bothers to have a proactive agenda is Hillary Clinton. The GOP still seems hung up on sodomy and a tired chorus line about repealing Obamacare and insiting that Waste Fraud and Abuse are the only thing Government is capable of producing. There are people like Ted Cruz who, despite having attended the finest white male institutions in this country, cite Ayn Rand as a political philosopher. As a self-help motivator for the captain of industry or rapist, sure, Rand is fine, but she hardly lays out a roadmap for governance. It’s not just a Republican problem, however. Bernie Sanders seems to want to dismantle our financial institutions, which is a fine idea if you don’t care about its repercussions. His main motivation seems to be to humiliate Hillary for taking campaign contribuitons from Wall Street, and in this regard his gleeful “gotcha” rhetoric is just a more nasally version than Trump’s incessant bluster. What these men all have in common is a reluctance to perform the task that is asked of them — govern the nation, seek compromise, pass timely budgets, and pay more than passing attention to Presidential Daily Briefings.
In short, white males have become the comic relief of our society, grown up class clowns. It’s hard to look at any candidate other than Hillary Clinton who seems to actually want to be President. It’s become like a high school student body election, with the earnest Little Miss Perfect going up against the cool rebel who doesn’t dare to say what his responsibilities are. On to this bonfire of abnegation, it’s probably too trite to add the media, which continues to oscillate only between sycophantic fire-fuelers or bewildered navelgazers; first they give Donald Trump $2 billion of free coverage, and then they complain that somehow a demagogue came out of nowhere to challenge the establishment. How indeed. I’ll only give them half a pass because at least some of their on-air talent (though not the behind the scenes executives) is female and multi-racial.
Perhaps this isn’t something to be upset about. Hillary might win and prove that America still wants to elect adults, and doesn’t care about how much heat a 69 year old man claims to pack. If so, it will further proof what Obama’s election signified: that white male leadership, to the extent it still exists, has driven our institutions to the breaking point, and the incompetence of these elites has necessitated the participation of serious and responsible non-white males to pick up the slack. Until this transition completes, we will be left following the pudgy drunken ass of the old elite, which has given up governing in lieu of going streaking. It won’t be pretty, so if you want to keep your sanity, you need to be rigged to flip by learning to laugh.