The Angry White Guy on TV is nasty, brutish, and probably short. He bulges with barely repressed bigotry. He and his Angry White Lady wife hate foreigners, Muslims, intellectuals, and anyone with politics to the left of Ronald Reagan. He’s poorly educated, or perhaps just willfully ignorant. He feasts on improbable conspiracy theories and violent languages provided by TV personalities who are paid to do this by nauseating billionaires. Worst of all, he’s intent on sawing off his own branch by attacking public infrastructure that he needs, and taking everyone else with him.
Christ, what an asshole.
That having been said, we need to check ourselves. Angry White Guy opposes us on serious political issues. No good can come from appeasing know-nothing reactionary populism (hear that, White House?) and we mustn’t. There’s something else we mustn’t do either.
My own reading of the progressive and liberal response to the Angry White Guy depresses. Major media, writers, bloggers, and others take the same easy route every time. We’re snobs.
We hit Angry White Guy with the class bat. He has terrible taste: NASCAR shirts, chain restaurants, airbrushed van art, current Nashville country music, and the 2009 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He’s a Guido or an Okie or a backwoods Ozarks rapist out of Deliverance. Worse, he’s a suburbanized version of all these things, without even the Noble Savage credibility of “real” country folk. Not only is he a Christian, but he’s got bad taste there too: he goes to a suburban megachurch. His hobbies are ridiculous: guns, powerboating on fake lakes, scrapbooking for the ladies.
Okay, I’ll stop now.
The next level of failure comes when we take a moment to ask why he’s being so awful. At this point, patronizing explanations arrive: AWG doesn’t really know what’s going on. He lacks our education, our sophistication, our informed perspective. If only he’d been plucked out of his awful culture and groomed! Neither does he have the deep but self-accepting guilt we feel at our own privilege, much less our natural generosity towards the less fortunate. The empathy we draw from this gives us a wider view of the world than his. Unfortunately, AWG is stuck. He can’t enlighten himself, and oddly enough he doesn’t react well when we arrive to explain him to himself. He wants all the riches to himself and hates the poor. Again and again we explain that he’s really poor like them and should be nicer. Why can’t he get that?
Now that we’ve told Angry White Guy that he’s a few notches below us, a Snopes to our Sartoris, unenlightened, hard-hearted, greedy, a victim of his own (lesser) culture, and frankly a bit dim, we can declare victory with satisfaction.
Sometimes real information is stuffed in the cracks of this big shitball: how taxes work and where money goes, why wars are being fought, why pluralism and tolerance make sense, why things are hurting so damn much right now. I doubt anyone but the converted hears the Gospel over all this crappy preaching. We exit smirking and now Angry White Guy is ten times as angry with more reason than ever.
I propose a different line of communication. Set aside the aristocratic mess detailed above and just talk straight. There’s an honest, simple message with some punch to it:
You and I are up against the same enemy. I know you don’t think so, but hear me out, because we’re in danger. The big money guys and their friends in Washington are doing their best to grind us all down into the streets. Everyone on television is lying because they’re paid to lie, and that means the ones you like as much as the ones we like. There aren’t any fancy conspiracies, just jerks with money who want more. The only way we can push back on these guys is to hold our noses and work together on the shit we have in common. Otherwise, we’re all fucked.
Maybe some others among my people have a different way of putting it, but it might just be time to switch off the Snide Channel and try something more like this.