October 21, 2017

CONDESCENSION ON STEROIDS:

The White-Minstrel Show : 'Acting white' for white people (Kevin D. Williamson, October 20, 2017, National Review)

[I] do have something to say about the subject of white people acting white.
 
We rarely used to put it in racial terms, unless we were talking about Eminem or the Cash-Me-Ousside Girl or some other white person who has embraced (or affected) some part of black popular culture. With the Trump-era emergence of a more self-conscious form of white-identity politics -- especially white working-class identity politics -- the racial language comes to the surface more often than it used to. But we still rarely hear complaints about "acting un-white." Instead, we hear complaints about "elitism."

The parallels to the "acting white" phenomenon in black culture are fairly obvious: When aspiration takes the form of explicit or implicit cultural identification, however partial, with some hated or resented outside group that occupies a notionally superior social position, then "authenticity" is to be found in socially regressive manners, mores, and habits. It is purely reactionary.

The results are quite strange. Republicans, once the party of the upwardly mobile with a remarkable reflex for comforting the comfortable, have written off entire sections of the country -- including the bits where most of the people live -- as "un-American." Silicon Valley and California at large, New York City and the hated Acela corridor, and, to some extent, large American cities categorically are sneered at and detested. There is some ordinary partisanship in that, inasmuch as the Democrats tend to dominate the big cities and the coastal metropolitan aggregations, but it isn't just that. Conservatives are cheering for the failure of California and slightly nonplussed that New York City still refuses to regress into being an unlivable hellhole in spite of the best efforts of its batty Sandinista mayor. Not long ago, to be a conservative on Manhattan's Upper East Side was the most ordinary thing in the world. Now that address would be a source of suspicion. God help you if you should ever attend a cocktail party in Georgetown, the favorite dumb trope of conservative talk-radio hosts.

We've gone from William F. Buckley Jr. to the gentlemen from Duck Dynasty. Why?

American authenticity, from the acting-even-whiter point of view, is not to be found in any of the great contemporary American business success stories, or in intellectual life, or in the great cultural institutions, but in the suburban-to-rural environs in which the white underclass largely makes its home -- the world John Mellencamp sang about but understandably declined to live in.

Shake your head at rap music all you like: When's the last time you heard a popular country song about finishing up your master's in engineering at MIT?

White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump's -- vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You'll recognize the style if you've ever been around it: It's "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers -- correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker -- equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect.

Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-'em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-"elitism" of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: "I'm an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion." Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: "I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level." Trump's rhetoric -- ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. -- has always been about reducing. Trump doesn't have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it's "the failing New York Times." Never mind that the New York Times isn't actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they've gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn't matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid's lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully. That's what all that ridiculous stuff about "winning" was all about in the campaign. It is might-makes-right, i.e., the politics of chimpanzee troupes, prison yards, kindergartens, and other primitive environments. That is where the underclass ethic thrives -- and how "smart people" came to be a term of abuse.

This involves, inevitably, a good deal of fakery.

The man at the center of all this atavistic redneck revanchism is a pampered billionaire real-estate heir from New York City, and it has been something to watch the multi-millionaire populist pundits in Manhattan doing their best impersonations of beer-drinkin' regular guys from the sticks. I assume Sean Hannity picked up his purported love for country music in the sawdust-floored honky-tonks of . . . Long Island.

As a purely aesthetic enterprise, none of this clears my poor-white-trash cultural radar. I'm reminded of those so-called dive bars in Manhattan that spend $150,000 to make a pricey spot in Midtown look like a Brooklyn kid's idea of a low-rent roadside bar in Texas. (There's one that even has Lubbock license plates on the wall. I wonder where they got them -- is there some kind of mail-order dive-bar starter kit that comes with taxidermy, Texas license plates, and a few cases of Lone Star? Maybe via Amazon Prime?) The same crap is there -- because the same crap is everywhere -- but the arrangement isn't quite right.

The populist Right's abandonment of principle has been accompanied by a repudiation of good taste, achievement, education, refinement, and manners -- all of which are abominated as signs of effete "elitism." During the Clinton years, Virtue Inc. was the top-performing share in the Republican political stock exchange. Fortunes were made, books were sold by the ton, and homilies were delivered. The same people today are celebrating Donald Trump -- not in spite of his being a dishonest, crude serial adulterer but because of it. His dishonesty, the quondam cardinals of Virtue Inc. assure us, is simply the mark of a savvy businessman, his vulgarity the badge of his genuineness and lack of "political correctness," and his pitiless abuse of his several wives and children the mark of a genuine "alpha male." No less a virtue entrepreneur than Bill Bennett dismissed those who pointed out Trump's endless lies and habitual betrayals as suffering from "moral superiority," from people on "high horses," and said that Trump simply is "a guy who says some things awkwardly, indecorously, infelicitously."

Thus did the author of The Book of Virtues embrace the author of "Grab 'Em By the P***y."

We need a Moynihan Report for conservative broadcasters. [...]

My mother despised the college professors for whom she worked in her last job, who were unfailingly kind and generous to her, because they were unfailingly kind and generous to her, which she understood (as she understood many things) as condescension. Hers was a world of strict tribal hierarchy: She would, for example, enact petty cruelties on waitresses and grocery-store clerks and other people in service positions, taking advantage of the fact that she had momentary social inferiors, and she must have been confused that the professors and deans did not behave that way toward her. In fact, they did the opposite, entrusting her with work far beyond her modest formal credentials or the official duties of her position. Class is funny in a small-ish town: The father of a school friend of mine became the dean of her college and her boss, and she spoke of the family as though they inhabited some faraway realm when in reality they lived three blocks north and two blocks east. That she herself could have had a life more like theirs, or that her children might yet, never occurred to her -- it was sour grapes raised to a state of psychosis.

Feeding such people the lie that their problems are mainly external in origin -- that they are the victims of scheming elites, immigrants, black welfare malingerers, superabundantly fecund Mexicans, capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Walmart, Wall Street, their neighbors -- is the political equivalent of selling them heroin. (And I have no doubt that it is mostly done for the same reason.) It is an analgesic that is unhealthy even in small doses and disabling or lethal in large ones. The opposite message -- that life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions -- is what conservatism used to offer, before it became a white-minstrel show. It is a sad spectacle, but I do have some hope that the current degraded state of the conservative movement will not last forever.

The thing about eternals truths is, they're eternal.

The really wicked thing here is the belief, on the part of these formerly conservative activists, is that they are embracing white trashiness because they think it gives them license to engage in racism/Nativism. It's a mark of how much they despise non-elite whites.


Posted by at October 21, 2017 10:11 AM

  

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