Wednesday, September 01, 2010

It's Not Just The Economy, Stupid

As the discussion with Feodor suggests, I neglected an aspect of the appeal of Glenn Beck and the "Restoring Honor" rally that I should have made part of the discussion. The racial and cultural changes, based in demographic shifts, is an undercurrent of much of our contemporary moment, as it was a decade and a half ago. An aging white upper-middle class, dominant since the founding of the country, has found itself in numerical retreat demographically. The rise of popular movements granting greater social and civil rights, therefore access to power, to minorities, has offered opportunities to all sorts of folks who once stood outside the corridors of power. This whole dynamic - of a declining white power structure clinging to the last threads of its authority, by any means necessary - has has gone from a grumbling to a screeching with the Presidency of Barack Obama. While many of his supporters were and are moved in part by his place in history as our first African-American President, his detractors are even more aware of the significance. Thus, "Restoring Honor" includes "Restoring White Folk".

The so-called "culture wars" of the 1990's were at least as much about the decline of a certain version of secularized Protestant mores and the social and cultural as well as political power of white Protestants as they were about the morality of abortion, sexual morality, and the depiction of various themes in popular and fine art. Shifts in demographics have led to the gradual decline in the efficacy of appeals to these particular matters (with the exception of the general social acceptance and approval of same-sex marriages). The cultural expression of difference and its acceptance or rejection, has become far more a generational than a racial matter these days; younger whites are far more inclined to have social and cultural attitudes akin to others of their own age cohort rather than to defer to racial identity.

These shifts were bound to happen, and the reaction of the old-line power structure was predictable. Considering the violence of the southern power structure to the rather modest demands of the Civil Rights movement - there is the indelible image of spittle-flecked whites haranguing a young woman attempting to integrate the Topeka Schools; Bull Connors' dogs and fire hoses set upon a group of young people marching for voting rights for their parents - the recalcitrance of the white power structure in its dotage is understandable. Of course, the general targets now are "illegal immigrants", Muslims, and gays and lesbians.

This general cultural wariness and fear has been exacerbated by the economic malaise in which we find ourselves. I focused a bit too much on that aspect of the matter the other day to the detriment of any understanding that fills out the picture. I hope this rectifies the situation.

Virtual Tin Cup

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