White Men Have Good Reason to Be Scared

White Men Have Good Reason to Be Scared

White Men Have Good Reason to Be Scared

We’re coming for their power.


Hell hath no fury like a white man scorned. If you take nothing else from the Senate’s confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, take that much. Know that the angry hysterics of Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch were a continuation of the long, howling tantrum that began when Donald Trump descended from his tower in 2015. It is the same frustrated rage that spews out of Fox News nightly, and that erupted into deadly violence in Charlottesville. It is the frightened cry of power when shocked to find itself suddenly unsure. “I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’ve been told I should shut up,” Graham whined the day after the Senate hearings. “But I will not shut up.” No, he will not.

Hopefully, though, this mounting white-male rage will help more of us understand the true political battle we are in. We are not a nation divided by partisanship—not firstly, at least. The Susan Collinses of the world would like us to believe as much, because it’s a safer fight for them. It allows them to remain adjacent to white supremacy without any real cost, to enjoy its privileges without owning its brutality. But the Maine senator, who cast one of the deciding votes in Kavanaugh’s favor, is not alone in this lie.

From the left to the right, we have for decades masked our disagreements with the paralyzing euphemisms of partisanship. We’ve told ourselves that our most bitter conflict is “conservative” versus “liberal,” “free enterprise” versus “big government.” Maybe now we are finally ready to be honest about the real point of contention: We are, as we have always been, a nation divided on the topic of white-male power. It’s easy to get confused by the crosscurrents of misogyny and racism and xenophobia, to think they’re discrete issues rather than the interlocking tools of white men’s minority rule. We don’t have a ready language for the caste system in which we live. But whatever you call it (for me, it’s all in the garbage fire of white supremacy), Kava
naugh’s ascendance is a reminder of how it functions. White-male power has long relied on the veneer of democracy and law to preserve its control.

Take the Supreme Court. Many critics have charged that Senate Republicans damaged the Court’s legitimacy by forcing Kavanaugh onto it. Sure, but legitimacy has never been a big concern when white-male power is under threat. Was the Court legitimate when, as far back as the 1870s, it kept the federal government from enforcing the rights of newly free black Southerners? Surely it had lost its credibility by 1896, when it explicitly welcomed Jim Crow with the implausible argument that separate can be equal. There was actually a brief period in the middle of the 20th century when the Court challenged the white-male monopoly on power. But by the 1980s, enraged white men had begun the work of fixing that “hiccup” (to borrow Senator Dean Heller’s characterization of the multiple sexual-assault allegations against our new high-court justice).

This project succeeded long before a snarling Kavanaugh refused to be questioned about his behavior. We are talking, after all, about the same institution that in the past 20 years has declared corporations human, refused to guarantee women equal pay, and gutted the Voting Rights Act based on the straight-faced assertion that racism no longer impacts elections.

Or take the Senate itself—an institution that was literally designed to protect white supremacy from the threat of democracy. You’ll always find bipartisan agreement on one thing about the Senate: the myth of its deliberative grandeur. This cant was among the most insufferable parts of the Kavanaugh spectacle—and again, Lindsey Graham was a standout. After refusing to be silenced by a credible account of attempted rape, the single white man from South Carolina proceeded to wax nostalgic about the good old days, when Democrat Joe Biden could put aside Republican Strom Thurmond’s vile, openly racist politics because, in Graham’s phrasing, Joe liked the old guy. Why let a little white supremacy get in the way of collegiality? We’re all white men here!

Or they were, until very recently—which is actually what’s upsetting the Senate’s decorum. And thank goodness; it’s long past time those men get uncomfortable.

In all of American history, only 2.7 percent of our congressional representatives have been women. Only 10 black people have ever served in the Senate. We went nearly a century with zero black senators. A black woman didn’t enter the chamber until 1993; just one more has come since then. Nor has there ever been a Republican woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s a lot of work,” chairman Grassley offered as a reason for this fact. “Maybe they don’t want to do it.”

Somehow it escaped Grassley that his Democratic counterpart, Dianne Feinstein, is a woman, and that she is joined by three more women on the Democratic side of the aisle. Or maybe he’s just trying really hard to forget, because, like Donald Trump Jr., he’s frightened.

Don Jr. says he’s worried for his multimillionaire sons, that it’s a scary time to be a (white) man. Throughout the confirmation process, an array of Republican senators repeated this odd concern. At first, I marveled at how little it takes to make a powerful white man feel like he’s in danger. But then I realized: They’re correct—we absolutely are a threat to them.

They’ve looked around and rightly noticed how many of us do not draw our power from proximity to them. In the Obama era, they watched the Dreamers discard the white man’s idea of citizenship and demand a fundamentally new conversation about immigrant rights. They watched black people build a movement on an irrefutable statement of self-worth, one that requires no white person’s approval to be true and potent. And now they are watching as millions of women refuse to carry the shame of their male predators.

So no wonder these white men thrash and howl with defensive rage. Good. Let them be afraid. Because it’s true: We are coming for them, and for their power, too.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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