Anger in White America — Again

The health care debate continues to rivet the country. By most accounts, the sheer emotional intensity of the protests has forced Democrats to scale back their plans for nationalized health care. And who are these angry protesters? The vast majority of these angry citizens are White people — a topic I wrote about recently, but before the health care debate assumed center stage.

The health care debate seems to have ratcheted things up a notch. As an NPR commentary of August 13 noted,

If you’ve been anywhere near a TV in the past week, you have seen images of irate voters berating their elected representatives. And if so, you cannot have missed the strong representation of vociferous Caucasian males of a certain age. Theirs are not the only voices raised, but they are surely the loudest and most numerous.

Actually, it’s White women too:


A Democrat strategist commented,

the vocally disaffected represent a very real phenomenon that has been rising around the country since before Obama’s election. It is growing in the face of a damaged economy, a series of bank and Wall Street bailouts, and big-dollar government programs to stimulate jobs and stave off foreclosures.

I’ve never seen as angry an electorate as this one. …. They’re as scared as I’ve ever seen them, and that manifests into anger.

There is a general fear that the American dream is not going to be there for them or their children. … There is concern about trust broken between government and the people.

Angry White people. And we are not talking about elite Whites who wouldn’t have to worry about health care no matter what the government does. This is racially-based populism: The protest is coming from middle- and lower-middle-class Whites, not Blacks and Latinos in the same social classes.

And it’s about more than health care. A month ago it was the angry White people who support Sarah Palin. And before that, it was angry Whites participating in “tea parties” protesting the  stimulus bill.

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It’s not any specific issue, but a generalized fear that the country is slipping away from them — that the Obama presidency is moving America very rapidly into a country that they would not recognize and where they do not have political power. Our friend, Mark Potok, of the $PLC, comments, “Clearly, this president has set off a real rage. … Certain people look around and see this is not the country their white Christian forefathers built, and they are angry.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. These angry White people are quite right to fear such a transformation. The anti-White revolution is working beautifully. Legal and illegal immigration is gradually but noticeably transforming the country so that the White populist base will have decreasing political power. By my calculation, by 2012, the Republicans would have to attract around 63% of Whites to get a majority (assuming Whites continue to represent 90% of the Republican vote). In the ideal world of the left, however, this transformation would be carried out without anger and mass protest, apart from the occasional skinhead, swastika-painting fringe that replenish the coffers of organizations like the $PLC and the ADL. White people would sink peacefully into the sunset of American politics, happily joining multicultural coalitions in both parties.

The problem for the left is the anger. With huge majorities in both Houses of Congress and an Obama presidency that seemed committed to nationalized health care, the “progressives” are saying the Democrats should just push through a plan. Elections matter. We’ve got the power, so let’s do it.

But trampling on the sensibilities of what remains a large constituency is very risky. These voters are energized in a way they were not during the 2008 election where the media’s slobbering love affair with Obama (including Chris Matthews’ “thrill going up my leg” when Obama speaks), the failed Bush presidency, the horrible  economy, and John McCain (need I say more) kept populist passions low.

The White House seems to realize that simply having a large majority in Congress isn’t enough if a large angry minority is so enraged that they start storming the barricades with torches and pitchforks. Imagine the commentariat trying to explain away a 65–70% White vote for the Republicans in 2010 or 2012. The stark racial abyss of American politics would be staring everyone in the face. Best not to wake the sleeping giant until it’s really too powerless to matter much at all.

There are doubtless a great many anxieties behind this anger. Certainly many lower-and middle-class Whites have been devastated by the changes in the labor market brought about by massive immigration (including the H1-B program that imports skilled  workers), and many companies cutting health benefits because of the need to compete in a globalized economy in which American elites feel no obligation to protect American workers. And as immigration begins to transform cities in the heartland of America, more and more Americans are coming face to face with the future. Indeed, I suspect the next major outbreak of White anger  will be any attempt by the Obama administration to legalize the millions of illegals. Already, the administration seems to be scaling back its ambitions on the immigration front.

But I suspect that a large part of the fear is about what health care would be like if the progressive wing of the Democratic Party got its way. These middle class Whites envision themselves standing in line with Blacks, Latinos, legal and illegal immigrants, and everyone else. And they realize that in general the taxes of people like themselves are being used to support services for people quite a bit unlike themselves — people who pay proportionately far less of the tax burden and are part of the coalition of minorities that is the backbone of the Democratic Party, while 90% of the Republican vote comes from Whites.

From an evolutionary perspective, this is a classic case of a public goods issue in a multicultural society. As noted by Frank Salter, because of closer ties of kinship and culture, ethnically homogeneous societies are more likely to be open to redistributive policies such as social welfare and nationalized health care. European nationalized health care systems were initiated decades ago when those countries were ethnically homogeneous. In the US, the Medicare system was enacted in 1965 —  well before the multicultural onslaught.

Some enraged Whites may also have read about the aspects of the bill that make it “affirmative action on steroids,” including what amounts to a quota system for “underrepresented minorities” in medical schools. It’s one thing to have affirmative action professors teaching obscure subjects to college students. But do people really want affirmative action doctors performing heart surgery?

The problem for advocates of universal health care in the US is that this round of reform is being proposed at the precise point when general anxieties about America’s multicultural future are on the minds of a whole lot of White people. It’s not at all unreasonable for them to believe that universal health care will indeed be the embodiment of the multicultural nightmare of the  future. And it’s not at all unreasonable for them to be very angry about that.

Finally, in my recent fundraising appeal letter, I suggested that the next revolution — like the one that resulted in our current multicultural nightmare — will be a top-down revolution that begins by converting the elite opinion makers.  This anger among non-elite Whites suggests there is a possibility of a successful movement energized by non-elite Whites. In the health care debate, there certainly seems to be a prominent role of elite conservative media figures, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, in mobilizing hostility toward the Obama plan and validating the energy of the protests. The question remains: Will these elite conservative voices openly advocate what needs to be done for their constituency to really take back the country?

Kevin MacDonald is a professor of psychology at California State University–Long Beach. Email him.