Originally published at American Renaissance as a part of their “America in 2034” series.
The American Right seems to operate under a Howard Beale theory of history. The reference is to Network, the classic satire of mass media from 1976. In the film’s iconic scene, Beale, who had been a respectable news anchor, can no longer merely report on the outrages of daily life: the economic depression . . . the depravity and inhumanity . . . the corruption . . . the fear, numbness, and isolation of Americans who watch it unfold on their flickering screens. “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” says Beale, and he wants you to be mad, too. He exhorts viewers to get off the coach and scream out the window: “I’m a human being, God damn it!”
Network reflected a certain liberal disillusionment, but the character of Beale always struck me as a recurring avatar of right-wing reaction. He’s Nixon’s Silent Majority, who just wants the cops to crack down on hippies, hoodlums, and faggots . . . the Middle American who goes to Washington . . . the Tea Party patriot who’s ready to take his country back . . . . The most successful conservative personalities have been the most emotionally unhinged, that is, the ones who crafted their personae on Beale.
And conservatives of all varieties seem to think like Beale, too. According to their logic, as time goes on, things keep getting worse: taxes, gays, illegal immigrants, philandering politicians, race hustlers, und so weiter. . . . One day, it is assumed, a tipping point will be reached: Decent folks will get fed up, and they will . . . they will . . . we’re never told exactly what they’ll do. Restore the Constitution? Kick the bums out? White Revolution? Pastor David Manning predicts that at some point red-blooded, God-fearing white people will get so angry that they will riot. (The Pastor will join them.)
There is a kernel of truth to this view, as sometimes seemingly insignificant or passing slights or frustrations ignite historical struggles on the grandest scale: The French Revolution, for instance, was sparked by a bad grain harvest.
That said, “Bealeans” are blind to the way we can absorb and assimilate negativity, and thus maintain the hegemony of the status quo. This often takes the form of a recurring cycle:
- White America begins in a state of passivity and uneasy contentment. (In Beale’s words, “Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything. Just leave me alone.”)
- At some point, a shock to the system occurs–something surprising, new, or exogenous: Wall Street Bailouts, Barack Obama, Benghazi, etc.
- White Americans are then presented formal ways of venting: voting for a political party, joining a mass protest movement like the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, etc.
- The shock dissipates, and whites are frustrated by the failures of activism. They return to where they started: passivity and uneasy contentment.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. This circle is continuous, predictable, and, possibly, endless. In other words, we’re mad as hell and we are going to take this anymore!
In considering the future of race relations, I can envision a variety of macro-possibilities:
- A linear extension of what’s happening now: Life for Whites will get progressively more expensive, troublesome and unpleasant, but remain somehow bearable. The void of existence will be filled with techo-gadgets, make-work, and pornography. Dispossession will be a slow burn.
- Or there could be more interesting times ahead, as Gerald Celente and Piero San Giorgio have vividly described them: America’s elite loses control, loses it nerve, or goes too far: hyperinflation . . . political dissolution . . . war and civil unrest . . . in a word, collapse.
- Or perhaps the 20th century isn’t over. The revelations of Edward Snowden prophesy a new brand of totalitarianism in which all aspects of private life—even our thoughts—are monitored by a paranoid regime. The deconstruction of gender, race, and class (at the moment, an academic concern) will be enforced by the federal police. Perversity was once forbidden; it became a right; it will one day be compulsory.
Each one these scenarios follows logically from clear tendencies within our time. What’s critical is that in this spectrum, I can imagine most all white people just sitting back and taking it. (In Network, Howard Beale ultimately became a harmless parody, finally shot dead on camera after his ratings sagged.)
But I can also imagine, in any one of the above scenarios, white men rediscovering themselves and recapturing their world. And this need not happen when faced with annihilation or the jackboot. As Hamlet observed, the truly great man will “find quarrel in a straw / When honor’s at the stake.”
The past and future of race relations are truly the past and future of how Europeans understand themselves. Events, policies, demographics—these are of secondary importance in comparison to will. Man is a social animal, and he is also an interpreter: He is the one who (sometime desperately) makes sense of his being, his history, and his world–and in interpreting them, he changes them.
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner posited the “frontier” as the landscape of the American psyche. For the past 50 years, this has transformed into its quainter cousin, “suburbia.” The modern American Dream hinges on the assumption that we can comfortably escape social problems–which have largely been matters of race–by moving to the new development a half hour outside the city. There, one can create–at tremendous unseen cost–a simulacrum of a 1950s small town, replete with all-white schools and a Gap.
Whatever one might think of suburbia as a way of life, its bubble has most definitely burst. Might the closing of this frontier be an opportunity for us to finally confront the consequences, not only of race, but of our own blindness, weakness, and wishful thinking? I hope so. For the goal is not just to get mad at the world, but to change it.