The United States is a country dominated by grumpy old white men. Instead of yelling at kids to get off their lawn or to turn down the music, they yell at women, immigrants, foreign leaders and anyone else who wants a place at the table. The motivation: to keep the world as it was, when white American men were on top, and everyone else was just grateful for any consideration at all.
Consider the past month, starting with grumpy old white man in chief Donald Trump. Over the past week alone, he raged at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “meek” and “very dishonest and weak” when Trudeau politely (given the circumstances) disagreed with Americans about trade policy.
This followed Trump’s suggestion that National Football League players who kneel when the national anthem is played should possibly be deported. You wouldn’t want those African-Americans to get any ideas that they shouldn’t get beaten up and shot by the cops, would you?
Then there is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who on Monday signaled that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum in the United States. The previous way of doing things, he said, resulted in “powerful incentives” to “come here illegally and claim a fear of return.” In other words, the ladies just might be making it up.
And for all we know, they could be! Last week, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani went on television to declare that no one should trust porn star Stormy Daniels. Daniels had “no reputation,” he declared. Giuliani later doubled down. “If you’re going to sell your body for money, you just don’t have a reputation. I may be old-fashioned, I dunno,” Giuliani declared the following day.
Old-fashioned! That’s a term Bill Clinton used last week, too. Fresh off his apology tour for coming across as a grumpy old man when asked to discuss Monica Lewinsky, he came forward to declare that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., had been wronged when pushed to resign after multiple charges of groping unwilling women. “I’m just an old-fashioned person,” he declared on “PBS NewsHour.”
And everyone - including octogenarian and Democratic megadonor George Soros - knows who “wronged” Franken. In an interview with The Washington Post published this past weekend, Soros made it clear that he wanted almost any Democrat for president in 2020 - except Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who he claimed pushed Franken out not due to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct but “to improve her chances.”
And women can be grumpy old white men, too. Just take the case of Roseanne Barr and her racist Twitter tirade against former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. True, it’s easy to get irritable with age. There are hormones, and there are the aches and pains of everything from old sports injuries to arthritis. But that’s not the cause of the rage of our grumpy old white men.
The world is changing. When these (mostly) men came of age, a married woman didn’t have a right to her own credit. Concepts such as sexual harassment, date rape and marital rape didn’t exist. It was OK to admit you didn’t want to live in the same neighborhood as African-Americans.
And now? The United States is fast on its way to becoming a majority-minority country, at least as far as the way we use that term today. At the same time we are being asked to share, life for many is stagnating. Free-trade agreements turned out to cost many men jobs - just at the same time all those uppity women and minorities demanded their share of them.
It’s only natural to expect people to want to hold on to what they’ve got.
And our grumpy old white men, for all their complaining, have done a rather good job of that. According to research recently published in the journal Demography, the wealth gap between seniors and families with children has widened in the past 30 years. It’s true for the wealthy, too. For all the attention paid to Silicon Valley billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, Internal Revenue Service data-crunching reveals that when it comes to the nation’s top fortunes, people older than 80 possess more money than those younger than 50.
A few years ago, many acknowledged that this ill temper and I’ve-got-mine-never-mind-you sentiment was less than desirable. The Republican National Committee itself released the results of focus groups in 2013, where voters described the party as “scary, narrow minded, out-of-touch grumpy old men.”
There are two major ways to deal with grumpy old white man syndrome, at least when it comes to our politics. The first: continuing to invest in the future and considering the grievances of others. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., frequently called a grumpy old man by headline writers, fans and critics alike, personifies this strategy. He doesn’t always get it right - he treats women’s groups such as the perennially attacked Planned Parenthood as part of the “establishment” - but he’s also arguing for free college tuition and expanding Social Security benefits, making it clear that he understands that both the young and the elderly deserve consideration.
The other? That’s what we are living through now. The one where life is viewed like driving across a drawbridge - which should be pulled up before anyone else gets across. That’s the era of the grumpy old white men.
Helaine Olen is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog.