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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/23/16

Disaffected White Men

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From flickr.com/photos/88876166@N00/21581179719/: Bernie Sanders for President
From flickr.com/photos/88876166@N00/21581179719/: Bernie Sanders for President
(Image by Phil Roeder)
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 23, 2016: In an op-ed in the New York Times ("Do Sanders' Supporters Favor His Policies?" dated May 23, 2016), political scientists Christopher H. Achen of Princeton and Larry M. Bartels of Vanderbilt analyze information from the Democratic presidential primaries in two dozen primary and caucus states from early February through the end of April. The authors claim that "Mr. Sanders' support is concentrated not among liberal ideologues but among disaffected white men."

It is no secret that disaffected white men are among Donald Trump's supporters. So if Hillary Rodham Clinton emerges as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 2016, will Senator Bernie Sanders' disaffected white men switch their support of him to support Trump? Perhaps Trump's slogan could be, "Disaffected white men of America, unite!"

So are disaffected white men just on the wrong side of history? But couldn't they imagine that they might tilt history in their favor by electing the billionaire developer from New York to be the next president of the United States?

If we were to consider the possibility that disaffected white men may be on the wrong side of history, then we might wonder who is on the supposed right side of history? In general, the Editorial Board of the New York Times customarily assumes that they are on the right side of history. But they are not in favor of the billionaire developer from New York becoming the next president of the United States, to put it mildly. Thus far, however, they have not explicitly addressed Achen and Bartels' claim about Sanders' support among disaffected white men.

Nevertheless, even without the guidance of the Editorial Board of the New York Times regarding Sanders' support among disaffected white men, we may look elsewhere in the prestigious newspaper for a hint about disaffected white men in general -- both those supporting Sanders and those supporting Trump.


By definition, the New York Times Book Review (NYTBR) features book reviews in which the reviewers customarily express their judgments about each book being reviewed. The judgments of the reviewers about each book being reviewed are expressions of the tastes of the reviewers. Of course there are usually other reviewers of any given book in other venues, just as they are other opinion makers than the Editorial Board of the New York Times in other venues.

In any event, for the purposes of trying to understand disaffected white men, I want to turn to Mary Gordon's review of Louise Erdrich's new novel in the NYTBR dated May 22, 2016. Writing on the cover page, Mary Gordon, herself a white novelist, writes the following telling opening paragraphs:

"There was a 10-year stretch -- roughly 1975 to 1985 -- when the landscape of American literature was illumined and enriched and transformed forever. The words 'identity politics,' accompanied by the de riguer curled lip, had not yet been introduced into the cultural conversation by those who saw themselves as the preservers of civilization, and 'feminist' was not yet the F-word. It was a time when one would have been pleased to be described as 'politically correct' because, after all, wasn't it a good thing to be political, and wasn't the opposite of 'correct' 'incorrect'? Or to put it another way, 'wrong'?

"These were years of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. And also when Louise Erdrich won acclaim for her first novel, Love Medicine. All those books told Stories of Americans the larger society had at worst tried to annihilate, at best put in shadow. And they [the stories] were told by writers who were not only non-white but also non-male" (page 1).

But Gordon conveniently skips over the fact that the political-correctness police have often advanced their views as though they were not debatable. The political-correctness police are everywhere, just as the thought police are in George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). And like the thought police in Orwell's novel, the political-correctness police are on the lookout for thought crimes.

But three cheers for the three non-white and non-male writers Gordon mentions: Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, and Louise Erdrich. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

In "Introduction: On Saying 'We' and 'Us' to Literature" in the book Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicano, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literature, edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1982, pages 3-7), the literary critic and past president (1978) of the Modern Language Association of America Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), says, "Literature is organized experience and consciousness. . . . All of us want to realize ourselves as distinct persons, but we also want others -- lots of others -- to know that we are our own distinct selves. We do not want to be unique all alone" (pages 3-4). As a result, he urges people who read literature to use that experience as a way to say "we" and "us" to the literary work they are reading.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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