Twelve Angry Men is a gripping courtroom drama about a murder trial in which a single dissenting juror holds out from a unanimous verdict of guilty because he has reasonable doubt.
Last week we saw a different context for “Twelve Angry Men”: eleven privileged white male Republican senators and privileged white male Judge Brett Kavanaugh in a collective primal scream against the outrage of anyone, especially this woman, challenging their privileged white male patriarchy, nay their God-given right to rule over our us.
It was a defense of the old world order of privileged white male patriarchy, to paraphrase William F. Buckley, Jr., “standing athwart the tide of history and demographics yelling Stop at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
If Christine Blasey Ford had behaved the way that Judge Kavanaugh or Senator Lindsey Graham behaved, she would have been immediately dismissed as a shrill harpy who was being hysterical (typical male stereotypes for a woman who speaks up). But Republicans cheered this behavior in the Twelve Angry Men defending the privileged white male patriarchy. Why?
The Washington Post reports, ‘The trauma for a man’: Male fury and fear rises in GOP in defense of Kavanaugh:
The sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh have sparked a wave of unbridled anger and anxiety from many Republican men, who say they are in danger of being swept up by false accusers who are biased against them.
From President Trump to his namesake son to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the howls of outrage crystallize a strong current of grievance within a party whose leadership is almost entirely white and overwhelmingly male — and which does not make a secret of its fear that demographic shifts and cultural convulsions could jeopardize its grip on power.
This eruption of male resentment now seems likely to play a defining role in the midterm elections just five weeks away, contrasting with a burst of enthusiasm among women propelling Democratic campaigns and inspired by the national #MeToo reckoning over sexual assault and gender roles.
“I’ve got boys and I’ve got girls, and when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary,” Donald Trump Jr., a father of five small children, said in an interview with DailyMailTV aired Monday.
Asked whether he was more worried about his sons or daughters, Trump Jr. said, “Right now, I’d say my sons.”
Trump has defended Kavanaugh and said the accusations by Ford and two other women are unfair to the judge and his family. The president — who himself has denied claims of sexual assault by nineteen women — has repeatedly stood behind other accused men in positions of power, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore after the Alabama Republican was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.
“The trauma for a man that’s never had any accusation — he’s never had a bad statement about him,” Trump told reporters on Monday, sympathizing with Kavanaugh’s experience. “It’s unfair to him at this point. What his wife is going through, what his beautiful children are going through is not describable.”
Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz said that among Republicans, “There is a feeling of being guilty until proven innocent. In this era of #MeToo, there are a lot of men — and some women — who believe that justice no longer exists in America, that the accusation is enough to destroy someone’s career and someone’s life. That wasn’t manifesting itself politically until” late last week.
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Public opinion on Kavanaugh breaks down along gender lines. Women oppose his confirmation, 55 percent to 37 percent, while men support it, 49 percent to 40 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday. The survey found that 48 percent of American voters most believe Ford, while 41 percent most believe Kavanaugh.
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The right has come alive with impassioned defenses of Kavanaugh in recent days. Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose program for years has largely defined the GOP’s white male id, has unleashed a torrent of criticism on the air — such as his riff last week on “militant feminism.”
“These women are angry,” Limbaugh said. “Something has happened to them in their lives, and their rage and anger, they take it out now on the country or on all men or men in ‘the powerful majority,’ which is white Christian men and so forth.”
Conservative [polemicist] Ann Coulter bemoaned the “snickering at white men” in her syndicated column last week and insisted that “there has never been a more pacific, less rapey creature than the white male of Western European descent.”
“Can we please, for the love of God, drop the painfully trite, mind-numbing cliche about ‘white men,’ as if somehow their whiteness makes evil even eviler?” Coulter wrote.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tweeted after the Kavanaugh hearing that “ ‘Old white men’ are relentlessly being racially and generationally profiled by the ‘tolerant’ Left” and that media outlets have “almost universally profiled and stigmatized Republican Senators.”
Jennifer Palmieri, a Democratic strategist and author of “Dear Madam President,” a book about reimagining women in leadership roles, said the nation’s fast-changing culture can be unsettling and indeed frightening to men in power.
“A lot of white men don’t know what it’s like to feel threatened, powerless and frustrated,” said Palmieri, former communications director for Clinton’s campaign. “As we go through the reckoning of this lopsided power balance, there’s going to be a lot more of this.”
The Republican Party has long identified with more traditional white males, such as former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But strategists say it is now turning more toward combative male candidates in the mold of Trump, with allegations of misconduct interpreted by many within the party not as liabilities but as unfair political attacks.
“We’re a party of angry, older white men at a time when our country is going through tremendous demographic change,” Republican strategist John Weaver said, predicting that the GOP would suffer the consequences in future elections.
The sounds and images of angry men could have a lasting impact on the Republican brand. … The shift in political gravity for Republicans helps explain the searing denouncement by Graham in last week’s Senate hearing. His extraordinary diatribe — reenacted on “Saturday Night Live” by a scowling Kate McKinnon — was, in essence, a defense of men who had been stewing about the charges against Kavanaugh.
“I know I’m a single white male from South Carolina and I’m told I should shut up, but I will not shut up, if that’s okay,” Graham said at the hearing, adding that the experience had been “hell” for Kavanaugh and “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”
Those remarks won Graham a rush of praise from men in his solidly Republican state and from conservative activists nationally.
Others, however, saw the cold calculation of a lawmaker playing to stereotypes and raw emotions to gain a political edge.
“It’s not just that white men are allowed to be angry and women are not; it’s that white men’s anger can be used to their benefit,” wrote Rebecca Traister, author of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.” “We reflexively understand the anger of white men, especially when used to convey how unfairly they’ve been treated, as righteous and correct.”
Inside the conservative movement and on its fringes, an intense discussion has long been underway about gender and the perceived assault on men. Fox News commentator Ben Shapiro, who hosts a popular podcast and TV program, has been one of the higher profile voices, sharply criticizing a culture where he sees “men out in the cold” and “searching for meaning.”
“The age of emasculation cannot last,” Shapiro has written. “It will eventually boil over into violence, sink away into irrelevance,” or return to traditional mores [i.e., white male privilege.]
Beyond Shapiro, University of Toronto clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has drawn thousands of young conservative men to his lectures across the United States, railing against the effects of feminism and urging men to speak up for themselves. “Boys are suffering in the modern world,” he has told his followers.
On Reddit, a hugely popular online discussion website, hordes of men, many of them libertarian or Republican, weigh in on forums focused on topics such as “men’s rights” and “men’s liberation.”
Some conservative women also have joined the chorus of outrage over what they see as the encroachment of liberal feminism into American life.
Paul Krugman writes at the New York Times, The Angry White Male Caucus:
When Matt Damon did his Brett Kavanaugh imitation on “Saturday Night Live,” you could tell that he nailed it before he said a word. It was all about the face — that sneering, rage-filled scowl. Kavanaugh didn’t sound like a judge at his Senate hearing last week, let alone a potential Supreme Court justice; he didn’t even manage to look like one.
But then again, Lindsey Graham, who went through the hearing with pretty much the same expression on his face, didn’t look much like a senator, either.
There have been many studies of the forces driving Trump support, and in particular the rage that is so pervasive a feature of the MAGA movement. What Thursday’s hearing drove home, however, was that white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It’s also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would normally consider very much part of the elite.
In other words, hatred can go along with high income, and all too often does.
At this point there’s overwhelming evidence against the “economic anxiety” hypothesis — the notion that people voted for Donald Trump because they had been hurt by globalization. In fact, people who were doing well financially were just as likely to support Trump as people who were doing badly.
What distinguished Trump voters was, instead, racial resentment. Furthermore, this resentment was and is driven not by actual economic losses at the hands of minority groups, but by fear of losing status in a changing country, one in which the privilege of being a white man isn’t what it used to be.
And here’s the thing: It’s perfectly possible for a man to lead a comfortable, indeed enviable life by any objective standard, yet be consumed with bitterness driven by status anxiety.
You might think that this is impossible, that having a good job and a comfortable life would inoculate someone against envy and hatred. That is, you might think that if you knew nothing of human nature and the world.
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And this sort of high-end resentment, the anger of highly privileged people who nonetheless feel that they aren’t privileged enough or that their privileges might be eroded by social change, suffuses the modern conservative movement.
It starts, of course, at the top, with that walking, talking, golfing bundle of resentment that is Donald Trump. You might imagine that a man who lives in the White House would no longer feel the need to, for example, make false claims about his college record. But Trump still doesn’t get the respect he obviously craves.
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Kavanaugh is clearly cut from the same cloth, and not just because he rivals Trump in his propensity for lying about matters great and small.
As a lot of reporting shows, the angry face Kavanaugh presented to the world last week wasn’t something new, brought on by the charges of past abuse. Classmates from his Yale days describe him as a belligerent heavy drinker even then. His memo to Ken Starr as he helped harass Bill Clinton — in which he declared that “it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear” — shows rage as well as cynicism.
And Kavanaugh, like Trump, is still in the habit of embellishing his academic record after all these years, declaring that he got into Yale despite having “no connections.” In fact, he was a legacy student whose grandfather went there.
Indeed, my guess is that his privileged roots are precisely why he’s so angry.
I very much ran with the nerds during my own time at Yale, but I did encounter people like Kavanaugh — hard-partying sons of privilege who counted on their connections to insulate them from any consequences from their actions, up to and including abusive behavior toward women. And that kind of elite privilege still exists.
But it’s privilege under siege. An increasingly diverse society no longer accepts the God-given right of white males from the right families to run things, and a society with many empowered, educated women is finally rejecting the droit de seigneur once granted to powerful men.