Andreas Papandreou became Greece’s first Socialist prime minister in 1981, running against “the privileged.” It was a political master stroke because, as one Greek historian put it, no self-respecting Greek considers himself privileged.
Unlike Papandreou, when the modern American left rails against privilege, it leaves no ambiguity about who it thinks are its recipients. The left is talking explicitly about whites — as in “white privilege.” Thus, it is attacking the current racial majority in America and the racial plurality for as far as the eye can see.
Do American whites view themselves as privileged? It can be argued that, by definition, self-respecting ones don’t.
But the notion of white privilege is being drilled into white students at America’s colleges and universities, and probably at many high schools. Nor is the notion impossible to sell in the campus setting. One can rationally consider it a privilege to be pampered at elite colleges, although the privilege isn’t a uniquely white one. Black students enjoy it and in many cases receive it with inferior credentials to their white counterparts.
What about when white students enter the workforce, though? After a while, they may conclude that their main “privileges” are to wake up at 6:30 in the morning, work all day, and fork over a significant portion of their earnings to the government.
Thus, in our democracy, the theme of white privilege seems like a political loser. That, of course, is why Democrats don’t peddle it overtly. Yet, the notion seeps into their politics and their rhetoric at times (e.g., the constant push for racial preferences and sanctuary cities, attacks on the police, and expressions like “deplorables).
Whites have started to notice. Donald Trump is a beneficiary.
Not content with branding whites “privileged,” the left also expresses its displeasure with men. Here, “toxic masculinity” has served the rhetorical and ideological function of “white privilege.”
Recently, I heard a film critic describe Liberty Valance, the evil character marvelously played by Lee Marvin in John Ford’s classic Western, as plagued by toxic masculinity. His foil, the heroic and decidedly masculine character played by John Wayne, was not, she allowed.
I’m old enough to remember when “bad guy” and “good guy” sufficed in these cases.
At the University of Texas, the Counseling and Mental Health Center recently launched a program to help male students “take control over their gender identity and develop a healthy sense of masculinity.” The University takes its critique of masculinity beyond the “toxic.”
Now the target extends to “restrictive masculinity.” Men, the program argues, suffer when they are told to “act like a man” or when they are encouraged to fulfill traditional gender roles, such as being “successful” or “the breadwinner.”
The John Wayne character in “Liberty Valance” clearly suffered from “restrictive masculinity.” Therein resided his heroism. Even the peaceable, apron-wearing Jimmy Stewart character would likely be deemed restrictively masculine. Only the cowardly sheriff played by Andy Devine would pass as mentally healthy, among the white characters anyway.
Speaking of toxic, treating traditional masculinity as a mental health problem seems like as politically toxic an idea as labeling American whites “privileged.” Once this attitude seeps into our politics, as may be happening already, e.g., on the fringes of the “MeToo” movement, Democrats will be on their way to alienating not just white males and females, but men generally.
Part of me says: Go for it.