It’s like we’ve all been watching this intrepid surfer, up high on the board, whooping for the crowds, showing his tan on a remarkable ride… that lasted four years by last count. And that ride is now likely over, but the wave beneath is much bigger than the surfer himself.
And this wave will be with us for awhile; it’s called White Extinction Anxiety.
I grew up marginally upwardly middle class in Allegheny County, PA. Yes, that Allegheny County, where we seem to count a little slower… when it counts. We were white- my team mates from Little League Champs Robert’s Oil, my hunting camp family in Pennsyl-tucky (aka Clearfield, PA), my Brighton Township Bears Pop Warner football team, my family reunions of the OG Miles Spencer, dating from circa 1865. We didn’t think much of it, frankly. We were many, destined to work in the heavy industry that surrounded us; mills up the Ohio river, transport down river, or something else that supported steel, autos, or railroads. If lucky, we’d get an education at PSU or Pitt if we played sports well enough. That was what Beaver, Pa had to offer in the 1970s – a mix of Deer Hunter and HillBilly Elegy. Stark, tough, and increasingly desperate,
Education provided the fork in the road that I took- or it took me- East. The other fork continued to play out in Pennsylvania (and a few other swing states) in November 2020. That fork points directly to… what some would call the Third World invasion of the West — that great wave of the future. White America is growing older, there are fewer white women of childbearing age, and the white fertility rate is lower than that of Hispanics and blacks. Soon, the majority will be a group of minorities. This never bothered me much, but it clearly freaks out some portion of the 70M people who voted last week. Charles Blow from the NYTimes recently wrote “All manner of current policy grows out of this panic over loss of privilege and power: immigration policy, voter suppression, economic isolationist impulses, the contempt for people from Haiti and Africa, the Muslim ban, the rage over Black Lives Matter and social justice protests”.
The Surfer in Chief was beloved by his base in part because he was unapologetically defending whiteness from anything that threatened it, or at least that’s the image he projected. It is no more complicated than that. This was all predicted, with chilling clarity, at a lunch I had four years ago with a well picked guest in Edgartown, MA – Newt Gingrich.
It was August 4, 2016, and Trump had won the nomination but Romney was still being considered as a shadow candidate. Newt did his normal remarks and went to questions, and the first one was a rather breathless and flabbergasted… “could this really be real?” Then and there, he laid out that it was indeed real, and why. He referred to one book- Coming Apart – as the explanation of what was happening- what had quietly happened- in America. I’ll leave you to the book but basically, Newt summed it up by saying white America was eroding, and they would grasp on hold anything, anyone for defending whiteness from anything that threatens it. Anything. He was “Pat Buchanan With Better Timing.” White America was content to phone it in, ride it out, hunker down and partner with someone that preserved the way-of-life status quo. And though it nearly happened a second time this week, don’t expect the wave to recede with the Surfer in Chief and the MAGA hats.
So what’s an aging white male to do… (if he’s not just been elected President)? What I learned since taking that fork East in the 70s may be helpful to the reader.
- Don’t Stop Learning. For too many, that growth stopped soon after the last year of school. Curiosity withered. Change was to be avoided. Prices and jobs were protected, so what was the motivation to learn new skills? Not very high, until industries were disrupted, and jobs disappeared. The pace of technology is now so fast, what you know today is largely obsolete next year. So the premium is on quick learners so study what you enjoy, and get good at learning new things. World is Flat- Learn to Learn
- Tighten the Belt. Some of us added 25 pounds after high school or college ball ended, and some added more. Primante’s, Iron City beer, and a comfortable Barq-a-Lounger in front of the Steeler’s game are considered by some to be Sunday activities. While there’s nothing wrong with any of the above, in moderation, twenty years of it will begin to show on the best of us. While people in Blue Zones are living 90+ quality years, we’re more at risk for Covid due to pre-existing conditions. We need to move around, to eat more plants, and to moderate the alcohol (assuming nicotine is forsaken here).
- Keep Pace with Tech, because Tech paces the world. I know I know, this is uncomfortable for most. But how many grandparents have learned to Zoom because they had no other way to see the kids. How many figured out Facebook to keep connected, virtually. Figuring out how to balance a checkbook online. How to send handwritten cards in an app. It can be done. And while these are minor everyday skills, there are many career related, and serious skill building courses out there. You just have to want to learn.
- Recognize Our Place. I wasn’t around, but the US must have felt good about itself after victory in World War II – we were #1! It was a good run, but hegemony is over, and we have to learn to collaborate like the little guys have been doing for years. And this doesn’t mean wars – this means trade and economy. Global supply and global markets laid bare our economic insouciance. We need quit pointing fingers and get to work- smart work.
And don’t be so upset if you feel you’re becoming a minority.
It’s ok if you just be nice.
Title inspired by Hang On Sloopy, The OSU Marching Band Anthem.