White Male Status: The One Pre-Existing Condition the GOP Will Always Allow
It may not be inaccurate to ascribe the Republican desire to eviscerate Obamacare to indifference to people in need, but it’s also an inadequate explanation. To my eyes, what we saw on full backslapping display this week was a panicky need to quell a doubt that secretly haunts most of them.
Deep inside, they wonder if they really deserve their elite status in American life. They may never articulate this fear to themselves, but on some level, it eats at them. The triumphal (and absurdly premature) display at the White House Thursday was so over the top, it might as well have been a mass Viagra distribution at an all-male nursing home the day of a field trip to a Reno whorehouse. In other words, there was some major compensating going on.
This insecurity about their own deservedness is what feeds the GOP obsession with the (un)deservedness of most everyone else to obtain affordable and comprehensive healthcare coverage. It makes sense. When you secretly fear that you haven’t really done much more to earn your privilege than be born with the right parents, you are far more likely to turn up the volume on the assertion that you are above all the beneficiary of your own hard work, dammit. Once you’ve committed to this worldview, those who are stuck in the lowest income brackets necessarily become suspect; by definition, they must bear most of the responsibility for their own disadvantaged state. In the Randian-infected conservative mind, money is a marker of moral worth, so sharing wealth downwards represents rewarding those who (unlike you) didn’t have the verve and the gumption to genuinely apply themselves to improving their lot. Taken a step further, this thinking makes it easy not only to justify cuts, but to hand the savings upwards to the more deserving, as evidenced by the part of the bill that proposes taking $700 billion from Medicaid and distributing it to the already-rich under the guise of “tax reform.”
This psychological attachment to the importance of status has trickled down to the working-class electorate, which continually votes back into power the same representatives who return the favor by demonizing the federal government and doing their damnedest to clog up its workings. Getting voters to assert their racial identity over their economic interest is a pretty remarkable feat, that’s for sure. It’s also a very old strategy.
The preservation of status is why poor southern farmers fought so passionately for the Confederacy. They could not afford slaves, but the existence of slavery guaranteed that their own white, rural class would never be at the bottom of the social ladder. The fear of losing their rank over enslaved African-Americans was so intense they were willing to die in droves to retain it. (Later, they just switched to terrorizing Southern blacks to guarantee continued dominance, before eventually turning to the slow-motion lynching that is mass incarceration.)
The current obsession of the Trump voter with immigration is fueled by this same status anxiety. If someone without the advantages of birthplace, complexion and language can surpass them economically, this challenges deeply internalized beliefs that their higher place on the ladder has been both earned and deserved. It’s no wonder that they are equally resistant to investment in the inner cities and expansion of social programs there. It’s less about money — they routinely support the construction of more prisons and the hiring of more police, after all — and more about maintaining an entire class of Americans in a perpetual state that can be looked down on. (Not to mention provide a never-ending rationale for gun ownership.)