Dose of Truth Nation’s Best Antidote

Since the November 1994 elections, we have heard a lot of talk about the ‘angry-white-male’ but no one ever dreamed that one would become so angry as to car-bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, indiscriminately killing or wounding several hundred people. Why did young Timothy McVeigh become so angry? Is this young man our society’s canary? Did President Clinton respond correctly to McVeigh’s message by suggesting that “loud and angry voices” of some conservative talk show hosts may have some measure of responsibility for this tragedy?

We know that there are millions of angry Americans within our borders. These are the frightened and dissatisfied among us. They are frightened to find traditional paths to middle class American status eliminated. They are dissatisfied with their lot in life and see little prospect for improvement. For them, the American dream of a house in the suburbs is foreclosed. The idealized family of “Father Knows Best” gives way to an image of divorce and ‘dead beat dads.’ Their parents and grand parents may have reached middle class status with a high school education and a blue collar job, but no one told them that their lives would be different.

The economy today is much different from that of our parents. Between 1950 and 1990 the percentage of the American work force in manufacturing declined from 33.7 to 16.6. Such a dramatic change in sector employment is not without precedent. At the turn of the century, the farming sector underwent such a decline. Between 1900 and 1950, the percentage of the population working on farms went from 48% to 11%. Today the percentage of Americans working on farms is less than 3%, yet Americans enjoy the lowest per capita food cost in our history.

American society also underwent stresses during these periods of change. Xenophobia and racism often spawned violence between different groups of Americans. Politicians then, like politicians today, used scapegoating as their major campaign strategy. Scapegoating functioned well in our social ignorance prior to the era of electronic enlightenment. Today, we are in a different situation. Americans know more about each other today than at any other time in our history. Much of this knowledge about each other comes from radio and television, including talk shows. These programs are an unprecedented public forum for citizens to provide information about themselves and to receive information about others.

Today, Americans are aware and angry about politics. They know that ‘teenage welfare mothers’ and ‘dead beat dads’ are not the source their employment insecurities. American workers can see their jobs going to Mexico rather than to some mythical, unqualified black guy demanding hiring preference over a qualified white guy. Americans know that the national debt sucks the vitality from the economy by paying relatively high interest rates to banks for risk-free government borrowing resulting in banks with little incentive to loan to individual citizens and small businesses.

Politicians need to tell these angry Americans the truth about the economy instead of scapegoating welfare and affirmative action. That truth is; America’s economy has changed, because the World’s economy is undergoing structural change. The economic change taking place in the world today is on the scale of change that must have occurred 10,000 years ago when humans went from societies of hunters and gathers to communities living from agriculture and domestic animals. Americans, as well as everyone else, are presented with unprecedented challenge, and opportunity.

What politicians should be telling these frightened, frustrated and sometimes angry white males is that, together, Americans can get through the insecurities of this period of economic restructuring. They need to tell them that even if the government rolls back affirmative action, it won’t bring back the jobs lost to technology and other countries.

Talk show hosts play an important role in the war with anger. These shows provide important channels for disbursal of pent-up frustrations and fears about the economy. They can direct some of this anger to those individuals and institutions that rightly deserve condemnation; for example, those who unlawfully profited from the savings and loan scandals. Talk shows facilitate communication between different sectors of society that ordinarily would not communicate. President Clinton’s criticism of these “angry voices” maybe analogous to a miner carrying a canary inside the mine, then blaming the bird for becoming sick.

It would be a grave error for us to mistake the cryptic message spawned from the Oklahoma City tragedy. Timothy McVeigh is only one crackpot individual among thousands drinking a sometimes toxic mixture of ‘political scapegoating’ and ‘talk show rhetoric.’ He may well have been our canary, the one least able to resist. It’s time for the antidote; a dose of political truth.

Originally Published: 3 May 1995, Montgomery Advertiser

© Copyright – 1995 – Major W. Cox and Montgomery Advertiser.

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