Our country's Mitt Romneys, Pat Robertsons, and Rush Limbaughs killed my father. I've never spoken publicly about it before, but now as I witness supposedly "conservative" rhetoric spewing across America, it's time to do my part and shine some light on it.
I grew up in a conservative Republican family, my father a full-fledged Reaganite. Growing up, I heard countless stories of liberal "secret agendas." It seemed that anyone who dared challenge the angry, old, white men's power monopoly had a secret agenda. The list of suspects included poor people, teachers, unionists, Jews, communists, gays, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, hippies, and, of course, any woman who thought she was equal to a man. I'm sure at some point there was a Native American agenda, too, because we all know how devious those Injuns can be.
As I matured, I realized all the talk of "secret agendas" was simply a propaganda tool for oppressing minority rights. Now that times have "evolved" and the poor-liberal-teacher-unionist-Jew-commie-gay-black-Muslim-Hispanic-hippie-women-Injuns are the majority, there's another agenda I'd like to talk about, the only agenda that was ever real to begin with, the one that took my dad from me: the angry-old-white-man agenda.
From an early age, I got to see how things work when you are born a white male, as I was, especially with the privileges I enjoyed including a private education, international travel, and a supportive family. My dad and I were best buddies; I was his only child and the only male offspring among his close friends, so I was treated as somewhat of an heir to the angry-old-white-man agenda.
However, I soon began to feel that I was different from most of the men around me, not only as my awareness of being gay emerged, but because I was happy while they were often angry. It fascinated me that men who seemingly had everything -- money, power, privilege -- could be angry about anything, especially about minorities wanting to be treated equally. "Why aren't these guys the happiest people on Earth?" I wondered. "Do they really think equal rights are the end of the world?" I sometimes asked such questions in carefully worded ways. I wasn't ready to blow my cover yet, either as a gay youth or as a critically thinking human being. To summarize in basic terms, I was told "other = bad." Why they felt this way, though, confused me, and it became my personal quest to find an answer. Sometimes I felt like a spy, born behind enemy lines, going unnoticed thanks to my uniform of pale skin and a Y-chromosome. I could sit in on closed-door discussions, listening to unsubstantiated fears and slander of anyone different, the ominous "others." If you guys only knew that one of those "others" is right here with you now, I often thought. I wondered how many of them secretly harbored feelings of "otherness" in their hearts, too.
Then, an epiphany.
I realized it's not any "other" that scares them or triggers their anger. It's the fear that their true self does not fit inside the narrow ideals set by those they follow: their parents and grandparents, their politicians and media hounds, their cavalcade of false prophets. What they fear most are the consequences of not fitting in, of being revealed as even partly "other." So they band together to bully minorities in an attempt to conceal their own otherness, fueled by the paradoxical belief that all differences are the same -- bad -- and that, if they try hard enough, maybe someday their own otherness will go away, too.
When someone is brainwashed by this kind of toxic culture, it takes extraordinary strength to wake up and break free. Some do. Some don't. Some become casualties of the angry-old-white-man agenda, consumed by the flames they throw toward others. And so it was with my father.
After years of watching my dad listen to Republican politicians and right-wing media, I witnessed the mind-numbing effect that "pseudonews" had on him. As he listened to their propaganda more than facts, his world shrank to fit their myopic view, and he eventually trusted only people and information within their bubble. Before these influences, my dad associated with people from all walks of life. He went from being an optimistic, gregarious world traveler to a pessimistic, grouchy recluse.
Before 1987, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission enforced a "Fairness Doctrine," which required broadcasters to present issues in an honest manner that included contrasting viewpoints. However, after President Reagan appointed one of his campaign attorneys to run the FCC, Republicans repealed the Fairness Doctrine. This opened the door for intentionally biased news programs, or "agenda reporting," such as Fox News. (Today, over two decades later, studies show that Fox News viewers are less aware of current events than people who watch no news at all.)
As a result, my dad became lost in the alternate universe of angry, old, white men. They convinced him he was powerless to stop the decline of society at the hands of people they disdained. His only hope, they preached, was to send other angry, old, white men more money and always vote for the whitest person on the ballot.
As the Mitt Romneys, Pat Robertsons, and Rush Limbaughs of our world drew my dad into their twisted circus, he became increasingly depressed. For most of my childhood, my parents and I were inseparable, "the Three Musketeers," but gradually my dad isolated himself from even my mom and me.
This symptom of the angry-old-white-man agenda -- the fracturing of families -- is the most evil effect of their unreality. Using the guise of "family values," parents and siblings are influenced to reject anyone who does not fit into a prescribed mold. In recent history, this often meant lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Today, however, as more families demand equality for their LGBT loved ones, angry, old, white men must increasingly find other "others" to vilify. Today it might be 47 percent of the country. Tomorrow it may be redheads, skinny people, or intellectuals. I'm sure they can find something in the Bible to condemn anyone -- anyone but themselves, of course.
Conveniently, I've never heard angry, old, white men rant about the many Bible verses that sentence to death anyone who cheated on their spouse, cursed at their parents, believed in other gods (sorry, Mitt Romney and every other Mormon), or took the Lord's name in vain, and any woman not a virgin on her wedding day. This is not to mention the hundreds of other transgressions the Bible condemns that angry, old, white men do on a regular basis, including divorce, working on Sundays, shaving their facial hair, getting tattoos, wearing clothes made of more than one type of fiber, and eating lobster or shrimp. Why do we never see church leaders calling for laws to ban men's razors, the NFL, Walmart stores, or seafood restaurants? Instead of protesting their favorite sins, they make profitable businesses out of them. Apparently, the Bible is only God's word when it condemns someone else's behavior.
Hypocrisy is a trademark of the angry-old-white-man agenda. Angry, old, white men are not to be questioned about their own behavior; the focus is to remain on how bad others supposedly are. To keep the agenda afloat, two things are required: 1) a steady stream of new angry, old, white men (as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned the GOP last month, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term"), and 2) maintaining feelings of superiority over other people. Angry, old, white men define their own identities not so much through their own merits and qualities as through their denigration of others.
The world glimpsed this in the recently surfaced video of Mitt Romney telling a small group of wealthy supporters that nearly half the American population are freeloaders who take no responsibility for their own lives. He even joked that if he had been born Latino, it might have "come in handy" in winning this election, the implication being that Latinos are either so racist or ignorant that they'd vote for any Latino candidate, even one as bad for the Latino community as Mitt Romney. And in classic angry-old-white-man style, Mr. Romney goes on to remind his followers that their only hope is to give him more money and put him in power so that he can keep the "others" at bay, those devious forces that threaten our "cherished way of life," as previous generations of angry, old, white men used to say. Mr. Romney even promises to amend the United States Constitution to enshrine discrimination (what conservatives call "protection") against gays.
My dad didn't live long enough to witness this current angry-old-white-man charade, the voter suppression tactics, or convincing senior citizens and the middle class to vote against their own interests. He's not around to hear more lies from men like Mr. Romney and his gang of billionaire thugs, or witness more bullying from disgraceful preachers like Pat Robertson, or withstand more hysterics from rabid media hogs like Rush Limbaugh. Sadly, as too many casualties of the angry-old-white-man agenda have done, my dad took his own life.
You might think that a minority group would have the highest rate of suicide. The fact is that nearly 75 percent of all suicides in America are now white males, and the older the white male, the higher his likelihood of killing himself. The highest suicide rate among any group of Americans is white men over the age of 50.
It is interesting that according to the CDC there are consistently lower rates of suicide in "liberal" states such as California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Maryland, while there are consistently higher rates of suicide in "conservative" states such as Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, Alaska, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Suicide in Utah is four times the national average for white females, and in some years suicide in Utah is so common that it's the state's leading cause of death among white males under 45. Apparently, the "culture of life" and "family values" that politicians such as Mr. Romney claim make communities healthier and happier is another load of divisive lies.
My great-grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Europe and witnessed both world wars, taught me to beware the propaganda of religious ideologues and political opportunists who promise to improve the economy on the one hand while, on the other hand, legalizing discrimination against minorities.
Now Mr. Romney shows us he's willing to segregate not just a minority group but 47 percent of this country's population, saying, "It is not my job to worry about those people." But I believe most Americans are more presidential in this regard, as we do care about that 47 percent. Like many of my fellow citizens, I care about 100 percent of our population. In that spirit, I will continue shining a light on the angry-old-white-man agenda, to help expose it and perhaps awaken those caught in its grip, so that they might set themselves free and save another boy from losing his father along the way.Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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