1 June

One Man’s Truth: The Last Stand Of The Angry White Men

by Jon Katz

(I feel humbled to be alive and writing about one of the most critical weeks and sad times in American history. These columns are not about hating President Trump or promoting Joe Biden; they are about bearing witness to this extraordinary time. People cling to the idea that this is a real election. I feel like I have a window seat to a suicide.)

In many ways, one cannot understand the Trump Revolution except as the last stand of the once all-powerful, increasingly displaced white male. His is a white man’s world, from his cabinet to his golf courses to his buddies.

Trump came up in the ’60s, perhaps at different ends of it than me. But we both grew up in a white man’s world, his one of power and wealth,every door in the world open to him and slammed shut for almost anyone else – especially African-Americans, Latinos, and of course, women.

There were plenty of doors for me on a different scale. When I decided to be a journalist, I walked into the lobby of the New York Times, asked to go up and see the City Editor, and was hired on the spot as a copy boy with no experience at all, and not a single reference.

I never once failed to find a job when I wanted one. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t find one.

If you see it in terms of a last stand, it all makes sense. If you see it any other way, Trump makes no sense at all.

This was never more apparent to me than today, listen to this aging warrior call his troops out for their increasingly hopeless cause.

You can see it in the faces under those MAGA hats, and those Nascar races, those gatherings of old sheriffs, and aging veterans,  at those blood-thirsty rallies, in their own version of goons on call, the online trolls.

They can’t yet go and beat people up in the open, but they can steal their iPhone contacts and hack their credit cards and wreak havoc with their lives. They hear those dog whistles and know what they mean.

Trump’s Great America is the one he and I both came of age in at about the same time. He was a lot more successful than I was, but I’d much rather be me than him.

And what do almost all of Trump’s executive orders and policies have in common?  They are just about to go to support white men, from removing all restrictions on shooting baby bears in caves, to the tax cuts, for driving cars and big trucks with few environmental restrictions, to honking horns in tractor-trailers to talking tough with each other to getting tanks and fighter jets out on July Fourth.

Today, he spoke to the displaced white men just as Nixon did in the 1960s. He never really talks to anybody else, he just pretends to once in a while. You may notice that when he talks to cheering and angry white men, he seems genuine. When he talks to anybody else, he seems false.

I am your Law And Order President. We have to get tough with these guys. Only sissy lefties value human lives more than police precincts. The problem is not the police; the problem is the radical left; they are making Molotov cocktails and bombs. 

I will give them the beating they deserve. The violence will stop, and quick. We are fierce. He calls the looters leftist radicals because he doesn’t dare say what he really is signaling to the faithful: we’re going to get those black kids breaking windows and throwing things at cops, and put them in their places.

To me, it doesn’t evoke General Patton nearly as much as it evokes Custer when he called his cavalry into the Little Big Horn.

One of Trump’s many problems is that he is not tough.

He dodged the draft and is a germaphobe. He hasn’t got the guts to put on a mak.

The governors are close to the tragedies, they know more guns and rifles will not stop these fires. It took the police chief in Houston to tell Trump to keep his mouth shut if he couldn’t say anything positive.

But the President couldn’t keep his mouth shut or say anything positive, another painfully awkward and uninspiring speech.

Clearly terrified peering out of the White House window last Friday,  he hid in his White House bunker when the protesters showed up at the White House. He threatened them on Twitter with vicious dogs and awesome weapons and promised all weekend to bring in his beautiful Army (this is precisely what Napoleon called his Army) to do whatever had to be done to restore order.

One couldn’t help wondering why he was hiding in the White House bunker if he was all that tough. Wouldn’t John Wayne have marched into Lafayette Park and challenged a protestor to a fistfight, one on one?

\Every smart politician grasps the import of the new America, with its once-unthinkable changes – gay marriage, trans people in the bathroom, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez holding press conferences in the capital, and all kind of women moving up all kinds of ladders in politics, Hollywood, law, medicine, and even the presidential election, for generations a private men’s club.

The melting pot is real, brown people, yellow people, black people, all woven now into the fabric of America. A new era for white men like me, I don’t plan on disappearing but I sure intend to move over.

This is not the America Trump and I grew up in, this is not the America he wants, this is America he is working to stop dead in its tracks. If you pay attention to him, you can’t miss it.

I felt as if George Custer’s ghost was hiding in the White House, whispering in Trump’s ears. Sure, we can take these savages. Charge!

I began my reporting career during the very worst of the sixties. I lived in New York, wrote for obscure street publications, and was hired by the New York Times.

New York – and the country – were battlegrounds, there was a real war, culture wars, race riots, and convulsions.

We thought the country was going to pieces then, and in some ways, it was.

I didn’t join in the cultural revolutions of the sixties; I’m not a joiner, I am a watcher, a good trait in a reporter, not always in a human being.

Trump also grew up in this pure white world. He didn’t even have to find the doors, they were all opened for him.

Many of Trump’s supporters live in rural America and rarely go near a city. New York is the embodiment of every value that they hate.  And New York has returned the favor, Trump is unwelcome there. He decided to live in Florida now, in Palm Peach, the world capital of old rich white men.

I couldn’t help but go back in that time to understand what this poor man – our President – is and was trying to do, and why he is there in the White House.

I have no apologies to make for calling him a “poor man” because he is just that. It is painful to watch him flail and panic, day after day. If you step back a bit, you will witness the destruction not only of a man but a fundamental part of American history.

We might be too close or frightened to see it, but our country is being reborn, for all of its troubles now. There is a lot of Post Partum depression and a lot of plates shifting against one another.

This is one pivot President Trump cannot make.

Trump has no forward component to him, only his bitterness about losing the past and wanting to get it back. He is a prisoner of yesterday times a couple of thousand.

America then was coming unglued, just like now. Only it wasn’t really, just like now. It just felt that way.

Crime was big news, every night. The African-American universe was seething, then as now.

Whites were terrified of black rage and the perception that young black criminals would stalk them, rape them, rob them, and kill them.

The number of muggings and robberies were skyrocketing, and suburbanites dreaded the specter of home invasions even though the most spectacular home invasion was in Hollywood, carried out by the all-white Mansion gang.

Fear of crime wasn’t called racism; then, it was known everywhere as the decline of law and order. But you can still see this fear in every video of every police shooting of black men.

One leader after another – John Kennedy,  Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy – were assassinated, and a tragically Shakespearean President named Lyndon Johnson got himself obsessed with winning an unpopular and unwinnable war and also pushed through Congress the most important civil rights legislation in American history.

As I get older, I see that the assassinations hurt the country, even to today, or perhaps especially today. If Bobby Kennedy had lived, would there even be a Trump in the White House?

Watching those kids throw themselves at the Secret Service on TV today and take the gas and the batons brought me back to that time, but only for a second. Those kids drove a president out of office in the ’60s, I thought of them when I saw those split screens again, the President shouting about the jeers, the kids practically demanding to be tear-gassed.

This is a different world, but the conflict is not that different. Those kids were also called thugs and monsters, terrorists and radicals, the name the angry old white men always call anybody who threatens them.

It was the war and the race riots that tore the country apart and scared the wits out of God-fearing suburbanites, who saw civil society and traditional values and their new split-level homes and wisdom going up in flames. (Even though it was black neighborhoods in the cities that went up in flames, then as now. The white neighborhoods never seem to catch fire.)

The riots then devastated many of our major cities, some of which are just beginning to recover. Some never did.

Unfortunately for Trump, the white suburbanites – especially the women –  now hate him a lot more than they use to fear black people. You can get away with some of it some of the time, but you can’t get away with all of it all of the time.

I imagine he is too smart not to know that but too weak to change.

He doesn’t want to make America great again, he seems to hate America in 2020. Trump always talks of making America great again, but I’ve never heard him say a single good thing about America. Could he really hate it as much as he seems to hate it?

Race has always shaped America and is about to do it again but in a completely different way. Obama, it turns out, has defined Trump by being so different. Trump is determined to obliterate every trace of him yet the most important part of him – the people who miss him and his way of governing – is not within Trump’s reach.

That must drive him crazy.

But he does continue this secret dialogue with all those other white men who hated Obama so much for being black. His hatred of Obama is, in so many ways, part of his bond with his followers. The cheeky and arrogant black men man made it to the top. Trump hated Obam before he got near the White House. It is really not that hard to see why so many white men love him so much.

They do speak the same language.

In the ’60s, everyone had the idea of chaos, much like now, and the country was ripe for a Law And Order candidate like Richard Nixon. He was the perfect candidate for a country where white men almost entirely controlled the country’s political culture, sports,  marketing,  academic, Hollywood, and media worlds.

I covered some of those men, and I think the truth of it was that they never saw the new America coming, they never thought it would happen, they did everything they could to stop it. Of course, they did, I always had the notion that I could see them turning into dinosaurs right before my eyes.

Listening to Donald Trump declaring himself a “Law And Order” president today while police gassed and noise-grenades peaceful demonstrators so he would cross the street with a Bible in his hand to visit a church was a scene much more out of a Robert Altman movie (think Nashville) than the United States in 2020.

When you look at these videos of police officers or vigilantes with their shotguns shooting black men, one thing stands out again and again: they are scared to death of them.

Trump is pivoting once more, this time back to the future. He is channeling Nixon, calling him up from his crypt. Once again, he is making the wrong moves, heading in the wrong direction. His country is moving forward, his government is moving back.

I always thought Trump’s instincts were so good. Was I delusional, or has he changed in some way (maybe those dangerous new pills he is taking). What I see now is one bad move after another. I just can’t see how he survives the Pandemic, the crash of the economy, and lingering racial tensions by pretending the Korean War just ended.

Every morning, I wake up and turn to Maria, and she asks me what’s on tap for the day. Nothing much, I say, I’ll take a day off from writing about the presidential campaign. Then, sometime in the afternoon, I sit down at my computer or iPhone and catch up on the news.

Oh, I tell myself and then her, I think I do have something I need to write today.


  1. I am the same age as you. Everything you wrote is spot on. Excellent piece of writing. Thank you Jon.

  2. Thank you, Jon, for writing with a keen mind and warm heart—always making the most of the present moment. Your time is now. We so appreciate your daily thoughts, observations and feelings…and I have begun sharing you countless times to my friends (who invariably express their appreciations for my doing so).
    May you and Maria and the farm remain safe, well and very happy. Thank you for all you do and share.

  3. Well this did give me hope. 1968 was terrible, Nixon was a nightmare, and we survived-but so did institutional racism.
    Maybe we can survive this, if we can avoid his “beautiful army”, his 2nd amendment “friends”, Barr’s misuse of the DOJ, and the next Russian cyber attack.

    Poor Trump. The symptoms of his incurable (thin) skin disease are really getting out of hand, huh?

    Thanks, Jon.

  4. Excellent article Jon. I see Trump the same way as wanting to return to 1950’s America where African Americans were supposed to know their place in society and didn’t speak out. I also firmly believe that if JFK wasn’t assassinated, we would we living in a totally different world today. And, the last thing about the irony of the photo op last night with him holding the bible: I just wish he would read the new testament in it and maybe see what Jesus expected of his followers. He certainly didn’t preach a life filled with daily hate, vile and narcissism at the very least. Very sad example of a human being.

  5. Jon, why are you not submitting this writing, with a little editing out of the personal reference at the end, to a major news publication?

    We are one group following your writing, surely your observations are worth sharing with a larger audience,
    Sandy Proudfoot.

    1. Sandy, thanks, how kind, but I am a major publication, I have four million visits a year on my blog, more than any place I could send my work to. I have no interest in making minor or major changes to my work, and no interest in being published in a “major news publication” of any kind. I know you mean it kindly and I appreciate that, but to me, it’s a bit demeaning. What you don’t understand is that if the New York Times wanted this kind of writing, they would hire people to do it. They have no interest in the kind of writing I do and I have no interest in doing the kind of writing they do. If that was not the case, I’d still be working there instead of blogging. I’m quite happy here, I was never happy there.

  6. I am exactly the same age as Trump, so I lived through the 60’s too, but as a female. I take some bit of hope from your parallels of that age and this. Thank you!

    1. I am hopeful, Eloise, America is undergoing a much-needed awakening, I think we have to stop being afraid of it and embrace it..

  7. I have really enjoyed your take on these subjects. As a boomer, I also remember the 60’s and how confusing and scary they were. Maybe this time we will see lasting and positive change. I feel hopeful and relieved every time I see those young people marching and standing up for what they believe. They will lead us into a better future. Maybe Trump is exactly what we needed.

    1. Yes, I believe he has been what we needed. He has embodied all the “old white male” paradigm which is about the pastç, which has nothing to do with our new level of consciousness. So it no longer serves us in any way except to flag what changes need to be made.

    1. Thanks Diane, I see no reason to be hopeless, there are very strong and articulate and aroused people in America who are waking up to what democracy and leadership means..they will make themselves heard and felt..

  8. You’re right, Jon, I don’t have a background in knowing about the publishing business nor reporting. Yes, my posting was meant in nothing but admiration and kindness, you’re right. And with a reading audience, such as you have, I agree, you don’t need to look elsewhere to have an impact on readers. The US is falling apart right now. I hope for better things to come out of this revolution of sorts. Here in Canada, colour does not seem to be noticed, although different cultures, yes. I find it soul destroying to look at the news, to look at the leadership of the US and have it be so self-centered, on stage, looking for an audience, being photographed with a Bible for heaven’s sakes.. He has spewed his anger over the whole of the United States, Canada, other countries, but the US has been so badly affected by it, that it seems like we are all living in a terrible dream from which we’re not able to wake up. So far.
    Please keep on writing of your perspective on these terrible times.
    Thank you and you do not offend by disagreeing…that’s what allows a different way of looking at things and that is good,
    Sandy Proudfoot

    1. Sandy, I always appreciate your messages, you are thoughtful and honest and generous…blessings to you..

  9. Jon,
    Thank you.
    The world is changing every single day.
    There is not much we can do about it, except to maintain the veneer of our civility for each other and to keep that thin veneer as thick as possible, especially with things get tough.

  10. Thank you for this. I am an 80s child, so seeing this is terrifying for me. Reading this reminded me that America made it through the 60s, and we will make it through this. Peace and blessings to you and yours!

  11. Another great essay, Jon. Thanks for the trip down 60’s memory lane and the parallels of our current times. “Right on.” Old white men who cling to the power they once had are a sorry sight in 2020. They have failed in their quest and are dying out. Thank God. The world will be a much kinder place to live in. I always wanted a better world for my daughter than I had growing up in white male domination. I’m still fighting to alleviate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email SignupFree Email Signup