A neuroscientist asks what Jason Aldean, Ron DeSantis and Josh Hawley are so afraid of
In 2022, Ron DeSantis and the Republican Florida legislature passed the legislation, FL HB 7 (22R), or the Individual Freedom Act which expanded anti-discrimination laws to prohibit schools and companies from leveling guilt or blame to students and employees based on race or sex. Casually speaking, the “anti-woke” law aimed at helping white Floridians avoid any white guilt associated with slavery. In the past few weeks, DeSantis went a step further, this time as a Presidential hopeful, and set a new education “standard” declaring that enslaved people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Despite the pushback that he received from many angles for this revisionist history, DeSantis has doubled down on his widely askew, ignorant, and offensive notion. Many have defined the anti-woke movement by Republicans as a form of fighting reverse discrimination against whites.
Policies such as these beg the question, “What are white males afraid of?” What are you afraid of by admitting slavery was a colossal, historical mistake not to be repeated? A mistake made by our forefathers and those that came before us. This raises the horribly concerning notion that downplaying slavery may serve as some sort of precursor for reintroducing similar inhumane public policies.
White male members of Congress, what are you afraid of? Many congressmen like Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Josh Hawley, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, as examples, have shown that they will do almost anything to keep their seats – even defend the indefensible. Most recently by defending efforts to overthrow the people’s will in a national election and to attempt to explain away why stealing and sharing classified documents is not a serious crime. The fear by many of these white men (and some white women) is that they will lose the votes of die-hard Trump supporters (his “base") if they step out of line against the ex-President. What does keeping those voters do for these whites (and admittedly at least one Black congressman)? They get to keep their job.
On paper, a job that pays relatively well at a level of at least $174,000 per year. Of the members of Congress, approximately 60 percent have an occupational background in business, about 43 percent have law degrees and a whopping 96 percent have a college education. In other words, these individuals would be considered marketable and employable. So, conceivably, if they were not re-elected to their seats, they could do as they often advise those of lower socioeconomic status to do – get a job. Of course, losing their seats also means losing power, influence, and the ability to seek high-paying jobs in the private sector or as lobbyists based on their time and service record in Congress.
Fellow white men, what are you afraid of? Women? Let’s look at the recent rollback of women’s healthcare rights with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. The stance that is taken on abortion by many elected white male officials provides a lot of political currency and assures the support of other white (and often evangelical Christian) people. But that stance is easy, you don’t have to do anything. The truth is, until you are carrying a baby in your body, you have nothing to say on the matter. It’s not about the unborn as much as it is to control women.
What about the misogyny that is often put on display by Congressional white men as in the treatment of people like Christine Blasey Ford? Or the attacks on Hillary Clinton, for all things, the handling of sensitive documents that were led by a brigade of white men (who supported Trump 3 to 1 over Clinton). Or the Benghazi hearings orchestrated largely by white male Congressmen? What is it about competent, successful women that frightens you? And if you are anxious or scared by accomplished women, use your own words and “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” and do something ethical and professional about it. Run on your record and merit and not on the handouts (you likely hated that word) given to you as a white man. This, of course, doesn’t mean simply lying about it but actually doing the work and accepting that you might not be the most qualified.
These two previously mentioned white fears – women and joblessness – lead to the now well-documented case of the former president who is by many firsthand accounts a severe narcissist. A malignant narcissist lives in a world of fantasy and grandiosity with an exaggerated sense of importance whose deepest fear is often exposure for being a fake, fraud, or con man. So for Trump, there is a clear rationale for a sense of white fear because he is at a greater risk for exposure than he has ever faced. He has propped himself up behind a wall of lies and enablers.
This ongoing debate about who or what is “woke” and which groups are actually being targeted has led to some race role reversal in elected officials and government. For example, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is, of course, African American, lives the life of many of the affluent white men who are crying out as victims. He has wealth, power, status, and the resources to maintain a privileged life. For those who question how Thomas could support policies and decisions that harm people of color as a black man, you could argue that he currently lives, operates, and thrives in a privileged white world. As another example, the former President, clearly white and now a defendant in a growing number of legal cases, has called Fulton County (Georgia) District Attorney, Fani Willis, a black woman, “racist” because of her legal positions against Trump.
So we ask, fellow white men, what are you afraid of? The LGBTQ+ community? Why? Ask yourselves, “Am I gay?” If the answer is no, it is none of your business.
Are you struggling with gender dysphoria? If the answer is no, it is none of your business.
That LGBTQ+ lifestyles are contagious? Don’t be ridiculous.
Some scared white men will go to any means to protect themselves – including owning and donning weapons like the AR-style assault rifles we see used repeatedly in mass shootings – to defend themselves against enemies both perceived and created. For example, many shootings like those that occurred in El Paso, Buffalo and Pittsburgh are “justified” by the assailant based on adherence to propaganda that labeled certain groups as the enemy or as a threat to lives and livelihood.
So this fear that white males have against individuals that are very unlikely to do you actual harm, is completely contrived and made up. I’ve seen white males driving around with messages on their vehicles with messages of patriotism, maybe encouraging you to stand for the flag or anthem. I’ve seen a lot of white men wearing T-shirts with the American flag on them with slogans that read things like, ‘These colors don’t run.’
These colors don’t run? Donald Trump runs. Josh Hawley runs. Jason Aldean runs. Now, in these instances, these men were running from potentially dangerous mobs and gunfire and their white fear was truly justified. However, they have white people running against bogeymen (e.g., Deep State; Special Counsel prosecutors) and imaginary enemies (e.g., liberals looking to take away the gun you inherited from your grandfather or big-town outsiders) with their rallies, books, and songs, respectively. What are white men who cling to their Second Amendment rights and firearms afraid of? Are they afraid of being shot while running alone? Are they afraid of a routine traffic stop that might turn deadly? Are they afraid of getting killed after committing a small, petty crime? Are they afraid of violent immigrants coming for their homes, jobs, and family? (Note: Your odds of being killed by an illegal immigrant through violence are 1 in 138,324,873).
In closing, the question is then, how much of the white fear that we are seeing in society today is related to a fear of being exposed for who you really are or what your weaknesses truly are? I would argue that the fear of admitting one made a mistake and the failure to admit one is wrong that is observed in many public, white, male figures is that the admitted mistake will reveal other mistakes, flaws, or fraudulence – which, in turn, could collapse the sense of self or one’s identity. That could be truly terrifying and I would also argue why many remain in the cult of Trump.
About the Author:
Seth D. Norrholm, PhD (Threads: neuropsychophd; X, artist formerly known as Twitter: @SethN12) is a neuropsychologist and independent sociopolitical columnist. Dr. Norrholm has spent 20 years studying trauma-, stressor-, anxiety-, depressive-, and substance use-related disorders and has published over 135 peer-reviewed research articles and book chapters. The primary objective of his work is to develop “bench-to-bedside” clinical research methods to inform therapeutic interventions for fear and anxiety-related disorders and how they relate to human factors such as personality, genetics, and environmental influences. Dr. Norrholm has been featured on NBC, ABC, PBS, CNN, Politico.com, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, USA Today, WebMD, The Atlantic, The History Channel, Scientific American, Salon.com, The Huffington Post, and Yahoo.com.
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