Magazine | November 13, 2017, Issue

SuperLiberalMan

There’s an angry man who stalks the blocks around my downtown office, scowling and muttering a sotto voce recitation of the ills of the world. Never knew what griped his heart — until the day when he stopped to collect expended cigarettes from a can of sand, making one smoke out of the bits in the butts.

“Then in 1812,” he hissed, “they burned it down. They burned down the damn White House.”

He was mad at . . . the British? No one’s mad at the British anymore. Maybe the anti-colonialists who rail against imperialism, sure, but there are so many bad actors in the world today you rarely hear someone wind up a denunciation of the state of nations by shouting “And then there’s the Englishmen!”

The man is mad, alas, but put in the proper context he could be a hero to many. Because he is angry. Nothing bestows authenticity these days like anger. It’s not new — for years you might have rolled your eyes at the car in front of you, its rear plastered with bumper stickers like Band-Aids on a boil-ridden bottom. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

Well, yes, you think, I am paying attention, specifically to the green light you’re ignoring, and yet outrage has yet to well up in my throat.

The bumper stickers are also angry about mining, pipelines, nuclear weapons, Israel, Iraq, the 2000 election, underfunded schools — an atonal fugue that plays constantly in some people’s heads until they can take it no longer and have to do something, like send a Mother Jones link to their backward grandma.

Is it healthy? Of course not, but it makes you real. It makes you true. You see what the stupid people don’t. These people were less angry in the Obama years, because the moral arc of the universe was bending in the proper direction, i.e. toward Sweden. But suddenly the part of the country that was supposed to die out — or at least have the decency to shut up — made the whole Trump thing happen, and now the anger is no longer a daily energy drink that puts a spring in your step and a sneer on your face. It’s a boat anchor you have to drag along every minute of every hour, and it’s exhausting.

Being better than others isn’t so much fun anymore, which brings us to a cri de coeur from Salon: “My liberal white male rage: What should I do about it?”

The obvious answer is “Write about it in Salon, where the diminishing number of people who care may congregate,” followed by “Bran often helps.” But let’s see what he’s thinking.

He’s a teacher at an all-girls school and imagines a situation in which a strange white man comes to campus and cold-cocks a middle-aged black female administrator. Enter SuperLiberalMan:

“I sprint out and before he even sees me, I choke-slam him against the wall, crushing his throat with my hand. I shove him against the wall and start punching, left, right. I throw him down and hammer my knees onto his shoulders, pinning him to the ground.”

There are a few more sentences describing the drubbing. Young women are watching, “aghast, clutching their binders. They look at me with admiration and horror.”

Binders full of admiring women! It’s a fantasy, of course, and you suspect the admiration part is what really gives the reverie its shivery frisson. At work, he says, he daydreams “about committing violence, always righteously, in overly dramatic, obnoxiously heroic ways, with a very troubling overtone of white saviorism.”

Ah. There’s his problem. Well, his problem is that he describes his emotions like a wine snob, but also that he’s being white while beating up the white guy to save the black woman — although it’s possible he calibrates the admiring gaggle of high-school girls to have a broad spectrum of ethnicities. Except no, no, that’s more white saviorism. How about if all the girls looking on are white and disapproving?

Hold on, hold on, readjusting fantasy, almost there –

Okay, they’re all blonde and saying that if he weren’t white he wouldn’t get away with the beating. Maybe add a cop who investigates and says something anti-Semitic. Perfect.

He asks: “So what to do with this conflicted rage? Can it be made useful for a movement, or is it inherently self-centered and destructive?”

Self-centered is a real possibility, you suspect. At least he’s developed some coping strategies:

“I’ve downloaded a fighting app on my phone that I play whenever I need to blow off some quick steam; it makes me feel momentarily powerful (in the silliest way). When I watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ I replay the battle scenes two or three times.”

And perhaps he pauses it and puts cut-out Trump heads on the person who’s about to be eaten by a dragon and takes a picture with his iPhone? It would be so therapeutic.

But don’t think he’s not a man of action, because he’s asking serious questions that have plagued men in all perilous times: Should he use his white privilege to talk to white supremacists, or “Should I go to a family-friendly anti-white-supremacy rally away from the neo-Nazis and work a child-care shift?” Well, there are probably cookies at the latter.

He also noted that he had brought these feelings to his “anti-racist/anti-sexist white male group,” telling them, “I mean, after Trump was elected, I thought I might be fighting a totalitarian regime that would be locking up activists and journalists.”

But it isn’t, and he can’t. That’s so frustrating. Makes a man want to punch something. Hey girls! Watch this.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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