Two well-heeled older men who never wanted for anything during their upbringings and now live comfortable, privileged lives will be getting together in Calgary this evening to talk about just how very, very angry they are.
The idea of a $15-per-hour minimum wage makes them very, very angry.
The idea that someone would remove a statue to a 19th Century colonial-era politician in belated acknowledgement of the cultural genocide that politician’s government pursued makes them very, very angry.
The idea that LBGTQ children would be protected when they go to school makes them very, very angry.
The idea that women have a fundamental right to control their own persons makes them very, very angry.
The idea that elite private schools that charge tens of thousands of dollars in tuition should not get tax subsidies makes them very, very angry.
The idea of the rule of law – at least when the law is not ruling in their favour, as they have become accustomed – makes them very, very angry.
And the idea of a tax on energy use makes them very, very angry indeed.
These two men, both rather pale in complexion, will gather this evening with their supporters – many of whom are similarly comfortable, well off, and privileged – and together they will all be very, very, very angry about these and other things. Their event will likely draw a big crowd.
I give you Doug Ford, Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario, and Jason Kenney, the man who would be United Conservative Party premier of Alberta – and may well be if he can get enough Albertans to be as angry as he is at these imagined slights to their privilege and, indeed, their elite position in society.
Mr. Ford, by the sound of it, has never really had to work a day in his life, having inherited significant wealth from his father’s label-making company rather like his political and rhetorical model, the current president of the United States. He is not intellectually inquisitive. He is 53 years old.
Mr. Kenney appears to have had a somewhat more modest upbringing. He is the beneficiary of an expensive private education, nevertheless, and he is in line for a multi-million-dollar Parliamentary pension (although the idea of pensions for other public employees apparently makes him very, very angry). He has been fortunate enough never to have had to hold what most of us would call a real job. He is 50.
In their shared anger, the two men are positively bromantic. “Doug and I had breakfast yesterday and I’ll tell you we’ve got the beginning of a bit of bromance there,” Mr. Kenney said recently according to a sympathetic newspaper columnist who apparently didn’t find this even a little creepy. “We were finishing each other’s sentences. I love it.”
Yes, the future looks golden for both of them. Nevertheless, they are very, very angry.
So what’s with this phenomenon, first observed in the United States and now spreading virally into our peaceable dominion?
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist who writes for the New York Times, commented on this Monday in a column about the Republicans in Washington entitled “The Angry White Male Caucus.” It is worth reading, as is most of what Dr. Krugman has to say.
What last week’s furious, sneering testimony by Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, illustrated, Dr. Krugman concluded, is “that white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It’s also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would normally consider very much part of the elite.”
People, that is, very much like Messrs. Ford and Kenney.
Here’s Dr. Krugman’s explanation: “It’s perfectly possible for a man to lead a comfortable, indeed enviable life by any objective standard, yet be consumed with bitterness driven by status anxiety.”
Dr. Krugman tells a funny story about professors with good positions who are angry because they’re not at Yale or Harvard, and professors at Yale and Harvard who are angry because someone else won the Nobel Prize. I imagine he has specific individuals in mind and, moreover, that they know who they are.
He goes on: “This sort of high-end resentment, the anger of highly privileged people who nonetheless feel that they aren’t privileged enough or that their privileges might be eroded by social change, suffuses the modern conservative movement.”
“Nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.”
This is as true in Canada as in the United States. Indeed, the modern conservative movement, like the communist movement of yore, is nowadays an international ideological enterprise that acts the same way everywhere. In the United States, Dr. Krugman worries, the rage of white men, upper class as well as working class, “may destroy America as we know it.”
There’s something to this analysis.
And I suspect that tonight in Calgary we’ll see it in action. Mr. Ford and Mr. Kenney will be trying to stoke that seething rage among their supporters. There may even be a chant of “Lock ’er up!”
Officially, the event has been scheduled to express anger at the federal carbon tax. Many other causes of anger will likely be mentioned as well. After all, these are very, very angry men, angry about a long list of things, almost too many to keep track of.
I would be delighted to be proved wrong about this. I’m pretty confident I won’t be.