To understand the panic that white men in the Republican Party are in these days, it’s useful to go back to April of 2016, when Trump was still running for the nomination. He held a rally at the Grumman Studios, located in what used to be the Grumman Aircraft factory in Bethpage, a community adjacent to Levittown, Long Island in suburban Nassau County, east of New York City. Levittown was the first suburb built on Long Island after World War II, a tight grid of narrow streets lined with wood frame houses that could be had for five or six thousand dollars.
Veterans of the war and people seeking to get out of New York’s Lower East Side and South Village flocked to Levittown, and Bethpage and East Meadow and Salisbury and North Bellmore and communities like them that sprang up on Long Island in the decade after the war. Almost all of the residents were white people, and they started businesses along the main drags throughout those early suburbs, like New York Route 107, which separated Levittown and Bethpage. The Grumman factory was located on Route 107, a massive collection of giant hangers and an airport where many of the fighters that won World War II were built in the early 1940’s. The new residents of Levittown and Bethpage opened pizza parlors, and gas stations, and hair salons and clothing stores and delis and grocery stores and donut and bagel shops. And those neighborhoods stayed that way for decades, homogeneous and safe and suburban, far from the grime and crime left behind in New York City. And white. They stayed white.
But no more. When candidate Donald Trump rode south in his motorcade down Route 107 from the Long Island Expressway on his way to his rally in one of the old Grumman hangers, he passed no less than 40 businesses owned by Afghan and Egyptian and Iraqi and Jordanian and Iranian and Syrian and Indian families. There, on the right, was Hamza & Madina Halal Food, and the Salai Junaid Jamshed women’s boutique. Just down the street was Shah’s Halal Food, and Channai Dosas, and the Shaheen Plaza, where Samaira Dress shop was across the street from the Karizma Beauty Shop. Just down the street was the Anian Beauty Salon, and the Rajbhog Café. Trump drove past the Sai Fashion Boutique, and the Super Halal and the House of Dosas, and many, many other businesses owned by immigrant families from the Middle East and Central Asia.
I also rode down Route 107 on a shuttle bus that took me from a distant parking lot to the Grumman Studios. Sitting behind me were a couple of white guys from Long Island, on their way to see the man they would vote for in November. When they looked out of the bus windows, they saw the same landscape of immigrant businesses Trump saw from his motorcade. One guy turned to the other and pointed to the passing scene, how different is was from the way it had been before.
“You know what they do? They come over here, and they get a job washing dishes somewhere, and they get their family over here, and the next thing you know, it’s not a pizza joint, it’s one of these kabob places! They’re taking over everything! You can’t even get a slice in Bethpage anymore!”
Trump’s rally was in Bethpage, and his audience was virtually all-white, but when they walked out of the rally, they may as well have been in Kabul or Baghdad or Tehran: women walking around in hijabs, men wearing shalwar kameez. And not a pizza joint in sight. The two guys were on the shuttle bus because they didn’t live there anymore, they had moved out of Bethpage, further east into Suffolk County, where it was still largely white, where you could still get a slice.
That’s what’s driving the white men in the Republican Party crazy. Metaphorically, they can’t get a slice anywhere. There are Route 107’s all over the country – in Chicago, and Detroit, and Los Angeles and San Antonio and Pittsburgh and Columbus and Tallahassee and Charlotte and Houston. Streets lined with ethnic businesses of one kind or another, crowded with people who are brown and black and Asian and Middle Eastern and North African. Crowded with people who are not white.
What you saw at the hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh last week was one of the last bastions of the white male patriarchy. There was Kavanaugh, the Republican’s white nominee, and on the Republican side of the dais, the 11 white male senators trying to push him over the finish line to confirmation. It wasn’t going well, and they were pissed. He was being questioned by the Democrats, who Kavanaugh identified as part of the “conspiracy” out to get him. A black man from New Jersey, a couple of white women, and a black woman from California. I mean, just look at that line up! You wouldn’t find them out at the country club, or on the golf links!
When you talk about the world of Brett Kavanaugh and the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, what you're really talking about is a world of white male privilege. Workplaces that are largely white and largely male, especially at the top. Country clubs that are all white or close to it. Golf clubs that are white and male, except for a few tokens they admitted under pressure, like Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters is held every year, which barred blacks from membership until 1990, and women until 2012. Wealthy communities, some of them even gated and guarded, that are all white. Parties they go to that are all white. Fundraisers held in hotel ballrooms and living rooms and on lawns of estates that are all white. Corporate boards that are all white, or close to it, and almost all male.
This is the world that Kavanaugh grew up in, and it's the world he still lives in. Same with the 11 Republican men on the Judiciary Committee. So long as they are behind those walls, walking those golf fairways, inside those locked, guarded suburban gates, they're at home. They're comfortable. They're around people they recognize, people they feel natural with.
Then they walk outside any of those buildings or clubs or gated communities, and they walk around a city like Washington D.C., or New York, or L.A., or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Houston, or Philadelphia -— because that's where their courts are, that's where their office buildings are, those are the cities just outside of which their country clubs and golf courses are — and every other person they see around them is a different color, speaks a different language, wears different clothing, and they're all walking around just as comfortable and natural as you please, like they actually belong there, and they do, because they live in those cities, they go to school in those cities, they work in those cities, those cities belong to them, even lowly suburban Bethpage on Long Island, where Trump held his rally.
That's what drives them crazy. All those colors, all those women, all those languages, all those accents, all those head-coverings. The utter absence of all-whiteness and all-maleness. It's going away, right in front of their eyes, and there's nothing they can do to stop it. They can try, by putting a Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and counting on him to make rulings against all those forces that are non-white, and non-male, and non-wealthy. But they can't stop it.
It drives them crazy. It drove Kavanaugh crazy last Thursday when he felt the position he was "born to" at risk. He went crazy in front of a Senate committee on national television. He broke down in real time. He couldn't control himself. What we saw was the reaction of white America to the coloring of America writ large. We saw its rage at what they can't control and its self-pity that they are losing control of what they've always felt is rightfully theirs. We saw it on Brett Kavanaugh's out of control facial expressions and completely inappropriate sobbing and anger.
The man is 54 years old. You're supposed to be able to hold yourself in check by the time you're 54. But he couldn't. His fear, and their fear, is just too great. He came apart in front of our eyes. The only thing he didn’t do was run screaming from the room in frustration.
All those shops along Route 107, all those people on the streets who are not white and don’t speak English without an accent, those people let them know with every business they open, and every dollar they make, and every step they take that white men are fading, they’re losing their grip on power.
It's driving them crazy.