I worked for one of those infamous financial institutions that disappeared in 2008. As the financial crisis mounted, Wachovia made daily headlines as stock prices plummeted and the forth-largest bank in the U.S. began to crumble. During those tense days employees openly speculated on our future, and the day our firm was sold for pennies a woman on my staff said, “You better hope you don’t get fired. You’ll never find a job these days. White men are pariahs!”
Nearly ten years later that conversation still haunts me. White men were the poster children of the Global Financial Crisis (namely Alan Greenspan, Bill Clinton, George Bush and the CEOs of every company on the TARP plan), and over 90% of those who lost jobs during this recession were men. For the first time in history women represented over half of the American workplace, and at 56% now dominate the U.S Labor Force.
Throughout human civilization, all statistics that measure affluence, education, power and success favored men, and most positions of power are still dominated by white males today: 95% of CEOs in the Fortune 1000 and more than 80% of both the House and the Senate are in the club. Birthright afforded more opportunities than hard work and talent through the 20th century, and being born a white male in America was the equivalent of winning the genetic Powerball lottery.
Donald Trump fits squarely into this demographic, and is the conductor of a populist base that lifted him into the presidency. At a moment when the administration is struggling to fulfill core Republican promises, the Department of Justice is said to be redirecting resources of its Civil Rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.
While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was written to protect everyone from discrimination, "it is frequently the case that discrimination has flipped and whites are discriminated against now," said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. As the United States becomes increasingly multi-racial, the late great white male may yet find redemption in the Trump White House.
Metamorphosis of the Male Gender Role
From Feudal times up through the Industrial Revolution, men worked and women stayed home to raise the family. Women were not afforded opportunities of education or vocational training, and ultimately led lives not unlike that of an indentured servant. They worked around the home and were reliant on their husband to provide food, clothing and lodging. In 1900, women only represented 18% of the job market. This is the era in which my grandmothers were born. These two fine women never attended college, worked a day in their lives, or even drove an automobile. When I was very little, I remember asking my grandmother if there would ever be a woman President. Without hesitation, she replied, “No, it will never happen. That job has too much pressure for a woman to handle. Being President is a man’s job.” While Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, such were the views of her generation.
World War II was the event that changed this mindset forever. As men headed overseas women were encouraged to work. They came out in large numbers: working women soared 57% during the war years. Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter became a cultural icon of this era, and a harbinger of the collective power that was about to be unleashed. Yet after the war, men returned to their traditional jobs that forced women back home. Men represented two-thirds of the workforce in 1945, in a day and time known as the “Golden Era of Men.” James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” recites a laundry list of the white male’s great accomplishments, and classics like Leave it to Beaver, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and even Happy Days each portrayed a white middle-class family, with a white picket fence, and a conspicuously black, beleaguered dog.
Conversely, classics like The Mary Tyler Moore Show represented women entering the work force and enrolling in colleges in record numbers. The media drove normality and more importantly — the markets. The Woman’s Movement fertilized the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. June Cleaver had become passé, and her replacements were the likes of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Billy Jean King. It was Bella Abzug who famously declared, “This woman’s place is in the house – the House of Representatives!” Inspired by these new role models, women stormed the American workplace and took their rightful place next to men.
By 1983 we were introduced to a new concept that would personify this metamorphosis — Mr. Mom. Detroit auto engineer (Michael Keaton) is suddenly unemployed due to the Recession (funny how nothing changes in Detroit), and his wife (Teri Garr) goes to work at an advertising agency forcing Keaton to stay home to raise three kids. After initial struggles, Keaton perseveres and becomes the model parent. Not only did the film shine a spotlight on the newly branded stay-at-home Dad, it also trumpeted the 4 million Moms that returned to the workplace in the 1980’s. Role reversal was becoming acceptable, commonplace and transformative.
By the end of the 20th century, women were controlling the finances at home and driving the markets. Women and minorities now make 83% of all consumer purchases, and dominate big-ticket decisions including the home, furnishings, cars and vacations. Madison Avenue now serve women and its newest market — children. I remember watching the Olympic Games as a kid where the most popular sports were men’s swimming, hockey and boxing. Today, woman’s figure skating and gymnastics dominate advertising dollars as woman veritably dominate all purchasing decisions on behalf of the American family.
Deconstructing the White Male
As recently as 1960, Caucasians represented 85% of the U.S. population. The past 50 years have brought significant change: below-average birth rates and a wave of immigration of people of color have reduced the white population to 66% today. Hispanics now are the largest minority at 15%, followed by African Americans at 14% and Asian Americans at 5%. The US Census bureau is forecasting that this trend will exacerbate and whites will represent a minority (about 46%) of the US by 2050. Most of the growth will be in the Hispanic population, which is projected to comprise 30% of America. Asian Americans are also projected to double during this time. Affirmative action in America today is no longer a black-white issue. We are a multiracial, multiethnic nation.
The U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly intends to re-litigate last year’s Supreme Court ruling upholding decades of precedent in favor of affirmative action in higher education. In two cases, in particular, the Supreme Court has ruled that schools have a compelling interest in creating a diverse student body and may use race as one of multiple factors in admissions decisions. In June 2016, the court ruled 4 to 3 that a race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Texas was constitutional. Critics of affirmative action say the Supreme Court rulings have left an opening to challenge race-conscious policies, and federal cases are pending against Harvard College and the University of North Carolina. Both cases allege that race-conscious admissions policies result in discrimination against Asian American applicants.
Julian Simon’s “The Ultimate Resource” constructs a theory so simple that it is elegant: Human imagination and ingenuity is the ultimate resource, and thus the key to the economic well being of nations. In short, more people translate into more ideas and products that result in productivity, growth, and affluence. Thirty years ago, critics laughed at Dr. Simon when he cautioned that China and India would soon become world superpowers. Now we are witnessing the rise of these nations. This same logic can be applied to the ongoing rise of our Hispanic population here in America, too. Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court shattered the glass ceiling for Hispanics. Sotomayor fired the first shot across the bow of the Washington power structure when she said “Latinas are making a lot of progress in the old-boy network.” The U.S. constitution provides the legal framework for dialogue among this nation of immigrants, and immigrants now sit proudly on those benches and preside over those courts.
The disparity between white men and the rest of the population was stark some 30 years ago. Hispanics earned 30 cents, blacks earned 50 cents, and women earned 62 cents on every dollar of the red blooded, white American man. Today, “woman earn 90 cents for every dollar a man in Washington DC,” according to CNN Money and while progress can seem painstakingly slow — its happening. Like Global Warming, we can dismiss that factoid as fake news, or we can lean into and get ahead of the curve.
Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” described the moment when momentum for change becomes unstoppable. The maxim “All Men Are Created Equal” was not intended to serve the white men in powdered wigs of the 18th century, but all men in powdered wigs of any century. Social normality is designed to control the spending of an economic consumer, and as Black, Hispanic, Gay and Transgender Americans descend into the market place — social normality shifts. Trump’s obstruction of Obama’s legacy on Civil Rights, Climate Control and Healthcare have and continue to be blocked by a base whose rhetoric for change concedes that time has come.