Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Politics of Resentment

Scratch the surface of leftist complaint and you always seem to find resentment, whether about the general unfairness of society or the indifference to the harm done to the powerless. While unfairness and harm exist, the almost exclusive focus by the left on these perspectives stems from a psychology of resentment and learned powerlessness. Because most Americans are self-reliant and optimistic, the left does not usually win elections. 2008 was an anomaly, because the blatant unfairness of the bailouts and Republican duplicity made it logical for Americans to turn to the Democrats.

Look at a few issues as illustration.

Illegal immigration.
Left: These poor immigrants are lured here almost against their will by the vile conditions in Mexico and are enticed by employment that only becomes exploitation. Compassion demands that we allow them to stay and become citizens to protect them from predations that are not their fault. Only a racist would think otherwise.
Tea Party: Amnesty undermines the rule of law, which is necessary for the smooth functioning of society. If we have a second amnesty, where does it end? How do we maintain national sovereignty which is necessary to protect everyone in the nation?
Bridging the gap: Securing the border is actually more compassionate to the would-be immigrants, because they won't die making the trek. Then we can have an expanded policy that allows immigrants who can get jobs to come to America. Bringing in those who don't have jobs and will be on welfare isn't compassionate, because it condemns them and their offspring to a life in poverty.

Income Inequality.
Left. The rich are undeserving of their wealth, they mostly stole it by exploiting the workers and the resources of the third world (notice the resentment). Those who studied comparative dance deserve as much income as those who studied electronic engineering or finance. Taxes should be used to reverse income inequalities or socialism imposed to make sure we are all equal. The poor haven't shared in the country's success.
Tea Party. Punishing success is itself unfair. Further, efforts to redistribute wealth attack the foundations of liberty, which include economic liberty. We are all better off when those who work hard or are clever and innovative succeed and are rewarded. The purpose of the tax code is to collect revenue for the legitimate functions of government, not to redistribute income. Redistribution also undermines the social order necessary for a successful society.
Bridging the gap. When we look at the actual income of the poor and middle class to include the effects of taxation and benefits of health insurance, the gap in income growth is not very wide. Further, by any measure the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Providing the opportunity for everyone in society to advance is the fairest way to help the poor.

Left. Minorities and women have always suffered in America since the founding. Prejudice is baked into the DNA of the nation. As long as one person harbors racist thoughts, no minority person can feel safe in Amerika. Only a regime that consistently and perpetually tilts the playing field in the favor of the aggrieved groups is acceptable if we are to care for those who will be forever harmed by our racist history. (Note the call for perpetual resentment.)
Tea Party. Fairness is served by actual color-blind policies that do not take race into account. Further, moving our society away from racism is best served by color blind policies. Finally, we should consider ourselves Americans first and foremost. It offends our sense of justice to not apply all government policies even handedly.
Bridging the Gap. President Barack Obama himself asked Americans to come together and not think of themselves as black or white first, but as Americans first. A concept that condemns whites because of their race is just as harmful and unfair as the racism that it is supposedly responding to.

Those are just a few examples of ways I have been thinking to persuade those on the left to look at our point of view differently. I admit that my characterization of leftist thinking is broad and over-generalized, and of Tea Party thinking as well, just trying to show some examples. I would like to thank my youngest son, who is taking his required general courses at SDSU for providing insight as to the thinking of his leftist professors. I also am drawing on the writing of Jonathan Haidt for inspiration in how to bridge the gap of discussion.

Ultimately, I think that Obama has chosen the politics of resentment as the key to electoral success. I may be wrong, but since he has launched attacks on Paul Ryan and on the rich with the Buffett rule, his poll numbers already seem to be slipping. I believe that it is important to defeat him, but more important to educate Americans on the virtues of our positions.


  1. As Christians, we are called to love each other and care for each other. I think we can make a strong case that the actual fruits of progressive / liberal policies have done the exact opposite. It seemed like a good idea to relax social norms and hand out money to the poor, but 40 years into the experiment, we've devolved into two societies, the rich and the poor, with personal behavior aided and abetted by those liberal policies defining the poor.

    I'd make the argument that I agree with Obama's goals, but that evidence over a long period of time shows his methods will do nothing but fail.

    PS - I LOVED Jon Haidt.

  2. While I disagree with your premise of the left's support of immigration...despite all their public vitriol about doing what's best for these poor souls, as they do with all their other programs that exist for the purported best interests of those being 'helped'..all they really care about is diluting Americanism. In any conversation with a leftist traveller, eventually you can get to a point and ask 'em..'can't we at least leave aside those here already, and agree we need to build a fence and stop further immigration?'

    Guess what..they can't even agree to that.

    So while quite true, much like a whole crab on your dinner or left wing media bias...we can identify it...but what exactly are we to do about it.

  3. KT, agreed, leftism fails. Haidt has really helped me craft my appeals.

    Steve, Agree that there is something to what you said. Another famous treatise that dealt in part with the psychology of leftism had this to say. Said treatise goes on to draw unacceptable conclusions, but I agree with this part of the diagnosis.
    The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism we
    call "feelings of inferiority" and "oversocialization." Feelings of
    inferiority are characteristic of modern leftism as a whole, while
    oversocialization is characteristic only of a certain segment of
    modern leftism; but this segment is highly influential.
    . . .
    Many leftists have an intense identification with the problems of
    groups that have an image of being weak (women), defeated (American
    Indians), repellent (homosexuals), or otherwise inferior. The leftists
    themselves feel that these groups are inferior. They would never admit
    it to themselves that they have such feelings, but it is precisely
    because they do see these groups as inferior that they identify with
    their problems.
    . . .
    Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong,
    good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western
    civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality. The
    reasons that leftists give for hating the West, etc. clearly do not
    correspond with their real motives. They SAY they hate the West
    because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so
    forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in
    primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he
    GRUDGINGLY admits that they exist; whereas he ENTHUSIASTICALLY points
    out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in
    Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults are not the
    leftist's real motive for hating America and the West. He hates
    America and the West because they are strong and successful.

  4. Great post. Link forthcoming.


  5. I disagree with Steve re: immigration and the left's purported interest in the well being of these poor souls or their intentions to dilute Americanism.

    While they state their goals as compassionate, it is primarily a power grab. Amnesty being their game plan for future voters and sympathetic Latino votes now. I don't see them as intentionally diluting Americanism, just the result of the policy.