Resentment Politics

I believe resentment is a deeply underestimated force in society. I do not pretend to understand it but I have noticed how much it drives so many otherwise unexplainable decisions.

On a personal level, I have as exhibit A, my younger sister, who has been nursing a grudge against most members of her immediate family since childhood. We were close for many years, until my aunt died and left a complex and difficult will, which finally gave her the opportunity to really hurt my oldest sister financially although she herself derived no financial benefit. I was mystified by this, and the only way she could explain it was that she wanted “fairness” and “justice”. The justice that she wanted, as far as I could tell, was payback for my oldest sister bossing her around when she was a child, and “not respecting” her. This was forty plus years previous. The underlying theme of my family has always been the terrible scarcity of love and approval; no one got enough but we all dealt with it differently.

I was able to suddenly see how I had explained away her odd and erratic behavior over the years, when there was one simple answer: she was, semi-consciously, looking for ways to “get” people. For example that’s why she would promise things and never deliver – but only if it would cause hardship. And why she would lie — believing her own lies — about her motives. My point here is that my youngest sister has an intense need to not understand why she does things. Her desire for vengeance is too much a part of her persona, too sweet to let go of.

I post this in Great Debates because this emotion is obviously one of the main drivers of the politics of the Right in this country now. The explicit reasons for resentment, legitimate as they may be (liberal contempt for rural values, loss of respected male roles and jobs, etc.), do not seem to me to be the foundational reasons. The sociologist David Hackett Fischer in Albion’s Seed posits that Southern lower class white culture, Appalachian culture, and Western ranch/cowboy culture share an origin in the “Borderers” of northern Britain who had already been displaced and hounded for several centuries before they made their migration to New World. They came here with a giant chip on their shoulders, and were pushed west and south by the established cultures of the eastern seaboard, which found them boorish and violent. The clash of values was here from the get-go.

Comparing my sister’s ancient useless grievances to those of the rural right wing which also often seem so inexplicable to outsiders, gives me a way to look at how grievance is kind of its own self-perpetuating reward. It gives life purpose and flavor. It unites groups against a common enemy — another great feeling. Remember that Hitler rose to power invoking the humiliations of WWI.

I’m posting here because I do not know how to solve this. Liberals, if they don’t just mock and dismiss, might say well, give people a living wage at a job with security and respect. But while that is in my opinion a righteous goal, I don’t think it would address the culture of resentment significantly. It will all still be there, waiting for another exploiter to light another match. Resentment imagines a deeply satisfying comeuppance for its enemies, the defeat of their dreams, the trampling of their hopes. What could change that?

I welcome your ideas for reconciliation.

My sister is a lost cause though.

It’s pretty easy to see why white working class voters might be resentful of the media and the progressive left. They’re vilified and lied to by them, and those same people consider objecting to this treatment to be a moral failing.

Of course, there are complicating factors. For one thing, there exists an entire TV network dedicated to stoking this resentment. But that same network isn’t making this stuff up out of whole cloth.

At the same time, it’s not like people on the left don’t have good reason to be resentful of people on the right. It’s easy to make a case that people on the right put point scoring above voting for their own interests in a way that doesn’t just affect them, but that affects everybody else, too. And it’s no secret that right wing voters are, as a whole, less informed about the issues they’re voting on. I remember seeing stories of Republican voters who were shocked that Trump was going to try getting rid of the ACA because they only thought he was going to get rid of Obamacare. They literally didn’t know they were the same thing. Similarly, there were stories of people who thought Trump was only saying he’d get rid of the ACA, and they were shocked to find out he actually meant it. Having your health care in the hands of people like that is going to cause understandable resentment.

Well, as a leftist, I certainly am furious at the right, but it isn’t part of my cultural heritage or anything like that. Democrats by their very nature want to make broad coalitions, overlook differences, etc. My anger is more a reaction to current events than a way of being.

My larger point is that while white working class voters might target the media and “socialists” right now, they have always had a target, which might have different aspects and names but was always, blurrily, the People Who Look Down On Us. People who have intellectual training, who are comfortable with “high” culture, who have, not necessarily money and power, but access. For whom doors are opened, and who expect them to be opened.

It’s a class thing. In the US we have tried so fucking hard to believe in a classless society, in the face of all the evidence.

In the US the term ‘socialist’ is pushed very heavily as communist and as a ‘get something for nothing’ and ‘get stuff from my pocket for free’.

It just is not in the interests of US megacorp to have social equality and equality of opportunity to gain traction - the idea that those on the lower social orders should have actual power to make decisions about their future.

The right wing establishment views taxpayers are beasts of burden, and a resource to be used as profit points - so I find it perplexing when I see shop floor workers campaigning and believing in the right wing rhetoric- its sad that they are so disenfranchised in life that they are misled by the moneyed interests.

The right has always used working class people against each other, and stoking resentment is part of the stock in trade - dog in a manger attitude.

The Left may not have much in the way of resentment, but it certainly has anger. I don’t necessarily say this as a bad thing - Niger can be a legitimate fuel for change - it makes people get out and get things done. Resentment is what you get when you either can’t get angry or don’t really know what to get angry at.

I hesitate to suggest solving the right’s resentment problem by promoting more anger on that side of politics though

I find that a very on point way of identifying what the “chip on the shoulder” is all about. Not really about Right v. Left from a sophisticated ideology perspective.

A longstanding divide in American social politics has been between those who cast themselves as populist defenders of the common man, against the “city elites”. Those who works with their hands vs. those who move papers. Street smarts vs. book smarts. Home soil values vs. cosmopolitan decadence. And there is, yes, a hostility that develops along the lines of “how dare they act like they’re my equal or better”.

And let’s face it, us “educated urbanites” can be mighty condescending.

I just had a conversation in which the individual explained that while they only had experience with their employer provided health plan, they objected to the ACA because it was bad for competition. Rather than let them simply move on with this nonsensical statement, I asked them to explain what they meant by competition and who was competing and to whose greatest benefit. Was it doctors? Hospitals? Drug makers?.. who was in “competition”? Turns out it was the insurance companies (duh!). So we had a conversation about why they thought it was beneficial to people seeking health coverage that insurance companies be involved in “healthy competition” for their money and why insurance should be involved in any way about medical decisions made between doctors and patients. You can probably guess where this all leads.

What the conversation revealed was that they didn’t even understand how to think about the issue, let alone come to an informed decision about it. Time and again this is the conversation I’ve found myself having with people who don’t even understand the reason why they hold the beliefs that they hold yet they insist on their right to those beliefs.

Now, was that just another “educated urbanite” being arrogant and condescending?

Examples of the media lying to white working class voters? Any such lie is, by the nature of the media, going to be a lie told to everyone, not just working class white people. If Anderson Cooper, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow, Wolf Blitzer, etc. lie about something on TV, they are lying to everyone who hears them, not just working class white people. The truth is the truth. Who the audience is doesn’t make a true statement a lie.

Reporters are human and will sometimes make mistakes, but legitimate news outfits don’t purposely lie or put out propaganda.

This hasn’t been underestimated at all. It’s been written about a lot. It’s just that usually we call it “aggrievement.”

I call it self-aggrrievement, (and I long ago identified it as such on the message board), because it’s a self-aggrandizing way for someone to make themselves feel important. They become the hero of a fantasy narrative, like the protagonists on the TV shows and movies they watch, where some “little guy” stands up to the terrible powers-that-be and is able to bring them down.

That’s what this is all about. People putting themselves into a fantasy narrative, (which they have drawn from TV and movies), so that they can feel important. It’s exactly what motivates mass shooters, survivalist, many (though not all) Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists, the people who listen to Alex Jones, and others. At bottom it’s not so much of a political process as a sociological problem, though the right politicizes and exploits it as much as possible.

There has always been a tendency toward this, (because we’ve always had these TV and movie narratives), but the difference now is that online communications have caused it to spread like wildfire in an echo chamber of self-rightousness, and thereby all the more easily to morph into actions, like going into a pizza palor to free imaginary enslaved children in the non-existent basement, or driving heavily armed from Virginia to Philadelphia, to expose non-existent ballot fraud, in a classic TV/movie final shoot-out where the ordinary-guy hero always wins.

IMHO, resentment tends to arise when one side feels they are not ‘spoken for.’ That is, they feel their side is not being adequately voiced or represented in the public sphere.

But this is heavily lopsided in terms of perception. This is why you can have black people who think that their grievances aren’t getting enough attention even though Black Lives Matter has been heavily covered in the media for a very long time. And this is why you get Trump voters who think that flyover country is neglected or not-heard.

This is a very perceptive post.

My experience has been that when people are really heard and FEEL heard, big change can happen. But that takes a lot of trained effort and commitment on the part of the listeners. For starters, they have to listen dispassionately through the seemingly inexhaustible anger that the feeling-unheard have, no matter how irrational or tiresome or frightening it may be, and usually directed right at them. And it isn’t a one-time thing, but ongoing.

This is probably exactly why things don’t change.

I’m not sure what this means.

oh god! it means I was typing on my iPad and didn’t proofread the autocorrects because my husband just came to bed and I needed to put the light off. Anger! Anger!

Sure. That makes sense.

But if you think back to the days of yellowcake uranium … I think you had a point either way :wink:

That’s what therapy is for. Granted, not everyone can afford therapy. But why is it the job of progressives to always be listening. When progressives talk (BLM protests, most recently) the right immediately calls for the restoration of Law & Order. And who decided that they needed a news network all of their own because they didn’t like what traditional media had to say? Pretty soon, they came up with their own “alternative facts”.

Well, maybe that IS the job of progressives. Listening.

Not listening hasn’t exactly worked.

I don’t want to trivialize people who made so many personal sacrifices to accomplish the ERA. We are clearly not fighting that fight now. But those people and the people who supported them didn’t do it by listening to those who wanted to maintain the status quo.

You make a valid point, but I’m not sure how realistic it is. Progressives don’t even listen to each other. Talking about hearing the other side out causes many liberals to collectively lose their shit because they are the victim and victims should never be questioned.

We’re in a very bad place as a country. Trumpsters carry their resentment, which is largely based on lies they have been fed by the alternative media. But liberals are in an unreachable place, too. Many of us are filled with so much rage that we can’t entertain the idea of reaching out to those who caused all that anger. Speaking for myself, the most kind thing I can manage right now is completely ignoring the opposition. I know it’s not an effective strategy but neither is shrieking at them in a fit of rage. In order for progressives to reach anyone, we are going to have to deal with all that anger.

Good activists know to use their anger strategically to help them stand up for injustice. Good activists know when to set that anger aside and focus on building allies. But laypeople are not activists, and are pretty shit at thinking strategically.

I mean - there are times when liberals did listen to (some) conservatives and decided, “Well, we’ve listened - and what they had to say is flatly unacceptable, just as we expected.”

i.e., banning abortion is unacceptable, banning gay marriage is unacceptable, banning affirmative action is unacceptable, teaching young-Earth creationism is unacceptable, etc.

Ditto, I’m sure, too, from the conservative side as well.

Not all negotiations lead to peace. Sometimes hearing the other side out is just a formality that leads to both sides being all the more hardened and bitterly entrenched than before, like a couple sitting in a marriage counselor or divorce lawyer’s office.

It’s extremely hard to get people out of their prejudices. There’s even evidence that when people are exposed to news sources contradicting their beliefs, they only become more entrenched. The only really effective method is long-term exposure to individuals that enables them to build empathy for the other side.

But I don’t see Biden’s election as a mandate so much as a temporary reprieve from right - wing extremism. People didn’t vote for Biden, they voted against Trump. We must find a way to appeal to some of those people, or we are dead in the water.