January 7, 2023

Grievances vs. Resentments

I read and hear repeatedly how grass-roots Republicans act (and vote) out of “white grievance,” though the supposed sources of their aggrievement are seldom clear. Suggested candidate sources of grievance often seem exaggerated, trivial, and petty—emigrants seeking asylum, minorities demanding equal treatment, advocates promoting assault-weapon bans, people wishing them “Happy Holidays,” and so forth.

A couple of days ago, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in an essay titled “Making America the Opposite of Great,” offered useful insight into the whole grievance thing. He wrote:

For another, I don’t think there are many on the U.S. left (such as it is) who define themselves the way so many on the right do: by their resentments.

And yes, I mean “resentments” rather than “grievances.” Grievances are about things you believe you deserve, and might be diminished if you get some of what you want. Resentment is about feeling that you’re being looked down on, and can only be assuaged by hurting the people you, at some level, envy.

It is worth re-reading that excerpt. It explains a lot. Krugman continued:

Consider the phrase (and associated sentiment), popular on the right, “owning the libs.” In context, “owning” doesn’t mean defeating progressive policies, say, by repealing the Affordable Care Act. It means, instead, humiliating liberals personally—making them look weak and foolish.

In fact, right-wing partisans exult in dismissing their political opponents with terms like “libs,” “woke,”  “feminazis,” and “socialists.” They can’t seem even to correctly name the political party they denigrate; their opponents belong to the “Democrat Party,” a party that does not actually exist, at least not by that name.

It is ironic that all this rhetorical nastiness is practiced by a party that wants us to think of its adherents as Christian. Actually, I don’t think Jesus would approve. But then again, Jesus’s preaching of charity, tolerance, service, and forgiveness is not actually part of their version of Christianity.

We are ourselves being charitable (and imprecise) when we call right-wing zealots “conservative.” They are instead reactionaries who would gleefully bring back the days of Calvin Coolidge or perhaps those of George III.

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