Since Barack Obama became President I've noticed that Republican and right-wing politics, particularly the so-called Tea Party™ and its like-minded cohort, have been driven largely by self-congratulation and resentment. People I know who vote Republican, be they right-wingers or more "traditional" and "reasonable" "conservatives," tell me they do so in large part because they resent some despised cohort of imaginary people undeservingly benefiting at their expense, and they also resent not getting the credit they deserve (from whom, it's not always clear) for being the good, decent, upright, responsible, successful people they are, or imagine themselves to be. Somehow, voting Republican and electing Republicans will put everyone back in their rightful place.
There is something to this, perhaps, in the sense that GOP voters may feel that Democratic policies (or "liberalism") distort the natural order of things, be it by economic Robin-Hooding (real or imagined) or the recognition of non-traditional social values. To over-simplify a bit, from the GOP voter's perspective, Democratic governance punishes success and rewards failure, punishes virtue and rewards vice (or, in the alternative, disregards both), whereas Republican ideology and governance does the opposite. "Conservatism," such as it is,exists to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted -- which is precisely as it should be.
How else can one explain George Will's blazingly stupid remark that being a rape or sexual assault victim constitutes a "coveted status that confers privileges"? The idea that anyone would want to be a victim of a horrifying and humiliating assault in order to obtain and "enjoy" the "privileges" that entails is only slightly less insane than harboring resentment of such victims for "enjoying" those "privileges," and implicitly asking why do they get those "privileges" when I don't?
I got this idea from a conversation I had back in the summer of 2009 with a dear friend, one whom I love and respect tremendously but who happens to be a rather wealthy man and a Republican voter. At that time he was convinced, inter alia, that the President had raised his taxes -- all by himself, apparently -- in order to fund increased assistance for the poor, which was obviously untrue. Whenever I mentioned the plight of the poor he asserted that the poor are, quote, "subsidized," therefore have it pretty good, and neither need nor deserve any additional help from him. His wife complained during this conversation that he was being "punished for his success," a fairly common meme in the conservative media at that time. I found it a little off-putting to hear a rich man -- who is also very liberal on social issues and claims to "despise the right wing" -- complain about how good the poor have it. I realized that his thinking was driven by self-congratulation and resentment; he and his wife were congratulating themselves for their "success," and resentful of having to contribute to the well-being of others who, in their eyes, (1) don't deserve it, and (2) already have enough.
Indeed, the entire 2012 Republican National Convention was built (no pun intended) around self-congratulation and resentment. If you recall, the slogan/theme was, "We Built It," an implicit rebuttal to something President Obama said but did not say about public contributions to private success. "We Built It" encapsulates both self-congratulation and resentment in a neat little package; self-congratulation for having "built it" without help from anyone else, and resentment of the implication that "we" did otherwise and the failure/refusal to give "us" the admiration, respect and honor "we" deserve.
It amazes me sometimes how often I invoke self-congratulation and resentment as the driving force of the modern Right, and someone over there will respond by denying it with some remark that's just dripping with self-congratulation and resentment. "I'm not congratulating myself and I don't resent anyone. I just don't want my hard-earned money being confiscated by force and given to lazy people who don't want to work."
I was thinking about this today because I read some of the stuff on Nevada shooter Jerad Miller's Google+ page and found it rife with self-congratulation and resentment (mostly the former), and though it just goes to show that the extreme right is motivated by extreme self-congratulation and resentment. Some examples below the fold.
I was out there but they told me and my wife to leave because I am a felon. They don't seem to understand that they are all felons now for intimidating law enforcement with deadly weapons. So don't tell you that they need people. We sold everything we had to buy supplies and quit our jobs to be there 24/7. How dare you ask for help and shun us dedicated patriots!Read that again.
We sold everything we had to buy supplies and quit our jobs to be there 24/7. [self-congratulation] How dare you ask for help and shun [resentment] us dedicated patriots! [self-congratulation]Here's more from Miller:
They are going around doing background checks. I was down there for a week doing over watch and other things. I was not causing problems [self-congratulation]. Even stood armed next to a cop [self-congratulation]. I volunteered my info so they wouldn't waste an hour doing a check [self-congratulation]. Our founders where [sic] criminals [resentment by proxy] for taking a stand [self-congratulation by proxy]. Why am I any different [resentment] when I have never been to prison [self-congratulation] yet I am a political enemy to the established oligarchy [resentment-fueled delusion] so they have papers that make me seem like a common criminal [resentment-fueled delusion], who by the way, still deserve their rights to vote and own a firearm [resentment by proxy]. If they don't have those rights then they are not American citizens and therefore have immunity under their despotism [resentment-fueled delusion]. So, anyone trying to "get" me [resentment-fueled delusion] would find someone not even technically under their jurisdiction any longer. As far as I am concerned my government is a fascist enemy [resentment-fueled delusion]. Unlike all those loyal Nazis [resentment-fueled delusion], I will not tolerate despotic rule over me and my family [self-congratulatory fantasy]. My family has bled for this nation and our freedoms [self-congratulation by proxy] and I will not let their sacrifice go unanswered without my own sacrifice [self-congratulatory fantasy]. So let them call me a criminal [resentment]. Let them smear my name all over the place [resentment]. George Washington would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and my wife [self-congratulation]. Who cares what all these loyalists think [resentment]. They will think what they are told to think [resentment], so why should we care [self-congratulation]? We need to quit quibbling and bickering with each other and stand together.Not every phrase fits neatly into one category or another, but the underlying motif is pretty clear. People like Jerad Miller are the Heroes of Their Own Private Mythology. They have a fervent belief in their own greatness and righteousness, and deeply resent the fact that others don't share that belief.
Personally I find it nauseating and depressing to hear and read the words of people who admire themselves this much. I find it even more nauseating and depressing that we have actual elected officials and candidates for office enabling and encouraging it. I think there may be a genuine danger afoot, in that we have millions of people whose political views and preferences are driven by intense self-admiration and visceral resentment, but who also know that they have very little chance of winning a national election any time soon. And we all know the next logical step: "If ballots don't work, bullets will."