Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Question of Right-Wing Anger, A Theory

I must say, I found this email from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers chilling. I know people like this, and they're all on the right. I don't know what that's worth--probably nothing, as it's just an anecdote--but the fact remains. I guess the natural comparison is with left-wing anger at Bush, but as many bloggers have noted, that didn't develop until after the Iraq War, as opposed to occurring within mere months (and largely uneventful months) of the beginning of his presidency. So, one cannot help but empathize with Steve when he wonders why the right got so angry.

One thing that I think needs to be stated at the outset of the conversation is that the right-wing worldview has a couple of things going for it. It's simple, it's comprehensive, and if you're in a certain frame of mind, certain aspects are intuitive. For example, if you're angry at trash culture, the GOP has a story to sell you about Hollywood Elites and nasty liberals. You might even have seen an episode or two of Rosie O'Donnell's show, and that makes the point go down easier. Never mind that Fox has long been the prime purveyor of exploitative and trashy television shows and movies, never mind that Fox News dedicates days of coverage to dead strippers and interviews with MTV veejays famous for appearing in sex tapes. Similarly, if you're angry at your job prospects, the wingnuts can spin stories of illegal immigrants stealing your job. Never mind that immigration is generally quite beneficial to the country--more people = more potential consumers = more growth. I've never heard an economist of any stripe argue against immigration, and I doubt that I'm likely to.

What we see when we look further is a movement that has long been adept at redeploying free-floating anger. This is basically all that the right wing does. Of course, there are plenty of smart and secure people on the right, but the reason that the base is so rancid and paranoid is because anger, ignorance and fear are the ties that bind on the right. Once they've got you on one thing, they can lay out the whole system as they see it, feed off each other, and therefore intensify the general wingnuttiness. The left, for better or worse, generally refuses to do this and prefers to present itself as sane, laid-back, sober, and policy-minded. This has in the past produced some bloodless candidates (um, John Kerry) but some good ones as well. But the strategy does have its deficiencies. Anger can be a great motivating tactic in getting people to support your policies. Unfortunately, the right has been operating for so long on little more than fear that it has become limiting and pathetic. The right-wing mindset, such as it is, is never going to feel as though things are "done" because there is no endpoint for the philosophy. It's an angry, nihilistic, self-satisfied and ignorant brew that America has had to suffer for too long. One can only hope that America sees them now for what they are. Honestly, I don't know how this doesn't ascend to violence from here--it's week one of the congressional recess and they're already calling Obama Hitler, more or less. Where do you go from there, rhetorically? Hopefully I'm wrong and all this will fizzle out.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.