The IndigNation

The IndigNation February 23, 2017

Kevin Drum and the folks at Pew Research provide some statistical approximation of the known regarding The IndigNation:

The most moderate Republican expresses disagreement at the same rate as the most extreme Democrat. The average Republican expresses disagreement at about three times the rate of the average Democrat.

But maybe this is all nice, polite disagreement? Nope. Pew categorized negativity as both “disagreement” and “indignant disagreement,”  which they helpfully define as “a type of disagreement that also expresses anger, resentment or annoyance.” Republicans expressed indignant disagreement at three times the rate of Democrats.

Manufacturing, hoarding, and savoring indignation has long been a driving force for the American right. It is, I’ve argued, a form of addiction.

This is why American society is marked by the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon of the haves resenting the have-nots.

This is such a common feature of American life that we almost get inured to how dazzlingly weird it is. The wealthy deride the poor as “takers” — never quite able to explain why those “takers” don’t seem to have anything to show for it. Where is all this stuff they’ve “taken”? Well, it’s still in the hands of the wealthy. White folks indignantly explain how black folks have always had it so much easier, somehow managing to sound as though they’ve convinced themselves of this enough to actually feel near-constant anger about it. Men resent women. The rich resent the poor. Majorities resent minorities. The powerful resent the powerless.

It’s ass-backwards and utterly illogical.*

Yertle enjoys being indignant. He has thus convinced himself that he should resent Mack and all the other turtles on whose backs he stands. This is why Yertle will never be happy.

Americans can sit there, eating strawberries in February, and manage somehow to conjure up an almost genuine-seeming sense of resentment for the (they assume) illegal takers who picked those strawberries and earned less in a day of that stoop-crop labor than the American earns just sitting there for the amount of time it takes them to gobble down their delicious-but-out-of-season treat. They manage to conjure up real-feeling emotions of resentment, anger, grievance, and petulant contempt — all directed at the unfairly uncompensated workers who are, in that very moment, actually making their own lives better and more enjoyable. It’s bonkers.

Part of this, of course, is guilt. Guilt pricks the conscience and thus can be a real prick. This is what guilt is for. That’s it’s job.

And there’s only two things we can do with guilt if we want it to stop poking at us. We can repent or we can resent. Since the first option is obviously not gonna happen, guilt winds up making us feel resentment toward those we have wronged, and even more so toward those we are currently wronging. It’s the brutish, illogical logic of the abuser: “See what you made me do?”

Indignation — voluntary, imaginary, disingenuous, misdirected — is at the heart of most of the right-wing agenda in this country. And this goes way back. All the way back.

There even used to be a Bircher-offshoot organization based in Dallas called the National Indignation Convention. They were outraged and, of course, indignant. They demanded, among other things, that the U.S. withdraw from the United Nations and they sought to have Chief Justice Earl Warren and President John F. Kennedy tried for treason.

One of their pet grievances had something to do with the training of Yugoslavian pilots. That outrage, like so many, flared up and then died away, and within a few years none of the aggrieved and indignant patriots could any longer explain either why they had been so upset about the training of those pilots, or how the republic had managed to survive such an outrage when they’d all insisted, at the time, that it could not.

But the details didn’t really matter. They never do. The details are always just pretext and pretense. What matters is the emotional kick.

Indignation is a hell of a drug.

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* The corresponding opposite aspect of American culture is just as bewildering. In America, the have-nots do not seem to resent the haves. The poor rarely resent the rich who exploit them. The powerless rarely resent the powerful exerting power over them. People of color rarely seem to resent white people for the long, bitter, ongoing indignities and injustices we have inflicted on them. Sure, they want — and sometimes demand — that we stop harming them and cease continuing those injustices and exploitations. But these demands for justice almost never include a desire for vengeance. The poor and powerless want their rightful back-pay, but they rarely also seek payback.

President Obama reflected on this remarkable rejection of legitimate grounds for resentment during the memorial service for the innocents slain at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He offered a profound meditation on how such “amazing grace” expressed something divine and holy. It was a beautiful, insightful, gracious speech.

And so, of course, white “Christian” voters resented Obama for making it. They didn’t just disagree, but disagreed indignantly — with “a type of disagreement that also expresses anger, resentment or annoyance.”

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