• August 31, 2015

Look Ahead in Anger

Hyperbolic rhetoric threatens to swamp our politics

Look Ahead in Anger 1

Getty Images

Enlarge Image
close Look Ahead in Anger 1

Getty Images

Five months ago, Andrew Joseph Stack III, a middle-aged man who had a long-running dispute over taxes with the federal government, flew a kamikaze mission into the IRS building in Austin, Tex. On the Internet, numerous bloggers immediately declared Stack a hero, a martyr in the war against Big Government.

At about the same time, with health-care reform seemingly stalled, left-leaning activists grew increasingly shrill in their denunciations of President Obama. He was, many opined, a false messiah, a cheat, a Manchurian candidate for the right who had promised change and instead delivered more of the same old cronyism and corruption. Unemployment was nearing double digits; partisanship was as omnipresent as ever; government had bailed out the banks and allowed their executives to pocket obscene bonuses. When Obama announced that he would send more troops to Afghanistan—a priority he had reiterated time and again during the election campaign—the filmmaker Michael Moore wrote a public letter to the president accusing him of undermining the hopes and dreams of millions of young Americans. When Obama made compromises with Congressional figures to forge a viable coalition around health-care reform, his left flank immediately declared that he had been bought off by corporate America.

After Congress finally passed health-care reform, the rage axis tilted again. Their expectations scaled back by the upset victory of a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, progressives were a bit quieter, and it was a scarred conservative movement that was again, literally, up in arms. Scores of Democratic politicians started receiving death threats; many were so worried that they asked the FBI for extra protection. Around the country, Tea Party candidates, frequently representing little more than an inchoate rage against the zeitgeist, mounted strong primary challenges to entrenched, long-serving Republican politicians, and some sober GOP'ers, hoping to stave off defeat by the insurgents, remade themselves as rage-filled harbingers of imminent doom. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, of Ohio, repeatedly declared that passing the health-care bill was not just politically wrong but apocalyptic. As the primary season progressed, incumbent Democrats, too, began to feel the sting. Alan B. Mollohan, of West Virginia, became the first House Democrat to lose his seat. The confrontations continued, with a biker and his son, angered at government, in a shootout with the police in Arkansas.

In many ways, whether our political leanings are left, right, or middle of the road, rage is our shared experience these days. One way of looking at what is happening is that it is an expression of our anxiety over what increasingly looks to be Pax Americana's departing hegemony.

During the Bush presidency, furious books by liberal commentators—Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, for example, topped best-seller lists. Today, with a liberal president, one is more likely to see conservative jeremiads dominating the list: Glenn Beck's Arguing With Idiots; Sarah Palin's Going Rogue; Michelle Malkin's The Culture of Corruption. Liberal or conservative, they tend to be books long on hyperbolic rhetoric and short on facts.

Over the past year, that rhetoric has threatened to swamp our political culture. Increasingly, a language of bitterness, frustration, and fury has become our default response to the unraveling of illusion. It is no accident that the most rageful moment in modern American history has emerged barely a year after one of the most utopian moments—the movement that swept Obama into the White House and brought millions onto the streets of America's cities to celebrate his victory. "In addition to resignation and a cynical turning away from yesterday's illusions," the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk writes, in his book Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation (originally published in Der Zeit, recently brought out in English translation by Columbia University Press), "these waves often lead to momentous formations of rage."

Yet while the rage in some ways transcends politics, in important ways it is deeply rooted in contemporary conservatism. Indeed, if Islamic terrorism is the outward manifestation of a civil war within Islam between modernists and advocates of a notional, romanticized "purity," as is frequently posited, the season of rage that American domestic politics has entered is to a large extent the externalization of a battle of ideas inside one part of the polity. Within the conservative movement—which has, in many ways over the past 40-plus years, provided the intellectual backdrop against which American political discourse has developed and the linguistic tools with which we now define and debate our political choices—there is a growing schism over the role of government in American life. As a result, anger over big government and the incumbents alleged to have brought it into being is sweeping across party lines.

Is conservatism about good government or no government? Responsible tax policy or against the very idea of taxes? Engagement with change or refusal to contemplate change? The great conservative thinkers of decades past, Sam Tanenhaus argues in his book Death of Conservatism (Random House, 2009), believed that government has a role to play in moderating markets and shaping society; today's conservative leadership, in contrast, are committed to a one-size-fits-all antigovernmentalism.

In the long run, many conservative political figures, like Sen. Robert Bennett, recently defeated for renomination at the Utah GOP convention, will probably see their careers destroyed not by liberal opponents but by other conservatives. In the meantime, rage will increasingly come to be seen as a leitmotif running throughout America's political discourse. And as the language of rage percolates throughout the country, as people of all political persuasions borrow from a vernacular hardened in the kilns of conservatism, the collateral damage threatens to send fissures cascading through the entire body politic, as well as the public, for years to come. Incumbents will be defeated—which isn't necessarily a bad thing; but they will be defeated not so much because of their individual successes or failures as legislators as because they represent an old, and increasingly discredited, order.

Why is inchoate anger such a motif? Obviously, there's the decline of economic security faced by tens of millions of Americans in an era of home foreclosures, stock-market volatility, and unemployment. Economic crises rattle the political status quo. But the discontent runs in deeper, less logically grounded veins, too. Culturally the country is changing, as what it means to be an American is profoundly shifting. Sexually, ethnically, religiously, the country is a different animal than it was even a generation ago. The culture wars, as well as the growing backlash against immigration, are reactions against those trends. But above and beyond all of the cultural issues and all of the temporary woes surrounding the deep recession, I believe that what is happening to the United States on the world stage is providing the most crucial seedbed for that anger.

As America's undisputed global dominance ebbs—trimmed by China's surging economic might, by the European Union's growing presence as a global player (even given the travails triggered by the recent European debt crisis and the fears of a Greek default dragging the euro zone into a deeper recession), by the United States' own economic and military overstretch—the rage culture has matured to the point where it is coming to be a dark, and perhaps even a dominant, part of America's identity.

A stab-in-the-back narrative is being crafted within the world of conservatism: Things were going along just fine for a globally dominant United States (forgetting, conveniently, the depth of anti-American sentiment that developed around the world during President Bush's tenure, culminating in the financial collapse of 2007-8) until a radical President Obama decided to expand government, shrink the private sector, and traverse the world apologizing for America's purported past misdeeds. Like the decadent Europeans, guilt-ridden after their centuries of colonial dominance, so Obamians came into power intent on downplaying America's glory and its exceptionalism, and on talking up its sins.

According to this narrative, Obama's expansion of the welfare state represents an attack on both states' rights and individual freedoms that veers toward the treasonous. Here it gets murkier: Many of the more-extreme groups place his race, his otherness, his cosmopolitan leanings front and center. The president is out to destroy America because, put simply, he's never really been a true American in the first place.

Other, more-respectable branches of the anger coalition avoid such discussions, but talk instead about the anti-American presumptions behind the "socialization" or "Europeanization" project that Obama has embarked upon. Beck talks of a creeping Marxism taking over America. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went on Fox News early in the Obama presidency to declare that the new administration's stimulus package represented a "Europeanization of America." A National Review cover story by the political commentator Mark Steyn last year, titled "Our Socialist Future," said Obama's grand schemes were far larger, more "Europeanized" than were FDR's and LBJ's. A year later, the conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, an editor-at-large at the National Review, warned his audience that "Europe is a free-rider. It can only afford to be Europe because we can afford to be America."

"European" is becoming the new "E-word," a sneering, belittling term akin to the infamous denigration of "liberalism" a couple of decades ago. It is used to signify weakness, decadence, a loss of moral core. It is used to explain a creeping subversion of the American Dream.

The stab-in-the-back narrative is a trajectory familiar to students of empire the world over. As the ground shifts under the feet of a dominant power, as the structures supporting dominance start to crack, so the public gets angrier. It looks at past glories and doesn't understand why the present situation is so much less resplendent. It blames the country's leadership, or minority groups, or national enemies. It grieves for lost influence, or fears the imminent loss of influence, and it shudders at an increasingly shabby present.

Most famously, in recent times, German nationalists in the wake of the country's defeat in the Great War took to blaming Jews and Communists, fifth columnists, for losing the war and, by extension, threatening the nation. Russian nationalists, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, created a vast realm of conspiracy theories to explain their country's shrunken status on the global stage.

Less dramatically, as Britain's position as a pre-eminent power collapsed post-World War II, the country responded with a strange mixture of fury and resignation. "I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American age, apart from if you're an American, of course," opined the drunken, nihilistic, spiteful, and utterly depressive Jimmy Porter, bitterly, in Look Back in Anger, the famous postwar play and later film about British angst and the loss of illusion. John Osborne's creation was the quintessential rage drama in a Britain when young people could still recall a childhood living in a land of undisputed supremacy, and could look forward to a middle age of mediocrity in a victorious but bankrupt kingdom and to an old age of national insignificance. And when they were angry enough about it to be shouting bloody murder and casting around for people to blame.

Half a generation later, as the British public grew more accustomed to the country's diminished role in world affairs, at least some of the anger had changed to sarcasm, humor, and self-denigration. The era of Monty Python had commenced. National quirks that previously signified greatness were now derided. Stiff upper lips, the queen, Winston Churchill, those were now the stuff of jokes rather than the majesty of empire.

That said, the anger never entirely dissipated: The 1970s, the era of London punk rock, saw a surge in fascist street politics in many poor communities. The 1980s were pockmarked by skinhead violence and football hooliganism. And today anti-immigrant parties like the British National Party are sometimes making electoral inroads, at the local if not the national level. Britain is a land that knows how to laugh at itself, but it is also a place still riven with a subterranean fury at the hand dealt it by recent history. "Are not all civilizations, either openly or in secret, always archives of collective trauma?" Sloterdijk asks in his recent book.

America in 2010 hasn't reached the self-deprecating Monty Python stage yet, but it's not much of a stretch to see in Glenn Beck's tirades, Lou Dobbs's anti-immigrant screeds, and Sarah Palin's faux nostalgia for the sunshine days, the nastiness and anger, if not the poetry, of Jimmy Porter; the fury, if not the haircuts, of skinhead hooligans (although a fair number of white-supremacist and militia groups in America these days do seem to have numbers of skinheads in their midst). The hollow sounds of a skinhead rendition of "Rule Britannia" are echoed, in some ways, in the raucous chants of "USA, USA!" at Tea Party gatherings today.

Anger, per se, is nothing new in American politics. As the historian Richard J. Hofstadter detailed in his classic essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," rage politics is as American as apple pie, or as the sunny, simplistic, homogeneous visions of community epitomized by the paintings of Norman Rockwell. But the presence of that anger was always partially mitigated by the apple pie and the Rockwell, by the pervasive optimism that has long been a core part of America's image. More often, despite episodic spasms of rage, the broader culture has worn a smile rather than a frown. With America ascendant, it was easy for the rage to be largely contained within relatively small subcultures—John Birchers, KKK'ers, the Weather Underground, anti-United Nations fanatics, some of the more extreme black-nationalist groups, and so on. That didn't mean the rage wasn't capable of inflicting tremendous hurt on society—witness the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr.—but our Rockwell side did serve to limit the extent to which the culture as a whole could come to be defined as rage-based.

What has happened recently seems to represent something new: The offsets that used to restrict rage's reach have started to break down; the walls sealing the anger off to a specific community or locale, or around a specific issue, have started to crumble. As a result, rage is becoming an ideology unto itself.

In fact, argues the journalist David Neiwert, in The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (PoliPoint Press, 2009), today's culture has produced transmission mechanisms for anger that overwhelm other, calmer emotions. Witness the rise of talk radio, blogging, and rant TV. Witness the violence inherent in much rap music, and the increasingly apocalyptic pronouncements of many fundamentalist churches.

What started as a shtick—Rush Limbaugh milking anger almost as a form of irony, or satire, intended to poke fun at the happy-family culture—has become a self-fulfilling reality. The shtick has gone, but the rage remains as the selling point.

Today two-thirds of the American public believes that the country is on the wrong track—a proportion that has not changed much from the latter part of the Bush presidency through the second year of the Obama presidency. And large majorities of the public, more than 80 percent, say they do not trust their leaders in Washington, the highest number in a half-century. Among Republican-leaning independents and conservative Republicans, 53 percent sympathize with the Tea Party movement, largely defined by rage and resentment, by opposition to government, to taxes, to civic infrastructure, rather than by support for a proactive agenda, liberal or conservative. A recent poll conducted by AP-GfK has found that 28 to 30 percent of all respondents sympathize with the Tea Party, although another poll, by The New York Times, found that only 18 to 20 percent did so. Whatever the number, clearly many millions of Americans are attracted to the movement.

It brings to mind a quote from William Hazlitt's 1826 essay "On the Pleasure of Hating": "The pleasure of hating, like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of religion, and turns it to rankling spleen and bigotry; it makes patriotism an excuse for carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into other lands: it leaves to virtue nothing but the spirit of censoriousness, and a narrow, jealous, inquisitorial watchfulness over the actions and motives of others." Cultures that self-identify as victims and come to see their defining historical references as a series of grievances have a tendency to mutate in ways that range from unpleasant to catastrophic. Examples include the American South in the post-Civil War decades, Germany in the post-World War I years, the Soviet Union, post-Yugoslav Serbia, and Rwanda. One could argue, as well, that much of the potency of Islamicism today arises from similar forces, as does some of the extremism of the settler community in Israel and the occupied territories. As cultures, hate movements perform somewhat similarly to feuding families or clans, their raison d'être increasingly defined by violence and fury.

I do believe that American democratic institutions are particularly durable and resilient. But it is at least possible to envision a scenario in which, after years of high unemployment and declining living standards, the Tea Party essentially takes over the GOP. And it is possible to see how, over a series of election cycles, that movement could plant a brand of extremism in the center of American politics that would fundamentally change America's identity. It would very likely be characterized by a series of negatives: being anti-intellectual, anti-foreign, blustering in its assertion of an increasingly fragile American superiority, unwilling to engage with the rest of the world on environmental policy, nuclear disarmament, or human rights. A tapestry of rage defined by what its practitioners oppose rather than support.

Unlike constructive anger—which harvests rage in order to push for a set of positive changes and the development of new institutions of governance—destructive anger offers no real alternatives to the status quo.

It is the pervasiveness of destructive anger in our culture today that is so worrying. Arguably, nothing is a better gauge of a country's crisis moment, of the inability of a political system to mediate disputes and smooth out societal ruptures, than the collapsing sense of tomorrow encompassed in such rage.

Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento-based freelance journalist and a lecturer in the writing program at the University of California at Davis. He is author, most recently, of Inside Obama's Brain (Portfolio, 2009).


1. trendisnotdestiny - July 11, 2010 at 09:13 pm


Rage or anger mostly belies fear... Fear is the systemic product being sold and consumed... we would all enjoy less vitriolic diatribes but the stakes have increased, become more visible and diverged into competing narratives of co-option....

We have to acknowledge that in a capitalistic global economic system (free market idealogy) that markets are privileged over nation states and that profits are privileged over people:

1) We see our financial system's hypocrisy
2) We see our friends and family more depressed/suicidal
3) We see our ecology erode (communities and environment)
4) Pervasive evidence of fascism (corporate + state power)
5) We see our professions de-skilled & sold off to industry

Personally, I can see why rage exists (generationally, socio-economically, and race/gender/sexuality) as the last thirty years has been all about putting in place a system for white male privilege to stay in power another 5 decades.... (references available upon request)

2. honore - July 12, 2010 at 08:24 am

Of course we are enraged:

***We work 2 or more jobs and see less and less of our dollars.
***Our government is broken and in the hands of corporations
***Our "leaders" have no ability to tell us the truth
***Our media does not promote civility, but rather vulgarity promoted to make ratings and dollars
***Our government is powerless to all outside force$
***Illegal immigration is out of control and we STILL can't figure it out
***Our children attend college and leave with a HUGE debt load
***Our elders live longer, only to be ignored by our health care system
***Our leaders keep us in indefensible wars that kill our young citizens, cost EXORBITANT amounts of money and make us international pariahs
***Intelligent, home-based energy resources continue to be ignored in favor of fossils fuels that pollute the air we breath, the soil and water around us
***The colossal lack of ethics, principle, morality and even the shallowest sense of right and wrong continue to elude our leaders who serve as examples for the rest of society
***generation after genmeration of bobble-head "leaders" with bleached teeth, rotisserie tanned faces and insatiable hunger for all-strings-attached money keep parading before us and getting re-elected
***we have become increasingly dependent upon chemical solutions for every personal, financial and problem we have
***our children leave high school clueless about our history, our neighbors and the rest of the planet, but have spent days agonizing over what side of their ass to have tattoo'd or what side of their face to puncture with metal
***technology has provided us with an absolutely absurd sense of self that we think we can text, blue-tooth, drive, drink a latte, program our GPS and touch up our insty-tan while hurtling down the interstate at 90 MPH
***we have stopped reproducing in favor 6-pack abs, no stretch marks and lots of money for constant erections and never-ending "hook-ups"
***we are losing our jobs, homes, sense of independence
***we see our country depending on other countries for the simplest products that once used be produced here


3. eacowan - July 12, 2010 at 08:58 am

Abramsky: "Peter Sloterdijk writes, in his book Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation (originally published in Der Zeit..."

Please make that *Die* Zeit (feminine). To be sure, "in der Zeit" is correct *in German* when you are referring to where something is, but English has no noun cases (literally!), and so reference in English to the German name of the newspaper should always be in the German nominative. --E.A.C.

4. woodstock - July 12, 2010 at 09:14 am

Without a MSM free press it's useless to try to know the reason for the growing rage in the US public.

5. jack_cade - July 12, 2010 at 10:13 am

Ah, we see "rage" on the screens and we imitate it and it imitates us and on and on and on.
No body teaches anyone anything and so the cycle remains unchallenged.

6. crunchycon - July 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

The "tea party" is almost completely mischaracterized throughout this piece. TP-ers aren't anti-tax -- they believe that they are too well taxed already. They aren't anti-intellectual -- in fact, studies have shown that they have a very high percentage of well-educated individuals. Rather than wanting to take the country into "radical" areas, tp-ers want to stop the radicalization, socialization, europeanization (new term for me...) of the U.S. TP-ers believe that the country is being taken in the wrong direction by this administration's pollicies, AND believe that Bush got off the track in his second term. Their anger isn't anti-government, it is wanting LESS government control of their lives.

The TP will never take over the Republican party. What most republicans want, and what the tp-ers really want, is a return to "Reagan values" -- to true conservativism of less government, less taxation, less interference by the government, a return to personal responsibility and the values that made this country once "great", most importantly, hard work.

7. agpbloom - July 12, 2010 at 11:12 am

Abramsky says,

"A stab-in-the-back narrative is being crafted within the world of conservatism..."

Is Sasha reducing all of this rage to a "narrative"?

Here's something to consider: Maybe Americans actually HAVE been "stabbed-in-the-back" by political and academic leaders who have no loyalty beyond a commitment to their own nest eggs.

Leave it to an academic piece to try and deconstruct all this rage in terms of the words we "craft."

I think the rage is far deeper than a little story crafted "within the world of conservatism." Instead, I believe that much of it is rooted in a correct undersatnding of how decades of betrayal have put many Americans on the path toward joining the new third-world.

C'mon...this is far bigger than a NARRATIVE, Sasha.

Then again, if you are correct, then we might actually be able to see how peachy things can be when literary-minded academicians help the common, ignorant masses to "re-construct" their oppression when living impoverished lives under administrations who really do not care at the end of the day.

8. jmar6 - July 12, 2010 at 11:22 am

1. Obama a liberal? Is that a joke?

2. Contemporary politicians who call themselves "conservative" are REACTIONARIES. They are NOT
conservative by any stretch of the imagination: they are REACTIONARIES.


9. craggs100 - July 12, 2010 at 11:32 am

Regardless of where you sit politically - if you are not appalled at the departure from our national Constitutional values and by the gross levels of corruption in our Federal Government, you are not paying attention to what is going on in our country.

10. mercy_otis_warren - July 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

"Among Republican-leaning independents and conservative Republicans, 53 percent sympathize with the Tea Party movement, largely defined by rage and resentment, by opposition to government, to taxes, to civic infrastructure, rather than by support for a proactive agenda, liberal or conservative."

One doesn't have to be a fan of the TP to argue that opposition to government often *is* a proactive agenda. "No" can be just as principled, and productively beneficial to citizens, as "yes." Mr Abramsky may himself be a big fan of government, of taxes, and of civic infrastructure (does all of that include, say, the US government being able to assassinate its own citizens, or the militarization of local police forces?), but his analysis is limited (and patronizing) if he is contending that one is irrationally driven by "the pleasure of hating" unless his or her policy recommendations include more taxes and more government.

11. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 11:45 am

You bait the article with the angst of the people but you do not mention the banking heist.

And there's this:

U.S. Presses Pentagon Contractors
Fuel Suppliers to Afghanistan Are Accused of Stonewalling Investigation by Masking Ownership


"U.S. congressional investigators have upped the ante in their confrontation with two top Pentagon contractors who have received billions of dollars supplying fuel to troops in Afghanistan but have refused to reveal their owners."

12. donvolz - July 12, 2010 at 11:53 am

Sasha, a question for you. How would you characterize the rage of America's colonial separatists? Was it destructive or constructive? IMHO, it was extremely constructive, but I doubt it appeared that way to Great Britain and the British loyalists present at the time. When government representatives quit listening to the citizens they govern, when those representatives appear to care more about assimilating and retaining personal power than the long-term good of the citizenry, the citizens find ever more dramatic ways to get the government's attention. So I ask you, what's new or wrong about that?

13. djones83 - July 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Well, as a teacher of Government and History as well as psychology, I believe there is too much paranoia, distrust and anger directed at anything that may threaten private enterprize's pwer to influence the government. There is not wide spread corruption in government, there is wide spread corruption in the corporate world. The corporate world shipped jobs overseas to mazimize their profit for the stock holders and the CEO's. Government let that happen. Now the anger of the paranoiacs are leading us back down that same path. They are pawns and stooges of the rich and powerful, and they are cutting their own necks in the process. The tea party movement does not understand the constitution and how it works, it is an evolving document that was designed to change not stay the same as when the founding fathers owned slaves. Is the tea party wanting to return to that? Sometimes, I belive that half of them are both racist and belive in social darwinism.

14. lisaemily - July 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm

In response to the responders~

Yes, there are many things to angry about, but has rage ever solved anything? Reminds me of a line in NRYB article I read about Bakhtin- "True dialogue is as alien to relativism as it is to dogmatism. Relativism makes authentic dialogue about values and meanings pointless; dogmatism excudes it." Rather where we are now-

We live in complicated times which require complicated discussions, but are we up to the intellectually demanding and time-extensive task? I fret that we are not.

15. jhough1 - July 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The anger is at the undemocratic political system. As Alan Greenspan said, New Democrats like Bill Clinton are to the right of Republicans like Bush on economic issues. Obama is the same. Voters have no moderate left New Deal party for whom to vote.

The reader reacts instinctively against this thought. However, counties like Westchester, Marin, and Montgomery voted for Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan. Now they vote for Obama 2-1. Bush, like Brown in Massachusetts, carried white working class by 20 points. Do you think everyone is stupidly voting on a 47 year old Court decision on abortion that will not be overturned by conservatives and that would not change things if it were overturned. If you believe that New Democratic propaganda and the wealthy suburbs (Arlington' average family is $108,000--around 24% most wealthy--the rich by any reasonable definition), don't care about economic issues, then why does Obama not increase taxes on all the rich (say the top 25%) and defend it those terms. No, he calls the rich middle class except for the top 2%.

Obama and Bush had the same policy on banks and BP regulation, and the czar, Larry Summers, is anti-entitlement, anti-regulation, as he was in the 1990s. He was a driving force in the bank deregulation bill. Obama cut %500,000 out of Bush's socialist $1.3 trillion Medicare prescription drug program that Bush passed in 2003 because he knew the red voters wanted it.

The Tea Party base is left-populist Perot voters. The political system is going to explode if the Democrats--or more likely a new party--do not move to the center to appeal to the center $60,000 family income voter. Obama almost surely will be defeated in 2012, and it is not too early for politicians and their intellectual advisers to think about how to respond.

16. trendisnotdestiny - July 12, 2010 at 01:02 pm

#9 When someone says regardless of where you sit politically (what they mean is all things equal)... ALL THINGS ARE NOT EQUAL

Funny how the constitutional values argument was less present after the post-9-11 changes to our democracy.... Patriot act, I wonder how the TP'ers felt about that constitutional infringment? Or Data Mining/Surveillance into our lives?

Gross corruption is systemic and we must not disinclude our corporate brethern (Enron, BP, Goldman Sachs) went it is inconvenient just to spite our own problems with self governance.... you know (by the people, for the people)

17. atana09 - July 12, 2010 at 01:12 pm

"The onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a "two-tier labor market" in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households." CIA 2010

What we are seeing is the end of a generational path of failure. The defining failure of the American system to live up to it's basic promise that the common man (nee the middle class) could maintain a stable life provided they remained within the system. This may not have always worked for many, but the implication it provided meant that it could provide stability to the American political body.

However the depression of 08-09 quickly demonstrated that promise to be a veneer, one largely composed of the debt which a desperate middle class had accrued to maintain its status in a generational rigged game. Debt which I may add includes academe, and precludes us from being the genuine hope of elevation that we once were...in the long term that is a betrayal for which academe needs to atone.

Of course people are angry, the ideal by which this country has operated since the end of the last depression has been shown to be a chimera. Talking to students for example, many see that their future is little more than diminishing potential. And these are the usual generation of optimism upon which the American system relies.

The Tea party contingent, although they may have begun as a machination of the GOP is rapidly moving beyond their control. The conservative party, in their attempt to harness public frustration, may have released something which just as well could attack their agenda. One resentment that runs consistently through Tea Party meetings is frustration about the financial sector bailouts. And that runs so deeply it will eventually develop into populist resentment against corporate control of the government, and the GOP. The Tea Party may look back to a halcyon America which never existed, but contained in that backward gaze is the reflection of the resentful populism of the 1930's.

President Obama, was elected largely from the frustrations of a worried and declining middle and working class. However he lost the defining moment implied by 'hope and change' when he chose as his policy makers people such as Geithner, Summers, and Bernanke. And that, in the long term may be Obama's greatest failure. He chose either by political expedience or mischance the same policy makers which had contributed to the wreck of the middle classes.

The American people, on both the right and the left, are voicing a combination of frustration, alienation, and resentment against a ruling class which on both of its wings has left them to swing in a economic tempest. They may chose to express this in simplistic interpretations of the constitution, or via the recycling of old class resentment-but in these limited expressions they are showing that intuitively they do know what has gone wrong even if they cannot voice it with eloquence.

The problem is going to be whether our politicos try to play with that fire as demagogues or realize they have left it to smolder for too long and need to restore some imperative balance. Should they chose the former, well civil war or revolution will be the end. If they chose the latter (which will mean working against their own vested interests) just perhaps this country may survive.

18. rodbell - July 12, 2010 at 01:13 pm

This isn't good writing, it's fluent writing, the typical output of the b.s. artist. If a student wrote this as a paper (though it has the general form of a speech, which it probably doubles as), a good professor would tell him/her that this paper is fairly well written but could easily lose half its length with profit. That said, the professor would have to point out that the paper was a running straw-man attack on a non-existent phenomenon, the growing sense of rage in American culture.

It's not documented nor plausibly cited. To be sure, there is an example, an illustrative rage event, for every point and sub-point, but nothing at all to justify the further assumptions of frequency and generality. Much less was any logical or empirical justification given for sliding over into an anti-conservative rant.

This article is of a piece with "News at Nine" broadcasts that tell us about this or that new problem "we're seeing" out there, and what the soi-disant experts are saying about it. But if you wondered, Gee, is this a trend? How broad and deep? --Forget it. They're just making up something catch to talk about. Maybe road rage. No! Wait! How about a *culture* of rage? Sweeping the country! Sounds good, and, just like talk radio, we can count on a few needy folks to weigh in with their opinions without ever questioning the basis for the whole topic.

I guess I didn't thing the Chronicle had to pimp these things.

19. goxewu - July 12, 2010 at 01:21 pm

Re #2:

"***we have become increasingly dependent upon chemical solutions for every personal, financial and problem we have
***technology has provided us with an absolutely absurd sense of self that we think we can text, blue-tooth, drive, drink a latte, program our GPS and touch up our insty-tan while hurtling down the interstate at 90 MPH
***we have stopped reproducing in favor 6-pack abs, no stretch marks and lots of money for constant erections and never-ending 'hook-ups.'"

Unless we're talking self-hatred regarding the above items, "rage" is a little out of place. Which is to say, we have met the enemy and it is us." (Yeah, "...is we" is grammatical, but it sounds funny.)

And please, no bleatings about how "advertising" or "big business" or "corporations" or "the system" brainwashes us into wanting drugs, tech gadgets, highway speed, hard bodies, and lots of sex. The buck stops at the checkout counter.

20. trendisnotdestiny - July 12, 2010 at 01:52 pm


It may benenfit you to read Edward Bernays book on propaganda or
the BBC documentary by Adam Curtis called the Century of Self (its free on utube)... You might just change your buck stops here with individual decision making mantra...

Some enemies have more power to shape consent than others!

21. cnschron - July 12, 2010 at 02:11 pm

Thank you very much EAC for your correction re: Die Zeit. The author's reference to "Der Zeit" grated like a fingernail on a blackboard. It was downright enraging.

22. atana09 - July 12, 2010 at 02:12 pm

"That said, the professor would have to point out that the paper was a running straw-man attack on a non-existent phenomenon, the growing sense of rage in American culture. It's not documented nor plausibly cited."

Alas social changes are not always so neatly contained in a citation, one of the systemic delusions inherent to certain sectors of academe is that they maintain it all has to be defined by their footnotes. That is one of the weaknesses of the ivory towers, and to some extent and its defining arrogance.

However one clear and verifiable indication that the frustration and rage which Abramsky wrote does indeed exist is the recent gun and ammunition buying frenzy. The superficial cause of this was said to be worry about Obama instituting new restrictions on firearms. However the 14+ million firearms, and 15 billion some rounds of ammunition bought in 2009 are well beyond the capacity of the old 'NRA gun bloc'. So a large part of the weapons purchased cannot be solely attributed to that one bloc. This indication of a systemic loss of faith means that in private hands there are now more weapons than in many national armories. (and the 14 million may be a low estimate as it is based on NICS checks which are background checks on individuals and not specific firearms)
A society in which its populace supports and trusts its system does not act in such a manner. They may possess weapons (as is their right in certain systems) but they do not purchase at such a unparalleled level in such a incredibly short time.
Many of these weapons will hopefully quietly rust in a drawer, but the mere fact that so many now are extant does demonstrate a clear disaffection with our body politic. And as noted earlier it was not all the usual 2nd amendment contingent driving this phenomenon many who purchased these weapons did not adhere to that subculture.
The mere fact the middle class has chosen to spend so much on weapons (rather than other goods, or even debt) is indicative that something is quite unbalanced. The mere fact that the quiet majority who normally acquiesce to our system have chosen to possess, in large numbers, the icon of the fearful or disenfranchised is demonstrative that all is not well.

23. robertsk42 - July 12, 2010 at 02:41 pm

This is a very thoughfull article. Congratulations! Many of the comments above are thoughtfull and productive also. But, several comments reveal the mean spiritedness of current national discourse. This is disappointing. We are losing civility

24. goxewu - July 12, 2010 at 03:19 pm

Re #20:

"Some enemies have more power to shape consent than others!"

Yep, that's true. But on any sizeable scale of people victimized by propaganda, it's difficult to work up a lot sympathy for consumers of Zoloft*, Bluetooth, iPhones, Audi's, Starbucks, Tom-Toms, R-Sun tanning lotion, AbMasters, Cialis, and pocket guides to hooking up.

*Some exculpable exceptions for prescription drugs. But all too many of my white-collar acquaintances "need" their psychotropics in the same way I "need" those new Nikes in the sports store window.

25. 11274135 - July 12, 2010 at 04:43 pm

One of the goals of education is to make the educated more aware of the complexity and nuances of life and to broaden the breadth and depth of one's responses to successes and failures, happiness and sorrow, the good, the bad. and the ugly. It's not working. The public discourse of educated people in the political arena is a hard line rhetoric of good and evil, right and wrong, win or lose. It is the language of constant outrage, of response unmoderated by thought and critical analysis. It's the language of a zero-sum game.

26. 11299051 - July 12, 2010 at 05:01 pm

"Glenn Beck's Arguing With Idiots; Sarah Palin's Going Rogue; Michelle Malkin's The Culture of Corruption. Liberal or conservative, they tend to be books long on hyperbolic rhetoric and short on facts." Of these works I've actually read two, including the copious footnotes. I've also followed a few of the footnotes and find they do reference original sources. You may not like the facts stated, but the authors do take the time to footnote what they present as facts. That's less so in Palin's work, but then it's a cataloging of her experiences and not presented as anything else. I don't see any footnotes or factual evidence presented in the article. Simply stating that 53% of the population believes something isn't a fact unless supported by some evidence of who says this and how these sources acquired the information. Get a grip people.

27. trendisnotdestiny - July 12, 2010 at 05:40 pm


*Some exculpable exceptions for prescription drugs. But all too many of my white-collar acquaintances "need" their psychotropics in the same way I "need" those new Nikes in the sports store window.

Point well communicated! True that imbalances between wants and needs exist. True that our white collar hypocrisy knows little bounds. True that we do not like ourselves very much (psychotropics, cosmetic surgery, unsatiated desire for food, sex, and handguns).

However, it seems that your well-deserved criticism for white collar consumers' spending choices gets unconsciously bound to a hardened lack of empathy for blue-collar families who legitimately cannot defend themselves against huge industries which prey precisely on their ignorance, time-depletion, and the understanding that they have been left behind (so better hurry up and chase the American dream desperation) that you refer to in your earlier post below:

"And please, no bleatings about how "advertising" or "big business" or "corporations" or "the system" brainwashes us into wanting drugs, tech gadgets, highway speed, hard bodies, and lots of sex. The buck stops at the checkout counter."

Large marketing schemes associated with the sex industry, payday loan industry, or pharmaceutical industry are sanctioned, cultivated and allowed to grow un-regulated knowing that their will be victims of abuse... This makes us all culpable... The very least we can do is not shame the individuals who incur the consequences of this model with: "I told you so, you stupid POS"... They are already doing that to themselves....

On a lighter note, thank you for your use of bleatings! It made my day

28. dyspeptic - July 12, 2010 at 06:22 pm

Interesting essay and good summary of where we are now as a country. But as good a summary as it is, and as well written as it is, it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
The abiding question I have (and the one I wish Sasha had addressed) is: How does the country extract itself from this race to determine which side is the more outraged/aggrieved/hyperbolic/just plain irrationally apoplectic? Will this gusher of negative energy ever dissipate? What will it take for this to happen? Is it even conceivable that we will EVER turn this corner?

29. gfmohn - July 12, 2010 at 07:34 pm

After two paragraphs and a cursory nod to left-wing anger at President Obama's alleged betrayal of liberal principles, Mr. Abramsky states:

"In many ways, whether our political leanings are left, right, or middle of the road, rage is our shared experience these days. One way of looking at what is happening is that it is an expression of our anxiety over what increasingly looks to be Pax Americana's departing hegemony."

Then, with few exceptions, he spends the most of rest of his article on populist conservative anger. I think he narrows his focus to conservative anger much too soon. By doing so, he fails to show how this stated source of anger accounts for left-wing anger. Mr. Abramsky states, "Yet while the rage in some ways transcends politics, in important ways it is deeply rooted in contemporary conservatism." He does explain how "contemporary conservatism" influences liberals to excessive anger.

I have long wondered at the liberal hatred of President George W. Bush. In addition to the opinions expressed in numberless op-ed columns, I became familiar with the opinions of the academics when I returned to college in the mid-2000s after my retirement. Most significant to me were the opinions of the large number of very well educated and successful retired professionals that I know.

Policy disagreements did not explain their hatred, not even the Iraq War. It was personal. Not all of my acquaintances were even opposed to the War. No matter how bitter were the ones who did oppose the War, their hatred of Bush was based on much more than the War. They disagreed with the policies of other politicians and institutions, sometimes with anger but without hating them. Even when I did not agree, I could understand their personal contempt for Bush, but contempt is not hatred. I could understand their anger at the electorate for electing him and at the Supreme Court for confirming that election. However, I did not understand how they could transfer their anger at the electorate and the Court into personal hatred of Bush. This process is what I had hoped Mr. Abramsky would explain.

This hatred predated any anxiety over "Pax Americana's departing hegemony." Where it concerned foreign policy, it was more concerned with America's excessive hegemony. It also predated at least the widespread awareness of declining economic opportunities in America, as well as nation-wide resentment of uncontrolled immigration. (Certainly the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, which Mr. Abramsky mentions, long predated any decline of America's position in the world.)

Perhaps there is more than one reason for the rising and, to many people, excessive anger and hatred in American politics. It is indeed unlikely that highly educated, economically secure retired professionals share the same reasons for uncontrolled anger as out-of-work, foreclosed industrial workers. Nor do I doubt that conservative anger is presently the more aggressive and politically influential force. If Mr. Abramsky had limited his discussion to conservative anger, I would not dispute him. However, his failure to explain liberal anger and hatred makes me question his thesis.

30. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 07:59 pm

#1. trendisnotdestiny, I can not believe you went there and concluded your observation by going harpy about "white male privilege."

Condoleeza Rice was an oil executive before she worked in federal government. A tanker was named after her and on the side of the oil tanker it said CONDOLEEZA RICE. The name of the tanker was changed after she gained federal office but the photos of the tanker are out there if you care to look.

I realize it appears that "white males" are at the operational level of this centralized power corporate colony, but there is no reason to persecute the regular people doing regular work in the workplace. Let me clarify, I think you have some ethical responsibility to not collectively scapegoat people based on sex identity and race.

31. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 08:01 pm

PS Finland, Norway and Netherlands is also full of "the palest whitest males" but somehow it does not seem to track the discussion. Really, I am stunned but glad that the issue of sexism and race scapegoating is expressed and can therefore be addressed.

32. dominickantonucci - July 12, 2010 at 08:11 pm

@ crunchcon
The 'Regan' values were/are just as inane. In fact, they led to the goverment policies that brought us to where we are, which is an enraging state of affairs.

Look, it's not that hard: You can do your best but still not be 'successful' in the financial sense. The converse is most certainly true, as well: Those who are financially successful are not that way merely on account of their having worked hard. It took the luck of being born into a family of certain means, one way or another.

The idea that 'freeing' the wealthier among us from taxes would result in their being a general lift overall which would then, over time, more than compensate for the lack of programs lost due to the initial decrease in tax is also inane.

The government ought to spend to create jobs while also increasing the tax on those most able to pay. As far as social security is concerned, it can never 'run out' of money -- it's a yearly income distribution scheme. Simply lift the cap and make it progressive (on dollar 10,000 and up, for instance). Tax social security payments as normal income would be taxed.

Crunchcon, your perspective is offensive. The vast majority of Americans are working harder than ever before for less result. This is because of government policies which have their ideological origin in Reganomics.

33. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 08:33 pm

antonucci, Reagan was an actor who performed a "grandpa" values routine on the unsuspecting citizenry. Behind closed doors, it was pure coroporate power strategizing. The folksy talk is completely vacant of the operational focus of the Reagan administration. This worked so well that a certain type of Republican revered the Reagan communications technique with the public. This era of method began with Reagan and ended with GW Bush who also emulated the folksy spin, except GW was fronting for some very consipuous events, putting a mad spin on it, selling fear and terror like Vincent Price.

34. trendisnotdestiny - July 13, 2010 at 05:13 am

performance expert,

Did not mean to touch off a reductionistic nerve here since we all have the capacity for a range of behaviors given the right conditions regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality etc.

Also Performance, I did consider whether or not to write down this idea and the responsibility of speculating versus suggesting that I am an all-out authority on the issue... granted I am not... But to not offer this speculative theory is to miss how we are seen in the non-western world and is worth at least a brief minute of consideration....

I would argue that it is hard to ignore our colonizing histories (past or comtemporary)...Isn't it Twain who said history does not repeat itself but it rhymes.

Also, Condoleeza Rice, Sacagawea, Colin Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Clarence Thomas, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and countless others do not represent collective divergences from white male privileged power but more of a co-option by powerful interests of an persons' individual race, gender and SES as a sales tool to sell to the larger populace a changing product.... Obama, Jan Brewer & Geraldine Feraro too!

When we think of recent critical events in our policies (tax, foreign affairs, financial, regulatory, statutory and judicial), we tend to minimize the power of lobbying, transgenerational quid pro quo and the difference between the powerful and their agents in public service.... We have to remember a few things:

1) African American and Latino Families could not get bank loans until the late 60's for the most part and the bureaucratic resistance was only lifted much later when people of color became apart of a profitable new market in the fringe economy (high interest credit card/payday lending debt)... This affected poor and lower middle class white women and white men as well.... Not everyone can be categorized here, but there are trends...

2) Inheritance taxes have been systematically reduced during a period where the world stock markets have experienced record returns in 1990s.. Old money families like the Walton's and thousands of others benefitted from Franz Lunz's work repudiating the death tax..... It wasn't advertised that it only affected estates of 1.5-2.0 million or greater

3) Bankruptcy laws were in enacted (2005)that made it harder for individuals to get bankruptcy protection while the law made it easier for banks to get paid back.... Clearly, this benenfitted rich white male CEO's like Jaime Dimon, Ken Lewis, Dick Fuld, Lloyd Blankfein, Maurice Greenberg

4) We also know that population demographics suggest that our country's main growth engine has been people of color... We also know that world population is reaching nearly 7 billion people by 2011 and resources are scarce now (oil, energy, food, clean water) and will only be more expensive in the future without major technological advances or catastrophic environmental or political events... In other words, those who control the resources run the show..... Our population in a global market place is comparatively under-skilled, under-educated in math and science, expensive relative to india, china, and vietnam and aging quickly... If you are a white make who wants to hold onto power, you better have been working on it during the Bush-Clinton-Bush administrations....

5) De-leveraging of the New Deal Commitments (attempts to gut social security, medicare, and social safety net/public space projects) which affects those who were counting on future resources like retirees and those who will now have to adapt to a changing culture without transparency (young people in college who are now being asked to take on future debt to pay for a job that for the most part doesn't exist unless it makes industry a shitload of money)... This affects people with incomes under 50K and asset bases of those who have under 10K saved present day... Too little too late

6) Maybe I am being too hard on rich white men right now.... Nah, just remember the 65,000 overseas accounts at the Swiss Banking giant, UBS that were held by americans (shielded from paying taxes)... This is one foot in our economy to plunder it (see subprime lending crisis by wealth speculators) and one foot out of our country when profits are received (because why should a hard-working affluent... Selling Americans that we cannot afford to maintain our massive debt while we have two wars going on and millions of Americans who had no health insurance at the time while holding out for financial accounting advice in the caymans or Zurich is unconscionable.... How many of those accounts were settled by the US government = only 4,450 people who voluntarily came forward....

7) Immigration reform in Arizona....(Racial Profiling)

These are just a few examples (there are hundreds of thousands more) like all the non-disclosure agreements, arbitrated judgements and multi-billion dollar fines from the tabacco, pharmaceutical and energy industries over the past two decades where the owners have harvard attorneys, fine print agreements and unwieldly accountants

When we look around: (there still exists a disproportionate reliance on rich white men in this society in positions of power)
This may be biased, but you can see how transgenerational wealth is interconnected through the numbers of powerful rich white men in these institutionally important positions for decades upon decades:

1) President's of Universities
2) Head's Country Clubs
3) Head of Counterintelligence
4) Financial/Healthcare/Energy CEO's
5) Fortune 500 Companies Boards of Directors
6) Federal Reserve Governors
7) US Diplomats & Ambassadorships
8) Members of National Association of Manufacturers
9) US Banking Roundtable
10) Media Companies CEO's
11) Heads of the US Stock Market Exchanges (NYSE, NASDAQ, CBOE)
12) Top 50 US Hedge Fund Managers
13) US Sports Franchise Owners
14) US Treasury Secretaries
15) US Army Generals

I am sure there are thousands of exceptions to this speculation and many things that do not fit. Also, I acknowledge we are so much more than our skin color, phenotype, genotype, sexual preferences, but my grandfather's depression era advice to me has always been: "if you really want to know something, then follow the money".... What do rich white men fear? Losing it ....

If I have offended, my sincere apologies....

35. performance_expert2 - July 13, 2010 at 10:13 am

Trend, I see you have now changed your tune to "rich white men" instead of "white males." Thank you. Now some of us regular working white males might experience less of the drive by harassment assaults from tuned-up non-white-males who believe what you say and make a career out of burning a fire strips through organizations identifying and messing people over like a witch hunt. I have personally experienced this in the workplace and also had a professor completely dress me down on the topic of white privilege. I will be honest with you. I have basically quit attending that program, one degree SIDE LINED. I can not do academic work while being harassed by the very people I am supposed to be working with and be in a dept that accepts this type of activity. (snark snark, aren't we cool? got rid of another one!)

Yeah, I walk the walk. So, while these bozos are crying about identity politics, now there is attack and maligning to go with it. Even seen a photo of a collective of graduate students in a US academic program, and 19 of them are smiling non white-male and the 20th is the white male and is sort of frowning in the picture?

I do not know what the answer is, but if I really told you in person what I thought it would not be pretty. In a perfect world, I should take you around to the individuals who actively practice this harassment in academia and the workplace and introduce you to them.

36. goxewu - July 13, 2010 at 10:18 am

Re #27:

Thanks for the kind (I think) words.

Yes, there is a concommitant to some people (advertisers, marketers, lobbyists, CEOs, et al.) having more "more power to shape consent" than others. And that concommitant is some people (to simplify--poorer blue-collar people struggling to raise families) having less power to give informed consent.

That said, there's a cutoff point--or rather, cutoff points, plural--where society assumes that people are rational free agents capable of making choices, and responsible for the consequences of them. Otherwise, if, say, a blue-collar who must know that an apple is a better, cheaper thing to eat than half a bag of Doritos (it's not like the info isn't out there), goes ahead and puts on 100 lbs. in five years on a diet of snack foods and reality TV shows, shouldn't really be allowed to vote, drive a car, or take out a loan. Should she?

The problem with what I call the pseudo-self-reliant right who still seem to think that we live in an early 19th century agrarian society where everyboy either does or doesn't work hard enough to clear the land and raise the crops and make a living, is that they don't realize what a complex society we now live in and how much like the Alps and unlike the Nebraska plains the uneven playing field has become. There are commenters on these threads who even think that if someone doesn't have the intelligence, foresight, discipline, and luck with jobs to save enough for his/her golden years, then that person should literally have to live under a bridge. To me (and I think most reasonable citizens), it's obvious that we have to provide a safety net for those people who don't (and the one I advocate is placed higher, with a tighter weave, than some erstwhile reasonable people would like.

But there's a problem with us nanny-state "progressives," too. To us, too often, nobody except millionaires who are murdered by their extra-marital lovers is responsible for his/her own fats. The blue-collar guy who's obsese and in hock because he absolutely has to have an Angus third-pounder with a large order of fries for lunch every day, a big new F-150 pickup in his driveway, an ATV for his son, an expensive sweet 16 birthday party for his daughter, and a 40-inch flat screen on which to watch the NFL rather deserves the inconveniences of debt. (If stinkcat is watching, this is a different situation than graduates with student loan debt having cell phones, laptops, and driving decent cars to get back and forth to work.)

'Tis a constant struggle for those of us who think politically (rather than merely evidence knee-jerk and muscle-twitch political reactions) to figure out where the meeting of free choice and oppression-by-propaganda lies.

37. sahara - July 13, 2010 at 10:53 am

Hope everyone reads goxewu's comments, to which I'll add:

The buck DOES stop at the checkout counter.

For every American worker who complains that our economy is ruined because all the jobs have gone to China, I say, "Stop shopping at T***** and W******." Read the labels of origin, and stop buying the junk. Stop believing the TV ads and stop buying the junk, and put the money in your pocket for your kids' education. And...stop buying the junk!(Example: Who needs new decorations every year for those ancillary holidays that the greeting card industry created? What about all that Halloween junk? Ever notice that now all the fall/winter holiday decorations are made in China? Just stop buying the junk!)

38. trendisnotdestiny - July 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm


Yes, they were meant to be well intentioned words... thanks for addressing my central point around the shaping consent...

Your words resonate as usual. Often, I find your words challenging even when they rarely do not. I think here you touch on critical tensions and blurred representations that are shared.

After thinking about your comments for a while, how come the cut off point you refer below:

"That said, there's a cutoff point--or rather, cutoff points, plural--where society assumes that people are rational free agents capable of making choices, and responsible for the consequences of them."

How come this cutoff does not go both ways. You know, those who ascend to positions of power should take more responsibility to assist the greater good than those who do not. Smartly, you address our societal assumptions about individuals acting in the marketplace (Buyer beware both white and blue collar tensions)... but what about those who enter system with advantages, informational asymmetries and the belief that their responsibility is to shareholders (who mostly resemble themselves)....

The central problem with the buck stops here with individuals thesis is clearly addressed by Elizabeth Warren (someone who I admire for her willingness to confront familial myths, power and our banking cartel... She suggests that if we locate the problem within individuals decision making processes, then no one is responsible for helping clean up the mess.... (see financial reform).

Personally, acting as individual in society I am with you. We do need to make better decisions in every social class and delay gratification. Also, we need problematize transactions where one party has much more information than another about the product.... selling the notion of- trust me...

Thanks for the conversation.

39. performance_expert2 - July 13, 2010 at 01:50 pm

Let's not forget the corporate cannibalism that the lower caste lives under. Many neighborhoods have no grocery stores. When you get hungry, you do in fact eat Doritoes. Scapegoating poor people in an unhealthy society, there is room for insight.

40. crunchycon - July 13, 2010 at 04:12 pm

dominickantonucci - sorry you took offense. But we are working harder and longer for less disposable income because we are paying for all of the government "entitlement" programs. To reiterate, the Tea Party is NOT racist (as the NAACP is planning to decree) - I personally know black, hispanic, asian, etc. tea party sympathizers -- there is no "membership". Its core is that we are already taxed too much (Taxed Enough Already is what the "tea" in Tea Party stands for), and that the government is intruding into too much of our lives.

I came up through a lower-class (economically) family. I didn't have advantages of economic privilege, but worked my butt off in school, getting a scholarship to attend a public university, and worked part-time throughout to afford soap, shampoo, etc. I worked my butt off in college, and won an academic scholarship, then teaching assistantship in grad school -- AND I worked a job outside the university. No one handed me anything, and others in my small town in similar economically-deprived families who didn't work their butts off in high school haven't achieved educationally, though many will retire after 30 years in the factory or in other positions not requiring education after high school.

And you are wrong about your belief that the problems find their origins in Reagan policies. His policies worked -- less taxation lead to an increase in hiring and employment, a government surplus and balancing the budget -- Clinton enjoyed the results of (and got credit for the results of) Regan's economic policies. Less government (including entitlement programs), less taxation, more self-reliance, etc. were the Reagan policies, not the current crap Obama is fostering -- do any of you think he refused all of the international help offered, immediately after the deep-water well was blown up, for any reaons other than to create the horrible situation we're now in? Had he accepted the help, it NEVER would have gotten this far or or this bad. His Alinskyan policies are destroying this country from within, just as he and his cronies had planned. More unemployment - YES, it is planned -- more economic woes -- YES, it is purposeful. It is all by the Alinsky playbook.

41. crunchycon - July 13, 2010 at 04:20 pm

"The government ought to spend to create jobs while also increasing the tax on those most able to pay. As far as social security is concerned, it can never 'run out' of money -- it's a yearly income distribution scheme. Simply lift the cap and make it progressive (on dollar 10,000 and up, for instance). Tax social security payments as normal income would be taxed. "

Why should the GOVERNMENT create jobs? The private sector should be creating the jobs. The government wasn't designed to be the country's employer. You are implying socialism in that statements.

And, yes, Social Security can run out of money, unless you want to triple the current contribution -- once all of the baby boomers retire, there won't be enough workers, even with triple the contribution, to pay for their social security payments.

42. rodbell - July 13, 2010 at 04:54 pm

Just testing.

43. honore - July 13, 2010 at 06:25 pm

The fact still remains that some of us (sometimes I include myself and at other times not) do possess informational insights and powers of discretion that others (for any number of reasons) don't, or can't access at the point of decision-making (whatever the choice de jour may be).

I consider myself fortunate when standing in the flurry of American promo-barrages on the TV, radio, internet, hot air balloons, mini-plane banners, mall-hawkers, sidewalk pan-handlers, and even talking chihuahuas, to be able to make decisions based on the information I have and my ability to ferret the crucial elements from the fluff and din.

And yes, we all have the right make our own decisions and subsequently live with the consequences of these decisions, but to not admit that we are ALL under the constant attack of sound bytes, celebrity endorsements and even sub-conscious manipulation by very skilled marketing wonks would be naive.

Have to run, my 93 year old, disabled, alzheimer afflicted neighbor is not home and I have to go and open her garage so that her $10,000 Buns of Steel Gym can be delivered. It arrived via Priority Mail for only $99 extra.

44. performance_expert2 - July 14, 2010 at 02:42 am

Crunchy Con, I will just be honest with you and not pansy around. I find your commentary to be provincial and to contain disinformation. The reality is the USA actually has a very low serving of social support that you have been co-opted into calling "entitlement programs." That is really quite a perverse spin. Social support structures are in place so that people can be educated and productive, and not be exploited, and therefore produce wealth instead of being a bunch of groveling bumblers. There are countries who provide for their citizens the following: childcare / daycare, a baseline of healthcare with no added or surprise fees, and university with moderate cost. This is done for reasons of efficiency and to build wealth. In the US there are some socialized support networks. One example is the interstate highway system.

The USA does not provide a baseline of healthcare to their citizens and allows citizens to be exploited in a healthcare systems with completely ballooned and capricious cost structures or lack of structure in cost. The USA does not provide education and childcare for children prior to first grade. For example, in France, there are thousands of state run daycare and children are taught to sing and memorize poetry beginning at age three. The cost of university tuition in the USA has become unmanageable for many people. I just had a conversation with a US military officer, a lifer who said he was interested in getting his master's degree but he went for one semester and it cost him $10,000. He said he can't afford it. He lives in a little rent house with his wife and two children. His comment was that the conditions in the USA now are that a lot of people can not get professional training due to the cost. Those are his words not mine. The alternative is to assume debt and be exploited to pay 17% money rent to the banks. Well, Crunchy Con, believe it or not, there are wealthy places in the world where citizens are not exploited in this manner. An added value of actually taking care of your citizens is massively reduced stress. It is stressful to carry debt. It is also convenient for a caste system which is actually enforced through workers paying their labor earned monies to the bankers who get their money at 1% from the computerized central bankers.

Oh, wait a minute, you're a scholarship baby. You're one of the "gifted" who "works hard" who has to save to buy "shampoo." Buddy, I haven't bought a bottle of shampoo in the last ten years and I pay full price for tuition. You should try it before you ignore the corporate rent. You are ignoring what is scalable reality for people and you are cancelling out scalable reality due to your special circumstances. I have met people and encouraged them to get educated and they have told me they are the-hell scared of the bankers ruining their lives. Stay away from the debt is what they say.

Obviously I am venting but the misinformation you are distributing, too lacks charm. You also left off the part about the huge increases in the net worth of the wealthy at the same time the income and worth of working people has been dropping. Something about 10% of the people owning 90% of the wealth. I am certain you intend to get a job working for them to get your share.

45. performance_expert2 - July 14, 2010 at 02:48 am

PS There is nothing better or more entertaining than "tea party" or "libertarian" persons who want "no taxes" while they have a state government job.

46. rickinchina09 - July 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm

While I found much of this protracted essay interesting, the author strained himself in trying to assert his thesis. Clearly his concern lies more with what he sees as the rise of mean-spirited and mindless rightwing, despite pretentions of a balanced critique of the problem.

Though unusually thoughtful, it nonetheless essentialize a movement which by its own admission is not altogether well defined. I have spoken at length with the so-called Tea Party members and their concerns run the gamut, though they gel around issues related to ever-expanding government interference in the private sector. The juxtaposition of German national socialism with the Tea Party is unfair, grossly inaccurate, and borders on hyperbole. The author loses me there.

As one who has been both a liberal and conservative in his lifetime, and who now finds himself uncomfortably situated in the middle--the no man's land--I can see the ideological flaws on both sides. The current rancor between the dominant political parties prods those of us in the middle, or on the periphery, to choose sides. Many among the Tea Party crowd simply want a breath of fresh air in Washington, perhaps even a viable third party to break the ideological deadlock.

Loss of civility and a sense of decorum and decency goes a long way toward explaining road rage writ large on the landscape. Vitriole abounds in both camps (witness the recent spate of Democratic Party leaders caught on tape but unmentioned here), so assigning blame more to one side or the other is unfair and pointless. The Senate was meant to serve as a check on the unruly House and the Senate has its club rules, but even these have been tested in recent years. It is a paradox (some would say irony) that George W. Bush rose above the fray in his public persona, and we have much reason to believe he was the same affable sort in private. If anything, the current occupant of the White House has strayed from his pledge to do the same, if not do more than make a show of seeking bipartisanship. He has even been borderline petty at times, and sneering. This does not help to assuage those who are riled up over the ways things are, or at least they perceive them to be.

Trendisnotdestiny attributes this supposedly groundswell of rage on the Right to the increasing assertion of White male privilege. This is scapegoating of the worst sort. Society and big government has been whittling away at this privilege for several decades now; this is not a recent phenomenon. And this notion that rage is the exclusive domain of the Right is ridiculous. We saw a considerable portion of blind rage (and still do) from elements of the Left directed at the previous administration as well.

Three other flawed observations are worth mentioning here. First, the author repeatedly implies that the resurgent Right is anti-immigrant in sentiment if not action. No, the vast majority are incensed at the federal government for continuing to ignore the massive influx of illegal immigration in recent decades, and this disgust transcends party lines, having been directed at Bush, McCain, and Obama. Throughout American history legal immigrants have met with prejudice of varying degrees but the current uproar is most resentful of the half-hearted response to the crisis. Many Hispanics who came here legally are themselves upset by the sense of entitlement flaunted by many who protest in favor of amnesty or wave Mexican flags. They know that in bilingual education and social services those most likely to suffer first are those from their ethnic group who came here legally. But from the photo to the narrative thread woven through this essay, the impression we are given is that this conservative grassroots effort is at the core racist.

Secondly, belief in American exceptionalism knows no party affiliation. It has been with us at least as long as Manifest Destiny, rightly or not. To suggest that chants of "USA" are insidious is to conveniently forget their origin in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. I doubt they only emanated from those on the Right. We should interrogate the assumptions underlying exceptionalism and open ourselves to a national dialogue on whether it is worth the cost of the two wars now being waged. But that debate cannot happen in a climate where the Right does not give those on the Left the benefit of the doubt. The Right does not have a monopoly on patriotism or virtue any more than the Left can claim to still have a monopoly on compassion.

As to my third point,the author states: "Cultures that self-identify as victims and come to see their defining historical references as a series of grievances have a tendency to mutate in ways that range from unpleasant to catastrophic." Now, I have a question for the writer. Does this also apply to those at yesterday's NAACP convention in Kansas City who clamor for social justice while ignoring the demons in their midst? Does this apply to the victimhood mentality that permeates the self-appointed Black leadership in Congress and elsewhere, as John McWhorter aptly noted? Does this assertion also apply to militant gays and lesbians, to all those in-your-face partisans on the Left too?

Rage is indeed on the rise and is seeping out of the societal cracks from every place. It has a lot to do with diminished returns on the American Dream, the unconditional belief that things will always be better materially for the next generation. But it also has a lot to do with being "fed up," in the manner dramatized in the film Network decades ago. Instead of having apocalyptic overtones, it might be indicative of a resurgence of interest in substantive political reform, in taking back our country collectively in the best sense of the chant.

47. rickinchina09 - July 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm


I realize my previous post is cluttered with typos as I didn't bother to proofread it. Forgive me for my transgression and challenge my reasoning instead. As to the latter, I neglected to mention that the author lacks a sense of historical proportionality in juxtaposing the Tea Party movement with clearly sinister historical movements. Part of the problem with those who rage, and those who respond to it in a well-meaning manner as this writer seems to have done, is that disproportionate comparisons abound. One need look no farther than the swastika signs over Bush's face on placards or the photo of Obama, Hitle, and Lenin on the recent billboard ad to see this point.

48. honore - July 14, 2010 at 02:46 pm

you go rickinchina!

49. goxewu - July 14, 2010 at 03:03 pm

Re #46:

"As one who has been both a liberal and conservative in his lifetime, and who now finds himself uncomfortably situated in the middle--the no man's land"

#46 is a fairly temperate post, but save for a couple of rather pro forma references to over-the-line commentary about Obama, the specifics concern perceived untoward behavior on the part of "Democratic Party leaders caught on tape but unmentioned here,""those at yesterday's NAACP convention in Kansas City who clamor for social justice while ignoring the demons in their midst," "the self-appointed Black leadership in Congress and elsewhere," "to militant gays and lesbians," and "all those in-your-face partisans on the Left."

Conversely, those rickinchina09 cites as unfairly maligned are George W. Bush and Tea Partiers, with the one individual voice favorably cited belonging to John McWhorter.

On the evidence of his comment, rickinchina09 is a conservative. Nothing automatically wrong with that, but the "situated in the middle--the no man's land" posturing is a tad disingenuous.

50. performance_expert2 - July 14, 2010 at 11:30 pm

#49. Whenever I see your posting name, phonetically I think "Goxey-Woo."

51. goxewu - July 15, 2010 at 08:47 am

Re #50:

So do I. But the name is (and some commenters think this applies to my comments) random and meaningless: it was the word in the swirly letters that I had to type into a box to register for a CHE account.

Luckily, "bigidiot" didn't pup up when I registered.

52. trendisnotdestiny - July 15, 2010 at 10:43 am


"Trendisnotdestiny attributes this supposedly groundswell of rage on the Right to the increasing assertion of White male privilege. This is scapegoating of the worst sort."

Not coming from the right or left rickinchina09.... coming from a place of criticality that concludes serious changes to our inheritance laws, major banking bailouts, massive home foreclosures, bankruptcies and predatory loans aimed at the working class poor (many people of color were solicited sub-prime loans when their credit scores qualified them for prime).... Are you not aware the single largest transfer of wealth has occurred in the last 10 years? Who do think the benefactors are?

Now, if we put this in this context of an inflated stock market bubbles 1982-87 and 1990-2000 US Corporate-State sponsored history towards colonizing the middle east and southern cone of latin america. It is not that far a reach to data project:

1) World population is nearly 7Billion now (US is slowing)
2) 50M Babyboom gen is retiring (transgenerational $$$ shift)
3) World natural resources are dwindling --- will be expensive
4) Young adults are siphoned into a debt for diploma model
5) Nation-states are less important than Global Markets GDP
6) Known environmental castastrophes and stasic solutions
7) Free Market movements to change all previous $$$ agreements
A) Cut social supports: social security, medicare etc
B) De-regulation, Faux regulation or Business Co-option
C) Privatizing global resources in the name of freedom
D) Protectism (capitalism--schmapitalism)
8) More $$$ in Campaign Finances (Supreme Ct decision)
9) Financial Reform (Banks just won the biggest battle in 30yrs)
10)State and local governments (48/50) have massive deficits

All these phenomena point to a SHIFT IN RISK from society, corporations, state obligation to individual and familial responsibilities... (mostly without addressing people directly and providing transitional supports) all during a time when the middle class is shrinking and more dependent on state and corporate decisions than ever before...

rickinchina09, I agree with that this is not a left/right issue as corporate america and our government officials are working as private-public partnership. Truer words were never spoken...

However, I happen to be of the belief that the absolute worst scapegoating that exists is blamig the exhausted consumer who has lost their job, home and economic place in the global market for making poor decisions while very rich white men as well as their "resemblers" continue to profit from illegal transactions (flash trading), fraudulent accounting practices, ponzi schems, over-inflated bonuses, incestuous boards of directors, buying off rating agencies and on and on..... If we do not address white male privilege, then we assume that it is not really an issue when it is whether we can admit it or not... follow the money!

Performance expert, on this issue I specifically did not respond to your latest post because, to me, that was a highly personal response and one that you obviously have strong feelings about. I suspect there is very little I could say that would be applicable to your situation/experience. However, I think it is important to clarify the difference between individual white male experiences that do not fit a predatory label and the history of the white male entrepreneurs in this society as a group. Groups like the NAM or Business Round Table or Chamber of Commerce, AEI Heritage Foundation, John Birch Society and others consistently promote policies, objectives and legitimate research designed to maintain and strengthen pre-existing financial hierarchies here and overseas... We might refer to them as oligarchs from which we all could name a few...

Either way, individual experiences or group experiences Peggy McIntosh clearly discusses in a brief essay called The Knapsack of white privilege how all of us white males benefit through unearned privileges... pe2, for me this is the beginning of a dialogue since I readily admit I am not an authority in this area of research called whiteness, but I do appreciate your challenges to comments. I enjoy these dialogues and hope they do not detract from your day. All the best!

53. 22122118 - July 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

More Hitler/Nazi analogies. Enough already.

Not for nothing is the virus in the "28 Days/Weeks/presumably soon Months" movies called "Rage." Take a look around. How different from all of us is the monkey (maybe it's a chimp) "subject" in "28 Days," getting his fix of non-stop media stimulation? Well, he just got the images; we get the aural pyrotechnics along with the visual. As my pessimism deepens, I suspect Orwell had it right, and so did Marcuse for that matter. Rage on, learned colleagues, as well as huddled masses and hooded hordes.

54. crunchycon - July 19, 2010 at 01:17 pm

Performance_expert -- you misrepresent the tea party -- it isn't NO taxes, it is LESS taxation or at least NO NEW taxes that the tp stands for, insofar as taxes are concerned. No one is advocating doing away with taxes. YOUR comments are disingenous in this regard.

Furthermore, as if it matters, I have no aspirations to join the massively wealthy, being content in the situation in which I find myself. In fact, I have, in the past, made career decisions that reduced my pay but provided my family with better situations, whether in living environment, schools, nearness to extended family, etc. I made more in "real" dollars in my job after finishing undergrad, and would be making considerably more than I do now had I stayed in my former field, before I went to grad school. So don't talk to me about aspriations to join the wealthy class. Sounds like some petty envy coming from you.

rickinchina's observations are excellent, imho. The outsized, vitriolic anger from the "left" during Bush 43's 8 years far exceeds anything you see today from the "right".

And fyi, there is a group dedicated to "joining" tea party groups in order to discredit the movement by acting out at rallies -- with racist comments and over-the-top behavior, sending disinformation letters to editors, and behaving badly in whatever venue possible, the more public the better.

ACORN, HuffPo Organizing Efforts to Infiltrate Tax Day Tea Parties http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2009/20090407185054.aspx

is one of hundreds of stories nationwide on the topic. The original site dedicated to destroying the tea party, "www.crashtheteaparty.org", has been taken down. So leftist organizations and media sites are actively trying to discredit the tea party -- they must be VERY scared of it.

During the Bush years, protest against government agenda was said to be the highest form of patriotism -- why is it now considered subversion?

55. crunchycon - July 19, 2010 at 01:25 pm

Furthermore, I do not compare the U.S. to socialist, economically failing Europe. The welfare system in the U.S. has created an underclass, beholden to the liberal politicians, who work feverishly to keep them enslaved in the system. How may people generationally on welfare do you know who have elevated out of it? College is free to those in poverty who qualify. Medical care is free (and fyi, the long waits and "managed" decisions on whether or not a person is allowed a test, procedure, surgery, prescription, etc., to which the underclass is subjected is coming to your medical provider soon, thank you Obamacare). Food vouchers/cards are free. What incentive is there for a person to change the freebie system? The rolls just grown and grow. There are far more whites taking advantage of this currently than blacks, hispanics, or other groups, so these comments are NOT racist.

56. supertatie - July 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm

I find it hard to believe that it is this difficult to understand -- writers like this one routinely malign and mischaracterize conservatives and tea partiers (racists! hate-filled bigots! fear-mongers who resent the changing American demographic!) and missstate their concerns and objectives -- and then wonder why the people they insult and denigrate get pi$$ed off. All of these vapid stereotypic slurs have been amply disproven over and over again, but they're trotted out by the Left to discredit the underlying concerns about fiscal profligacy and immorality.

So here it is in a nutshell: you lie about them every chance you get, and people do not like being lied about.

OK, get it now?

57. marka - July 23, 2010 at 04:26 pm

Bravo for 46. rickinchina09 - July 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm & #47. I'm no 'conservative' and definitely not a Republican. I've been registered 'Peace & Freedom Party' (California), 'Democrat' (various states), and now Independent (Oregon). The 46/47 posts are fair & balanced - and note the lack of historical perspective many of these recent articles seem to reflect (see my comments on other articles). One reason I now am registered Independent is I got tired of the ranting & raving by my fellow Dems against the forces of evil (aka Rs), and the escalating misinformation & disinformation campaigns run by same. Not to elevate the Rs, but I don't see much difference between the rants on the 'right' or 'left,' 'conservative' or 'liberal'. Ranting & rage are equal opportunity emotions & behavior, regardless of race, creed, gender, religion, etc.

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.