Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Politics Of Resentment

Doug Saunders writes, in the Globe and Mail, that the politics of resentment is tearing modern conservatism asunder.  The argument is about immigration; and it was apparent last week in Washington with the fall of Eric Cantor. There are now two distinct camps: One group:

argues that immigrants tend to be natural conservatives: They’re more likely than other voters to be small businesspeople (so are fiscal conservatives), and to be religious (so are social conservatives). Canada’s Stephen Harper, Britain’s David Cameron and Germany’s Angela Merkel have all recently tried to make theirs the party of diversity, with varying degrees of success (Mr. Harper has fared the best).

 The other camp – the one against which Mr. Cantor crashed and burned – looks at the same figures and concludes that the rising proportion of racial and ethnic minorities is going to make white voters more insecure and fearful, and playing to this fear will drive them to your party. This, for the past 40 years, has been the Republicans’ core strategy. The secret to success in American politics, the Republican Party activist Kevin Phillips declared in 1968, is “knowing who hates who” and using that hatred to your advantage.

Modern conservatives have made a lot of hay by first identifying and then demonizing "those who hate us."  In 1970, American political strategist Kevin Phillips advised Richard Nixon to adopt a "southern strategy:"

“The more negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.” 

That was the beginning of the politics of resentment. The whole anti-immigrant movement in the United States goes back to a stoked resentment between whites and people of colour.  Saunders writes:

This is a pretty cynical political tactic – one that risks long-term damage to your party’s, and your nation’s, social fabric. And is based on a view that looks narrowly inside partisan politics, not more broadly at the world.

True, U.S. right-wing Republicans and European far-right parties have been able to chalk up electoral victories recently by appealing to these white voters who are frightened of immigration (they tend to be older and undereducated). As one national survey shows, partisan Republicans and Democrats have polarized themselves more than ever before into mutually resentful “ideological silos.” This polarization seems to be happening in many countries.

And, so, we view each other suspiciously, convinced  that "the other" is our mortal enemy -- even as our resentment grows.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


askingtherightquestions said...

What is wrong with the conservative movement? In the US the unspoken but persistent racism of the post civil war era lives on, but this has and will be the great battle for American democracy (see Te-Nihisi Coates excellent article on reparations in the latest Atlantic). But it is more than racism and crass corporatism. There is something mean and nasty about our CPC, some might even describe it as sociopathic. Since their arrival as a minority government promising clarity, transparency and a new way of doing government (out with those corrupt Libs!!) we have been treated to an bizarre array of behaviors ranging from simply reading taking points to base obfuscation to pure misrepresentation to possibly illicit acts, all coated with a delightful level of incivility. Everyone is an enemy if they do not agree with you. Ad hominem attacks seem to be their only debating skills. Policy, programs and outcomes are never discussed in meaningful ways - and valid critical evaluation is met with no logical defense beyond an attack on the questioners character!!?? Government by talking point is a failure, the promised transparency is such a joke even government appointed overseers are unable to do their jobs and ideological fixations has damaged our economy more than necessary (despite Harpers protests to the contrary). Rush to a balanced budget? Why? Petroeconomy? How and why based upon resounding scientific evidence of the causes of anthropogenic climate change? Mr. Harper has not been the great tactician many have proposed and he has painted himself into a nasty little corner.

Owen Gray said...

Harper really has painted himself into a corner, Asking. And knowing that his options are closing, he lashes out at any and all who say it didn't have to be this way.

Anonymous said...

like a wolverine or a weasel they are always most dangerous when backed into a corner

Owen Gray said...

They are vicious on an ordinary day, Anon. But, when they're cornered, they're truly dangerous.

Scotian said...

I watched that Southern strategy since the mid 70s when I first became aware of it taking over the conservative movement in the USA and it sickened and horrified me, and also terrified me because I feared it infecting our Conservatives. Thankfully for a long time Canadian Conservativism resisted that approach, and it took Harper's great deception and MacKay's great treachery to remove the true Canadian Conservative voice in our politics and import that ugliness into our political dialogue. Then it took Jack Layton teaming up with Harper to bring down the Libs and Martin to cement its power within that party and then in the government which gave us our current horror. If only Layton had done the right thing in 2005 and stopped Harper's ambitions then, he would have helped keep this type of politics from gaining credibility in our political context (also a point I was being Cassandra about at the time, I kept pointing out how dangerous Harper's kind of politics was and how poisonous it would be to the entire political environment if it were ever to be seen as successful because it would almost force others to go that route to win).

Now, as to whether Harper has painted himself into a corner or not, I hope so, but until I see him removed from office and his lackeys too I am not going to let up one bit. I will say I take some comfort from the results in Ontario that may show that Harper's brand is weakened, and that his way of approaching politics is also losing its power, but I only take slight comfort because to take too much is to set oneself up for a fall in these circumstances I believe.

I do find it interesting to note that the politics of resentment in Canada is rooted in Alberta because of the Oil, and the NEP and Trudeau. Which given the role Premier Lougheed had played in that program just shows how much ideology trumps factual reality for those that would practice this form of politics. Harper played on that kind of resentment and whipped it up into full blown hatred and intolerance and xenophobia, but xenophobia based on ideology and political alignment, not things like religion and skin colour. The resemblances to the old Soviet approach to politics is more than a little pronounced in this respect.

Again, this is why I cannot forgive nor excuse the leadership of the NDP and Layton for his choices back in 2005, because all of this was obvious to anyone who bothered to look, and I cannot accept that those who make their livings at this failed to see what was so clear to me and others. The politics of resentment that had infected the American right was clearly infecting Reform, then the CA, and then the CPC, and Harper was clearly one of the standard bearers for that form of politics. That was after all one of the main things that caused him to pop up on my political radar back in the late 80s in Reform to begin with.

It is also clear that those who thrive on the politics of resentment will also tend to be destroyers, not creators, at least not creators of things that most Canadians would want to see or be proud of. It was because of this poison that I was trying so hard to prevent Harper's rise after all, it wasn't like I was screaming it over and over again wherever I could because I was so in love with my own voice.

Owen Gray said...

I think Mandela had it right, Scotian. When we drink from the cup of resentment, we destroy ourselves.

Those who either spout the politics of resentment -- or those who buy into that kind of politics -- will eventually destroy themselves.

Unknown said...

"The more negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans..."

This is just as cynical and sick as Harper himself showing up at The Nelson Mandela funeral.

Same reasoning familiar purpose.

Turncoat that he is. I personally have come to the conclusion that Harper is not human, can I say that Owen?

No I can not because he unfortunately for the rest of us true North Strong and Free Canadians he is. He just does not have a heart.

Scotian said...


The problem being how many of us/innocent bystanders get caught up in the mess before their fall catches up with them. Which is why a proactive approach is always so important.

Owen Gray said...

He may be human, Mogs. But that, by definition, does not make him a force for good.

Owen Gray said...

We are all capable of foresight, Scotian. Unfortunately, we are also quite capable of wilful ignorance.

Scotian said...


One must not view Harper as not/less than human, it is a very dangerous mindset to ever fall into no matter what the provocation. We humans are capable of such wonderful beauty and decency, but we are equally capable of incredible horror and psychopathic/sociopathic conduct, but it is still all part of being human. It is never a good idea to blind oneself to that about ourselves and our species in my books, not even metaphorically. I defer to no one where it comes to seeing/understanding the threat Harper poses and how clearly vicious and ugly his approach to politics is and his view of traditional Canadian values, but I refuse to ever for a moment consider him less than human because I refuse to blind myself to just how broad the range of potentials are with humans, and alas that means just as we are capable of dizzying heights we are equally capable of truly horrifying depths.

We diminish all of ourselves when we dehumanize for any reason mogs, even (especially in some ways) the monsters among us. That is, if nothing else, a solid reason why one should never view anyone as anything other than human.

Owen Gray said...

It's easy to demonize those we disagree with, Scotian. Harper is very good at doing that. But we do ourselves no favours if we do as he does.

Scotian said...

Owen Gray:

And was that willful ignorance ever on full display on the side of the NDP leadership and far too many of its partisans, although to be fair they were hardly the only ones, there are many in the PCPC camp that failed to see just how nasty the truth of Harper was until fairly recently under his majority too. Give the Libs their due on this one, they called it repeatedly, and there was a hidden agenda, it just wasn't a socon agenda like many thought (not I, I was always worried more on the process issues, but lets be honest, process issues bore most people/voters and is a hard sell to explain why it is so important, at least before we see whole gutting of institutions as we have in the Harper majority) it would be, including many of his base. The problem the Libs had was credibility, mostly because of their time in office and the scandal record, but also lets be honest their calling wolf too often about how extreme old PCPC governments would be if elected, it weakened their ability to make the case when a truly extreme party/leader on the far right emerged.

The excuse/use of willful ignorance/blindness still in my mind leaves one fully culpable for the consequences of the actions, and why not? It certainly does in the law after all. Which is one of my reasons for refusing to let Dipper leadership and political activists/partisans who should have known better off the hook, since they all were engaged in politics at a deep enough level that they should have been able to see all of this. As I keep saying, if a disabled man with nothing but his TV, internet, and mind needing time to kill so follows politics closely can see Harper coming starting from the late 80s (when I was still working I might add, I ended up being forced out of the labour force in the mid 90s, and I was already well aware of Harper for some years by then) what then is the excuse of those who made their livings in it, or have it as a true passion of theirs/are activists? Either willful blindness or idiocy in my view, and I think it is far more the former than the latter.

One did not need to be any kind of genius to see what was coming, this is why being Cassandra on this took such a toll on me that by the 2011 election result I just had to pull away from any political blogging for a few years, and rare commenting during that period. It wasn't just being right and seeing it all coming true, it was the constant belittlement, the jeering, the sneering, and dismissals despite all the evidence I repeatedly laid out for it that makes me a true analogue of Cassandra in this, and it was soul crushing. I am coming back now because we are nearing the beginning of the next election cycle and I will be damned if I don't do all I can to try and make sure this is his last victory, but even now I carry a great deal of rage and bitterness towards those who should have seen this coming, who were in the position to prevent this, who according to their own political beliefs should have been the first line defenders against such a person and instead aligned with him against a common electoral foe.

to be concluded...

Scotian said...


I try to not let it boil over all the time, but I have a really hard time letting go of it, as I do my rage towards Peter MacKay, the "no-merger" PCPC leadership candidate who sold his party out 3 weeks into winning his leadership but kept it secret 3 months until it was too late for the opposing forces within his party to stop it once he announced the merger and the conditions which allowed for the hostile takeover of the PCPC by the Reformists. There are certain sins in my books that are unforgivable, and treason in the proper sense of the word is one of them, and to my mind MacKay clearly committed such an act, and so did Layton and the NDP leadership which followed him. Both betrayed all they claimed to stand for and were supposed to protect, and did so in a deliberate fashion to serve their own self-serving agendas, because I refuse to accept that Layton did not see what Harper was, what Harper did and sold namely the politics of resentment that he championed, and did not understand the implications that came with it. Layton was simply too capable a politician for me to buy that for a second.

I know, I'm a broken record about this. I refuse though to let it go until I start seeing acceptance for Dippers for what their so called Saint Jack truly did instead of seeing him as their best/greatest leader ever. Many PCPCers recognized MacKay's treachery and self-servingness, it is too bad Dippers appear unable to do the same federally (or even Provincially it seems regarding Horwath and the Ontario election result).

Owen Gray said...

I think you can make a pretty credible argument, Scotian, that these days public service is more about self service.

Scotian said...

Owen Gray:

Looks like my first half comment got eaten despite telling me it was awaiting moderation. Ah well.

As to your point about the new meaning of public service, I wish I could strongly disagree with you, but the best I can do is a weak one (I can still disagree a little because I've known some to enter politics recently who I truly believe are so motivated, as recently as my last Provincial election here in NS)

Owen Gray said...

I've published the first half of your comment, Scotian. Sorry I missed it.

Scotian said...

Owen Gray:

No prob, these things happen, and thanks for finding it and putting it together in proper order, much appreciate that last part. It takes far more than something like that before I form any kind of a grudge...LOL