The Emotional Roots of Political Polarization

Some deeper introspection into how I got trolled.


At first I couldn’t figure out what was so annoying about the article.

Maybe you saw it; for a few days this week it was the most-read post on The Atlantic’s site: “Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID“.

The author, Matthew Walther, lives in rural southwestern Michigan and usually writes for Catholic and conservative outlets. The gist of his article is summed up well by the title: In Walther’s world, people already live as if the pandemic is over.

This was not news to me. This week my wife and I have been (very carefully) making our way down the East Coast to re-establish the decades-long Christmas-with-friends-who-now-live-in-Florida tradition that lapsed last year. We’ve seen the mostly unmasked travelers at the rest stops. (My college roommate and his wife caught Covid in 2020 after their own very careful road trip; they blame the rest stops.)

In North Carolina, we were the only diners who chose to sit on the restaurant’s outdoor patio. A Florida lunch spot had only one outdoor table, which no one else wanted. In South Carolina, we bought the instant Covid tests that no CVS back in Massachusetts could keep in stock. When we asked about a limit on how many we could buy, the clerk looked at us strangely, as if we didn’t understand that the whole point of retail is to sell as much as you can.

Believe me, the number of people living as if Covid isn’t happening any more has not escaped my attention.

So why do I feel trolled by Walther’s article? He isn’t denying evident reality, as so many Covid minimizers do. He acknowledges that the virus is still spreading, and that hospitalizations are high, though they “are always high this time of year without attracting much notice”. He backhandedly acknowledges the existence of variants, but claims not to be paying much attention.

COVID is invisible to me except when I am reading the news, in which case it strikes me with all the force of reports about distant coups in Myanmar.

He says (without much concern) that 136 people in his rural county have died of Covid, undermining the whole everybody-knows-everybody image urbanites have of the countryside. (He isn’t saying “Aunt Josie died, but I never liked her anyway.” 136 is just a number to him, like the “statistic” famously attributed to Stalin. I wonder how his Catholic sanctity-of-life sensibilities would react to hearing about 136 local abortions.)

His point isn’t that none of this is happening, but rather that trying to avoid catching and spreading the virus yourself is too bothersome.

What I wish to convey is that the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors, who have been forgoing masks, tests (unless work imposes them, in which case they are shrugged off as the usual BS from human resources), and other tangible markers of COVID-19’s existence for months—perhaps even longer.

He reports that “from almost the very beginning” he has been attending weddings, taking vacations, and regularly going to indoor bars and restaurants unmasked. His kids belong to a homeschooling group, which they also attend unmasked. They regularly visit (and hug) their grandparents, and did even before vaccination was possible. And while Walther doesn’t disparage the vaccines directly, “The CDC recommends that all adults get a booster shot; I do not know a single person who has received one.”

Well, OK. The people he knows live differently than the people I know. That can’t be what got me roiled.

It also isn’t that his excellent arguments leave me without a coherent response. (We all know how annoying that can be.) Several quick retorts immediately pop to mind.

  • 800,000 of our countrymen are dead. If we’d seen that many deaths in a war, most Americans would be ashamed to admit they had opted out of the war effort, as Walther and his community apparently have.
  • Risk-takers often have long runs of good luck, but that doesn’t prove that the risk isn’t real. Back in the days before they became a personality cult, conservatives understood this.
  • From the beginning of the pandemic, a steady stream of voices have scolded the rest of us for overreacting. And every few days, I hear about another one of those scolders dying.

So no, my annoyance isn’t covering up my embarrassment at finding myself speechless in the face of Walther’s unanswerable logic.

And yet, it was hard to let it go and move on. Why?

I had to do a careful second and third reading, watching my emotions closely, to figure it out: I’ve been reacting not to the content of Walther’s article, but to his tone of personal animus. He doesn’t just think that people like me are being foolish; fools are typically pitied. No, he harbors a deep resentment of us. What I can’t shake is a sense of “What did I ever do to him?”

His resentment expresses itself from the early paragraphs, when Walther’s wife responds to an article explaining how to have a Covid-safe Thanksgiving with an exasperated “These people.” [His italics.]

What people? A few lines later he makes that clear:

the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas

Nailed me there, didn’t he? I have a graduate degree and live just beyond Boston’s Route 128 beltway. Outside my insulated world, he writes, “Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over.”

So it isn’t just that the people I know are living differently than the people he knows. Walther’s people are “Americans”, while mine are an elite class isolated in our privileged enclaves.

This conservative culture-war version of the Marxist class struggle appears to be a regular part of Walther’s shtick, also demonstrated here and here.

Never mind the CNN poll released this week showing that a majority of Americans report “still taking extra precautions in your everyday life”. That’s just data, and what’s data compared to the deep intuition of a salt-of-the-Earth, real American literary-magazine editor like Walther?

I wager that I am now closer to most of my fellow Americans than the people, almost absurdly overrepresented in media and elite institutions, who are still genuinely concerned about this virus. And in some senses my situation has always been more in line with the typical American’s pandemic experience than that of someone in New York or Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles.

Put aside for a moment that the people being “absurdly overrepresented in the media” are primarily doctors, epidemiologists, and other people who know what they’re talking about. Even ignoring expertise, Walther is strongly implying that there is something illegitimate about the views of people who live in or near a city. (More than one American in seven lives in the three metro areas Walther calls out. Adding in the similarly elite Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco metro areas gets you up to one in four. That’s a lot of illegitimate opinions.) No urbanite (or even suburbanite like me) can possibly be a “typical American”. We city folk who lower our masks to let acquaintances recognize us when we pass on the sidewalk are “like Edwardian gentlemen doffing their top hats”.

I can see how that kind of lordly behavior might set off a mere peasant like this contributing editor of American Conservative, who is so underrepresented in the media that I am reading his words in The Atlantic.

But you know the worst thing about people like me? It’s not what we’ve done or are doing, but what Walther is sure we will do.

I am afraid that the future, at least in major metropolitan areas, is one in which sooner or later elites will acknowledge their folly while continuing to impose it on others.

Because people like me are like that. No doubt the next time I drive down the coast, I’ll grab the last seat at the bar and insist that some working-class shlub sit out on the patio where it’s safer. Because by then I’ll have realized the folly of trying to avoid a disease that has killed more of my fellow citizens than World War II, but I’ll impose restrictions on the subordinate classes just to lord it over them.

And while I can’t remember ever having done anything like that before, it’s inevitable that I will. Because Walther really has my number.

That’s the kind of argument I have no answer for. It just leaves me wondering what I ever did to him.


It’s tempting to leave the topic there, but I think there’s a deeper lesson to be drawn. What makes culture-war arguments so frustrating generally is that they typically aren’t rooted in facts and logic, but in resentment. Fact-checking has proven to be impotent against Trumpism, for example, and right-wing cultists are never convinced when the absurdity of their logic is pointed out. Because no matter what is true or makes sense, their emotional resentment — wherever it comes from — endures.

That’s why culture warriors who have seen their arguments debunked will just shift to another one rather than change their conclusions. Do hand-recounts prove that Trump’s landslide wasn’t stolen by corrupted voting machines? Well then, it must have been stolen by fraudulent mail-in ballots, or by votes from dead people, or ballots smuggled in from China, or illegal alien votes, or something else.

And if you refute all that, chances are that the argument will circle back around to voting machines — Mike Lindell is still pushing that long-debunked lie — because the elite urban professional class (and their poorer dark-skinned minions) must have stolen the election somehow. There are too many “real Americans” for Trump to have lost, and if the ballots don’t show that, it’s because too many of them came from illegitimate places like Philadelphia or Detroit or Atlanta. How could Trump have lost, when all the White Catholics in rural southwestern Michigan voted for him?

Similarly, QAnoners aren’t bothered when their predictions fail. And even if they were, they could jump to other conspiracy theories that support the same narrative motif: You are part of the red-pilled vanguard party, who are ordinary people’s only hope against the powerful liberal cabal that manipulates the world. Your friends and relatives may not grasp the reality of the conspiracy yet, but someday they too will acknowledge their folly.

The Storm is one way to fantasize mass executions of know-it-all liberals like Dr. Fauci or uppity females like Hillary Clinton, but there are many others.

On Fox News, the lead story shifts from week to week, from critical race theory making White children ashamed of their heritage, to Biden wanting to raise your taxes or take your guns, to vaccine or mask mandates usurping your sacred freedom to die any way you want, to trans women menacing your daughters in bathrooms, to the War on Christmas desecrating your most revered traditions.

Whatever the specifics might be this week, and whether any particular story is true or not, the drumbeat is always the same: Liberals want to take something away from you. That deep resentment you feel against them is justified, because at this very moment they are plotting to destroy your way of life.

So it doesn’t matter whether any particular liberal plot checks out or not, because we must be hatching one. They know what we’re like.


I have to confess that I don’t know what to do about this.

As ridiculous as I find conservative attempts to liken themselves to Jews facing Nazi oppression, there is one particular way in which the current liberal situation resembles pre-Krystallnacht Judaism: When the details of particular plots are allowed to fluidly reshape themselves from day to day, and when you can be held responsible for misdeeds other people believe you are bound to commit, given the kind of person they are sure you must be, then it’s nearly impossible to prove that you are not part of a conspiratorial elite.

That’s where we seem to be.

I am 100% certain that I am not conspiring to destroy the way of life of White Catholics in rural southwestern Michigan. But if some of them want to believe that I am, I have no idea what I can say or do to change their minds.

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Comments

  • Ron Malzer  On December 20, 2021 at 9:41 am

    Thank you, Doug, for an as-always outstanding piece.

    What to do about these high-octane resenters? Get fact-based moderate-to-progressive voters to the polls in record numbers on November 8 next year,

    *Ron Malzer (**he/his), Board Member* *La Crosse (WI) County Democratic Party*

    *Freelance writer* *cell: 608.498.9002*

    • weeklysift  On December 21, 2021 at 6:57 am

      Good luck to you in your efforts. This week I’m staying with a friend who has a similar position in a red county of Florida. The next-door neighbor is flying a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag.

  • Vala  On December 20, 2021 at 10:03 am

    A supposed trans woman (trans girl) sexually assaulted a cis girl in a Loudoun county school bathroom. Parents’ anger about this is why Virginia now has a Republican governor.

  • Joe Irvin Conover  On December 20, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Resentment is what we get as our oligarchs suck more and more wealth out of the country and their shills in
    talk radio and Fox blame everyone else.

    • weeklysift  On December 21, 2021 at 6:58 am

      So often propaganda doesn’t work, but in this case it does. I’d really like to understand why.

      • Lance A. Brown  On December 21, 2021 at 5:23 pm

        The oligarchs have figured out the perfect recipe. They are busy stealing everything out from underneath all the rest of us *and* successfully gaslighting a large segment of their victims into believing that another segment of the victims are the real cause of all their woes. They come out smelling like flowers while crapping all over everyone.

      • Kim Cooper  On December 30, 2021 at 4:25 pm

        I think it has to do with hierarchical thinking — authoritarianism — If you are an authoritarian, it’s completely beyond the pale to blame those above you in the hierarchy, because those people are superior or they wouldn’t be above you. Plus, it advances your own status to identify with those above you in status — it rubs off on you and you can’t bite the hand that feeds you. Looking the other direction, it’s okay, even wonderful, to blame those below you, or an out-group. Those in the out-group aren’t really human and you can take out your frustration on them gleefully, without guilt.
        Have you read The Two Moral Modes ? https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/2016/03/31/

  • Thomas Paine  On December 20, 2021 at 10:50 am

    “I am 100% certain that I am not conspiring to destroy the way of life of White Catholics in rural southwestern Michigan.”

    No, they’re doing it to themselves, and in plenty of other places in America, like neighboring Ohio, which continues its multi-generational descent into an Appalachian hill-Billy throw-down holler. No one with the slightest bit of intelligence, ability, and emotional maturity wants to stay and live around these people, and it’s the migration out of these communities of failure that leave them dominated by self-destructive mediocrities convinced that their personal, ill-informed notions of ‘common sense’ are the only thing that’s legitimate knowledge.

    The over-arching Politics of Resentment of what’s become Cult45 really took center stage with the nomination of a person whose entire life, starting with youth sports, is based on a inferiority-complex foundation of Resentment: Sarah Palin. From there, it’s been a simple exercise of mining the emotional rot of this demographic by various grifters, from Faux Noise to the Donny Corruption coup-attempt crowd, as our governments, from local school boards and boards of elections to Congressional districts, have been turned over to the same self-destructive forces that continue to kill off these communities in the first place.

    Covid may be doing the literal killing today, but it’s merely one small slice of what’s been hollowing out our country for some time. And prospects for its future are bleak.

  • Alan  On December 20, 2021 at 10:53 am

    The “trans” in “trans woman” or “trans man” is an adjective and should be a separate word. Transphobes prefer them mashed together because it makes it easier to sell the idea that trans women is not a subset of women, but is some other group, the better to demonize.

    • weeklysift  On December 20, 2021 at 2:25 pm

      Good to know.

    • Mauritz Wiktoren  On December 20, 2021 at 8:13 pm

      Trans is a preposition that means across or on the other side of, like transalpine Haul, as opposed to cisalpine Gaul. You’ll that when it closely modifies an adjective, it’s hooked on to the word. The original is Gallia transalpina.

    • Gus diZerega  On December 20, 2021 at 8:23 pm

      That is the result of seeking to squeeze a complex reality into a dualism with Biblical roots. Many Native American tribes, to take an example close to home, had 4 or 5 words for gender while using two for biological sex. That makes sense.

      • weeklysift  On December 21, 2021 at 7:04 am

        Gus diZerega: Back in college in the 70s, people often talked about how language affected our thought processes. Strangely, nobody mentioned gender as an example of that, at least not to me, but now it’s screamingly obvious. If not for gendered pronouns, I wouldn’t need to know the genders of the people I meet. I could let situations stay fluid, rather than feeling like I have to shove people into the correct boxes as soon as I meet them.

      • Anonymous  On December 22, 2021 at 6:53 pm

        ” If not for gendered pronouns, I wouldn’t need to know the genders of the people I meet. ”

        I think that we should invent non-gendered pronouns and just start using them, the same way that we invented “Ms.” so that you didn’t have to immediately know whether or not a woman was married in order to know how to address her.

        Some people are using “they” as a singular pronoun, but the problem with that is that “they” already has another meaning, so it can be confusing.

        We created a new pronoun (maybe Qe or Que – pronounced like “key”) there wouldn’t be any ambiguity, just as there is no ambiguity with the meaning of “Ms.”

      • JE  On December 26, 2021 at 11:42 am

        @Anonymous – this already exists. The most common one that I have encountered is ze zir. Most people I know preferred they and their. I think it is because they already serves this function in english grammar (we use a singular they when we do not know the gender of the person we are referring to, which is basically the same as the function of ze zir).

  • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On December 20, 2021 at 10:59 am

    Fear and resentment are powerful feelings, and as with other emotions, it is comforting to put reason labels on them despite emotion research showing us that an emotion typically involves a compilation of reasons from across our lives not easily traced.

    The travesty is that there are those who choose to leverage the combination of fear/resentment and the need for comfort by marketing targets for attention that beget profit, and here we are.

  • etnewberg@gmail.com  On December 20, 2021 at 11:23 am

    Thank you for this post – it’s a befuddlement a lot of us have regarding the emotional hardening on the right. I don’t have an answer to all their rhetoric either. But I think in a way, they’re like kids who are reveling in their power to stymie us – and keep ratcheting it up to see just how far they can go, but really want us to flex some power back and call a halt to it. Sometimes you have to out bully the bully. (E.g. when I was 12 or 13 and my brother was 10 or 11 (and shorter than me at that time) there was a power imbalance going on due to the fact I had to babysit him and our little sister, and he refused to go along with whatever he was supposed to do now, like brush his teeth or go to bed, because I wasn’t his mother. So I had frustrations with him and used to take it out in teasing him in various ways, and one day I just pushed it by play slapping him on the face, which he kept telling me to stop, which I wouldn’t, until finally he socked me in the jaw. The shock of that did stop me – but it also made me respect him for defending himself and not letting me keep getting away with something that was ratcheting up. It made me see him as a real person, and after that we started having conversations together instead of arguments.)

    Terry Newberg

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  • joycerwauthor  On December 20, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    I know what riled me on the first reading. I also live in a rural area and boy, Walther’s attitude does not match my experience. Additionally, I went to his Twitter feed and he is clearly someone who is a professional baiter, someone who roils the currents just to stir things up.

    For me it’s his tone that just sets me on edge. I’ve encountered too many like him in real life.

  • Neal  On December 20, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve worked with volunteer groups (watershed groups), where I’ve noticed that values simply aren’t negotiable. Not even where they come from — one’s values are what that person says they are, and that’s just that. Some facts (like the 1/6 investigation, I hope) might cause some to change their mind/values, but that isn’t very likely during a confrontation. As you’ve argued before, facts become irrelevant then.

    I think this view is slightly more useful than just calling this irrational thing “emotional”. But either way, I’m afraid we’re just going to have to wait for folks to pull their heads out.

  • HAT  On December 20, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    What did any of us ever do?

    Well … here’s a story: I’m sitting in a Sunday school class (yes), of like-minded, well-intentioned well-educated professionals; and some mildly political topic comes up; and I repeat what I have heard at least two or three of the “real Americans” in our congregation [because where else would an “elite” like me ever associate with “those people”] say about the same topic as a “what if you thought / felt …”; and the woman sitting next to me rolled her eyes.

    I think the resentment built up over a couple of decades of public eye-rolling. At least in part.

    Because I confess, when people roll their eyes at me, I do feel like flipping them off.

    And a lot of public flipping “those people” off feels to me like what’s happening in this country these days.

    • Neal  On December 20, 2021 at 1:28 pm

      > “what if you thought / felt …”

      That’s a valid discussion topic. Where did it lead? (Besides the obvious resentment described in this article.)

      > What did any of us ever do?

      Throw rational thinking out the window.

      I guess “emotional” was the right word after all.

      Honestly, I don’t really want to cause more resentment. But there comes a time (in national emergencies) to move beyond violated feelings.

  • reverendsax  On December 20, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    My small town wise neighbor says he hears lots of people want to take up guns against lib elites because of inflation, high gas prices, the lack of amenities in our small town and the traffic to get anywhere. Let’s blame everything on Brandon. O yeah, and the masks. I see civil war coming, but I can’t figure out what it will look like.

    • SamuraiArtGuy  On December 20, 2021 at 6:10 pm

      I live in a small town and encountered was working a voter registration drive and encountered a couple of young fellows who had never voted, had no desire to ever register – but they were excited about fighting in “the coming civil war” and were gathering guns and ammo to “take down dem’ libs.” That raised my eyebrow. “Well, you boys just have a nice day now…”

  • Gus diZerega  On December 20, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    As I read your piece my memory went back to Claudia Koonz’s “The Nazi Conscience.” (2003) In it she describes how the Nazi and similar types description of Jews gradually moved many Germans from run-of-the-mill anti-Semitism to the lethal kind that triumphed under Nazi rule, including the gradual disempowering of other views even before Hitler took power. It seemed very similar to what I saw happening around me on the right- and it has grown ever stronger.

    If I had to identify a beginning point, it would be when Pat Buchanan and Anne Coulter mainstreamed the language of war against enemies rather than political struggle against wrong-headed liberals.Before they did, this language was mostly among right wing kooks. After that it spread in the Republican Party, opening it to the fascism of Trump’s supporters who now dominate it.

    • Bill Camarda  On December 21, 2021 at 10:27 pm

      Yes, I have been thinking about Koonz’s book quite a bit lately. The conscious, careful effort required to establish an entire worldview in which mercy = self-destruction, and even self-evidently innocent Jewish children were too dangerous to be permitted in German society reminded me a whole lot of how Fox News and its ilk has been operating.

      • Gus diZerega  On December 22, 2021 at 12:49 am

        Bingo. Of late regarding FOX I’ve been thinking of Radio Rwanda…

  • smegmatism  On December 20, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    “…how the National Institutes of Health defines a “problem drinker”? The answer is a woman who has more than one “unit” of alcohol a day, i.e., my wife and nearly all of my female friends”

    I’m not a professional but I think this guy might know a lot of alcoholic women

    • weeklysift  On December 21, 2021 at 7:20 am

      That line struck me too, but for a different reason: I wondered if it was really true. I don’t think it is, but my research wasn’t solid enough to include in the article.

      I googled around with variations of “NIH, ‘problem drinker'”, and couldn’t find much. NIH does recommend that women average less than one drink a day, but I don’t think “problem drinker” is a term they use very often. I found one page that gave a subjective definition — you’re a problem drinker if your drinking is causing problems in your life — and not much else.

  • Jeff R.  On December 21, 2021 at 12:13 am

    Resentment can be generated when one does or says something because they feel they had to as opposed to wanting to. i think your essay helps to explain the findings in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND: ANGER AND MOURNING ON THE AMERICAN RIGHT. Consider this quote from Appendix B titled “Politics and Pollution,” only substitute COVID for environment/pollution:
    “In the end, red states are more polluted than blue states. And whether an individual does or doesn’t vote, conservative and Republican individuals tend to brush aside the environment as an issue, and to suffer the consequences by living with higher rates of pollution. The Louisiana story is an extreme example of the politics-and-environment paradox seen across the nation.” (pg.253)
    In her book, her subjects are at the mercy of big business such as refinery operators. They literally sacrifice their environment for “good” jobs that can lead them to betray their values. What are they going to do? — ‘Fight the hand that feeds you?’ Call it cognitive dissonance, one could interpret the resentment for liberals as a displacement of these “Strangers” who are estranged. In other words, this resentment of the “libs” is a defense against acknowledging their own betrayal or self-loathing.

  • Julie  On December 21, 2021 at 2:05 am

    I live on a blueberry-sized island in a sea of red (New Orleans). I am a lifelong service industry work in a tourist city which is fueled by service industry dollars, and that also provides a good chunk of its monies to the rest of the state. Many non-transient residents earn their keep in “minimum wage” jobs, or worse server wage employment.

    Those of us wage slaves in this town living paycheck to paycheck are typically liberal, low income, lgbtq+, poc, and vaccinated mask wearers because assholes from southwestern Michigan come to town and spread their crud all over me and mine and I cannot afford to get sick and lose my pay, or worse my job.

  • paranoid  On December 21, 2021 at 8:14 am

    The more I read it, the more inauthenic his folksiness seems. He has distain for the professional managerial class, but what is he?
    He is connected enough to elites to write for The Atlantic. He is moneyed enough to afford both a midwife and a doula. He can afford and has the leisure time for vacations and frequent restaurant meals. All of this, apparently, is done on one income, as the family homeschools.
    Maybe I’m being petty for feeling ignorant, but his references to foods I’ve never heard of, when he could have just as easily useed raw cookie dough and steak tartare to make his point, is especially annoying to me.
    When he points his finger at the “professional managerial class” for pushing an ill-conceived way of life on others, he points three fingers back at himself.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On December 21, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    A WordPress glitch ate my previous essay-size thoughtful comment…

    That said, I did nick off to read the Atlantic piece before weighing in here. I am originally from New York City and not reside in the rural Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, and while only two hours from the beltway, it’s beyond the purple fringe in a state that went 70+% for Donald Trump ( goes a bit of a ways to explain Joe Manchin, who gets more cred for “holding the line against the socialist Libs,” than actually helping the people of the state.) ANYWAY… I wrote in our holiday note this year, “Little isolated Morgan County here in the Appalachian foothills has a very low vaccination rate—overwhelmingly seniors–and Covid mitigation compliance has been… kinda mediocre here. So we’ve had plenty of local folk get sick, and we have lost people” – that included one of my drumming students, a good man who is missed in our local performing arts circles. While we are small, only 17K people, our 51 deaths do not seem serious, but that represents a case fatality rate of around 2%, more then double the national average. But people are far more resentful of any mitigation measures than they respect the dangers of the virus.

    But the casual resentment and s&$t-talking of Mr Walther did still rub my prickles up. We had a widening political divide between urban liberals and rural conservatives going into the pandemic, and we promptly turned a Public Health emergency into a political crisis. I do understand some of the resentment – to a point – , given that the Left has been treating rural conservatives a bit dismissively, and both parties have pretty much s%#t on wage-class Americans since the Reagan Administration. But Mr Walther does come across to me as an honest spokesperson for nail-pounders, farmers, or diner waitstaff – but rather the professional elite conservative class that make their living agitating their base into hating everyone different from themselves with inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation.

    But I do still take exception, as I still have family in NYC and in the early months of the outbreak, they went to bed to the sound of ambulances, and hospitals had to stack bodies in refrigerator trailers due to their overflowing morgues. And yeah, “what did I do to you, man.” Our local healthcare people plead that people get vaccinated, but even after Delta we’re about 30% vaccinated, overwhelmingly seniors – vaccination under 65 is about 17%. Bear in mind that our county has NO ICU Beds, or Urgent Care Facilities.

    But the vibe I get from Mr Walther is “those people, let ’em die.” He strikes me as the sort of person who COVID is not a thing, until they – or someone they care about – is in the hospital on a vent, or in the ground.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On December 21, 2021 at 7:00 pm

    On a related note – it is worth mentioning that the resentment felt by what used to be the staunchly Democratic Working class – most specifically the Wage Class, comes from a real place. A long 2016 item by John Micheal Greer takes a historical and economic look at class in America and the plight of the Wage Class. His take is far more contextual and big-picture as he is not a pundit, but a historian and writer.

    “The destruction of the wage class was largely accomplished by way of two major shifts in American economic life. The first was the dismantling of the American industrial economy and its replacement by Third World sweatshops; the second was mass immigration from Third World countries. Both of these measures are ways of driving down wages—not, please note, salaries, returns on investment, or welfare payments—by slashing the number of wage-paying jobs, on the one hand, while boosting the number of people competing for them on the other. Both, in turn, were actively encouraged by government policies and, despite plenty of empty rhetoric on one or the other side of the Congressional aisle, both of them had, for all practical purposes, bipartisan support from the political establishment.

    “It’s probably going to be necessary to talk a bit about that last point. Both parties, despite occasional bursts of crocodile tears for American workers and their families, have backed the offshoring of jobs to the hilt. Immigration is a slightly more complex matter; the Democrats claim to be in favor of it, the Republicans now and then claim to oppose it, but what this means in practice is that legal immigration is difficult but illegal immigration is easy. [italics mine] The result was the creation of an immense work force of noncitizens who have no economic or political rights they have any hope of enforcing, which could then be used—and has been used, over and over again—to drive down wages, degrade working conditions, and advance the interests of employers over those of wage-earning employees.” – John Micheal Greer, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment.” (Search the title)

    Long read, but worth the trip. Bear in mind, written BEFORE Donald Trump was actually elected; but Greer largely called the political tides that manifested. While we get distracted by the inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation, we can lose track of the fact that a vast swath of our fellow Americans have been kicked to the curb, are largely unrepresented, and have been getting ripped-off and suffering since the advent of “trickle down” neoliberalism. There IS some signal in the noise.

  • John B  On December 22, 2021 at 12:49 pm

    They are resentful because they see their way of life as threatened. And in a sense they are right; they will soon no longer be part of a ruling majority, i.e. the white descendants of white europeans. So their only options are to accept this and willingly become part of an affluent plurality, or do their damnedest to be part of a ruling minority. The only way to do the latter in an actual democracy is to destroy the democracy. And to do that in such a way that preserves a fiction that the democracy will still exist requires increasingly bizarre contortions of reality.

  • Neal  On December 23, 2021 at 11:58 am

    > What makes culture-war arguments so frustrating generally is that they typically aren’t rooted in facts and logic, but in resentment.

    Although your article didn’t get sucked into religion (thank god), political polarization surrounding immunizations are once again spotlighting resentment over “legitimate” issues of faith. (“Troops find religious exemption for vaccines unattainable” https://apnews.com/article/religious-exemptions-vaccines-military-chaplains-ba9cf7c3ec122d5cb614ccf622ae6fd9). Another clear example of “facts and logic” conflicting with self-declared values — or, in emotional terms, religious feelings. Emotion, values, faith — what’s really the difference?

  • JE  On December 26, 2021 at 11:54 am

    I had a similar experience, but didn’t take the time to explore exactly why I was exasperated. Reading this answers that question. Thank you for continuing to carefully explore things this way – the way you think questions through is a real service.

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