My next book will be published, I’m told, on January 1, 2012–just in time for the Republican primary season. Unless hatred goes out of style between now and then, I suspect The New Hate will be pretty timely.
A formal marketing and publicity plan will emerge in due course. In the meantime, I will drop the occasional teaser in this space. Like this one:
In his book What’s the Matter With Kansas? Thomas Frank memorably compared George W. Bush’s America to “a French Revolution in reverse – one in which the sans-culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy.” How did it happen that the people who had benefited the most from a century’s worth of progressive policies—from anti-Trust and banking regulations to Social Security, Medicare, voting rights, farm price supports and workplace and consumer protections—were so avidly seeking their repeal? How had so many millions been inveigled into voting against their financial interests?
“The country seems…like a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymous Bosch,” Frank wrote: “Of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land; of devoted family men carefully seeing to it that their children will never be able to afford college or proper health care; of working class guys in Midwestern cities cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life, will transform their region into a ‘rust belt,’ will strike people like them blows from which they will never recover.”
Frank argued that the right did it by waving the flag of the “culture war”—by tarring liberals as effete, over-educated, amoral, dissolute, impious, arrogant, Judaic, and even Satanic characters; by hammering wedges into America’s longstanding racial, cultural, ethnic, and religious divides.
Richard Hofstadter pondered the same question when he was trying to make sense of “the Pseudo-Conservative” revolt of the 1950s and 1960s. “Political life,” he wrote, “is not simply an arena in which the conflicting interests of various social groups in concrete material gains are fought out; it is also an arena into which status aspirations and frustrations are, as the psychologists would say, projected.” Status politics can be understood as “the effort of Americans of diverse cultural and moral persuasions to win reassurance that their values are respected by the community at large…..Status politics seeks not to advance perceived material interests but to express grievances and resentments about such matters, to press claims upon society to give deference to non economic values.”
“It is the tendency of status politics,” Hofstadter noted, “to be expressed more in vindictiveness, in sour memories, in the search for scapegoats, than in realistic proposals for positive action.” He presciently noted that the “growth of the mass media of communication” has “made politics a form of entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved.” Thus the tagline on Glenn Beck’s website: “the Fusion of Entertainment and Enlightenment.”
Which brings us back to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and the many other right wing performance artists. These crowd-pleasers well know how to exacerbate and tap into their listeners’ primitive fears and feelings, their tribalism, xenophobia, racism, bafflement at high finance , envy, fear of the Devil, and resentment of their own diminished status in a topsy-turvy world that confuses, offends, and seemingly excludes them. They do it by evoking a primal narrative: that all was well until “they” came along and ruined things, “they” being both the impoverished immigrants and minorities who are stealing the jobs that nobody else wants and the billionaire elites, cosmopolitan Jews, and supercilious “Progressives” who have made off with everything else—protected, enabled, and even coddled by a government that has forgotten and betrayed its real citizens. “Indignation,” wrote Thomas Frank, “is the great aesthetic principle of backlash culture; voicing the fury of the imposed upon is to the backlash what the guitar solo is to heavy metal.”