Tuesday, July 3, 2007

p3 Flashback: Anger as self-limiting

Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.
- Richard Hofstadter

About a year ago, I noted something Kevin Drum had written:
It strikes me that modern American culture rewards conservatives when people are angry and polarized and rewards liberals when people are united and forward looking.

I also mentioned my own belief that anger, eventually, can't sustain a political movement. It was more a practical point than a moral one: Anger can produce dramatic results in the short run (for example, it might actually goad congressional Democrats, outraged by the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence by Bush, to finally give this administration the constitutional clock-cleaning it so richly deserves); but even apart from being difficult to discipline, it can't be continued indefinitely at the level needed for political action. Sooner or later it exhausts itself.

On Drum's comment, then, I speculated:
[M]ovement conservatism can't last. Perhaps the sputterings we're seeing now are signs that it's running on fumes even as we speak; perhaps not yet.

In the year following that post, movement conservatives--a group whose defining anger is rationalized by its sense of betrayal and channeled into authoritarian worship--are in noticeable disarray, and have suffered more reverses than in the previous five years combined.

On the other hand:
  • The Iraq occupation drags on, though conservatives still call it a success and still attempt to smear (albeit less convincingly) anyone who questions its wisdom.

  • The Afghani war is losing ground, though conservatives still deny or ignore this.

  • The neocons, whose belief that America can only lead by bullying is further discredited daily on every part of the world stage, still cling to the levers of power in American foreign policy.

  • Cheney and Bush, while isolated from the American people and now, increasingly, from their fellow Republicans, still refuse to concede a whit of their imperial ambition, and look for any opportunity to jam their thumb in the eye of the American public.

  • Clarence Thomas, still the angriest, most resentful man on the Supreme Court, is finally see things start to go his way.

  • And Ann Coulter is still out there, making adorable death threats to presidential candidates on Good Morning America.
Anger may be self-limiting, but apparently we should never underestimate its tenacity.

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