A nation of losers

America has long been embroiled in cultural and ideological wars, which if anything are intensifying. So — who’s winning? Nobody, if you listen to either side.

The left’s social justice warriors see the system as rigged by retrograde forces and for the rich against the rest; controlled by corporations and fatcats whose money buys politicians and power. They see an incorrigibly racist and homophobic nation too.

The right inhabits a mirror-image country: seen as coddling ethnic minorities, foreigners, and sexual deviants, controlled by a corrupt establishment selling out the nation’s interests and traditional values.

In other words, both sides see themselves as losing. Victimhood becomes an increasingly popular mindset. Columnist David Brooks notes a poll showing 64% of Americans see their group as losing most of the time. He calls it a “siege mentality” — which can actually feel kind of good. Like you’re a noble warrior making a stand against evil. Us against the world!

This actually explains a lot, especially about the right, which might otherwise seem puzzling. How could fundamentalist Christians countenance Trump’s lies, grotesqueries, and even “grab them by the pussy?” Or Roy Moore’s pedophilia? Brooks’s take: “When our very existence is on the line, we can’t be worrying about things like humility, sexual morality, honesty and basic decency. In times of war, all is permissible. Even molesting teenagers . . . .”

It helps if you can close your eyes to reality, telling yourself Trump doesn’t lie, it’s the news media (part of the establishment conspiracy) trying to do him down. And that even Roy Moore was a good, godly man, victimized by fake news.

Brooks laments that such attitudes only serve to marginalize their holders even more; so they don’t merely imagine themselves as losing, they really are losers. He adds that contempt for such people (“basket of deplorables”) also feels good — “But contempt only breeds contempt.” We should instead give each other the benefit of the doubt, he concludes.

I admit to the kind of contempt Brooks describes. Indeed, schadenfreude about Moore, pumping my fist when learning of another accuser, and of course when he lost. Yet I am deeply saddened and disturbed that so many of my fellow citizens’ heads are so far up their rears. Brooks calls for meeting them “with confident pluralism.” And after all, I did write a book touting “rational optimism.” But it’s hard to see how America rises out of this swamp. A nation full of people seeing themselves as losing is a nation of losers.

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One Response to “A nation of losers”

  1. Paul J Landsberg Says:

    As usual I find myself nodding my head I agreement when I read your blog. I might offer up how things get better.

    Remember the huge protests and riots in the US? surely a dark time. But then things fizzled out. Remember the crack epidemic in the early 80s? Again, eventually fizzled.

    The extremists on both sides of the aisle are noisy and bothersome. May be they will just get tired of making so much noise. A great economy would go a long way to solving many many ills. Now if we just had someone bright enough in the White House to induce a great economy…….

    Paul Landsberg

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