America is the great democratic experiment. Although, this is getting on for some 250 years now. This nation is in the grip of the politics of grievance. Partisan politics in America is more about hating the other side than particularly loving the side you are voting for. Americans have been encouraged to focus their attention upon their grievances via decades of negative campaigning and attack ads. Demonizing ‘the other’ is the favoured political pastime in the 21C. Identity politics and social values are the main game these days. Economic issues are now seen through this ideological filter.
Murdoch, Fox News & Stirring Grievance In America
Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News are merchants of toxic polarization. This network is spewing out lies and fake news 24/7. Every presentation is top heavy in anti-woke content and a right wing bias. Regular viewers are sucked into a spin cycle of libertarian anti-government GOP grievance stoking. Old white men upset at their changing worlds, where heaven forbid minorities are now getting a say. OMG the sky is going to fall in. In this partisan realm complaints about there being too many coloured faces on TV and LGBTQIA folk making too much noise are legion. Uppity women talking about sexual harassment and such like make their viewer’s blood boil – which is the whole idea for Fox. Getting their audience riled up keeps eyeballs on them and advertising rates going up for their revenue.
Popularizing Poisonous Issues For Political Gain
The politics of grievance is all about popularizing these causes for the benefit of candidates and the party. The party promoting these grievances doesn’t need positive policies. They just bang on about how the other side is to blame for the problem. Lefty liberals causing the decay of civilization through their participation in promoting diversity. Homophobes and white supremacists can get on board on this basis. Anti-immigration is a perennial grievance for authoritarian parties to champion. Dog whistling about these foreigners taking American jobs and bringing filth and crime to the neighbourhood. All this stuff is complete BS, of course. America is built on immigration and it has positively contributed to the ongoing growth and success of the nation for centuries.
Digging Up Discontent & Blaming The Other
A goodly portion of Americans are unhappy and discontent with their lot, it seems. They want someone to blame for their current malaise and downward envy is a popular pastime. Race is a major fault line in America with its roots in a little thing called slavery. Inequality between whites and African Americans remains substantial in economic terms across the nation. Segregation in housing and education is wide spread across the United States. Government policies in the post WW2 period cemented and expanded housing segregation. Social housing allowed whites to move out to the suburbs and trapped African Americans in inner city slums. Black families were banned from living in these white housing estates by real estate and developer policies. The wealth created by the increase in value of these suburban properties over decades contributed to the disparity in wealth between ordinary white Americans and black Americans. This is not defacto segregation but socially engineered segregation by the state. African Americans are not poorer because of any character fault but via institutional racism. The white families were helped to buy these houses via GI bills and government welfare. African Americans were locked out of these opportunities and remained renting apartments in the city. Therefore, there was not the family wealth to pass down through the generations for these African Americans.
“In 2017, housing policy expert Richard Rothstein wrote and released The Color of Law, which walks the reader through the history of residential segregation in the U.S. The book remained on The New York Times Best Sellers list for four weeks. During that time, Rothstein was continuously asked by readers, “But what can we do to fix this?” He realized he needed to write a sequel.”
White Supremacy In America
The white supremacist policies underpinning segregation in housing in America created ghettoes. The lack of racial integration in housing produces uneven social and economic outcomes for the inhabitants. If you bunch all the poorer people in one area you create social problems in those areas. It is then easy to label all black areas as problem areas and to promote that to white America as something to avoid. It is the same with schools. Demonizing black America has been a badge of honour for white supremacists. This then becomes a bone of contention for grievance politics on both sides of the aisle.
The Myth Of The Individual
The propaganda promoted by the right idealizes a story about hard working white Americans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It is the Ronald Reagan cowboy narrative about the individual crafting his own success. This is a false narrative that omits crucial parts of the real history. Little House On The Prairie stuff which paints government as a bad socialist force when in fact it was the homestead policies which put these folk on the land in the first place. Governments helping their citizens is conveniently left out of the American success stories promulgated by the right. The electrification of regional areas in the US was done by the government as part of the New Deal because the private sector didn’t do it. The market found it unprofitable and so the government stepped in. It is ironic that many of these rural areas are sold hook line and sinker on the anti-government BS. The Internet was developed by the government via investment in R & D over decades and only privatized in the 1990’s by Bill Clinton. The propaganda tells a Silicon Valley story about individual innovators like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Americans have been sold simplistic narratives by the media and by vested interests about much more complex events in the history of the nation.
“Most Americans know that before becoming a politician Reagan was an actor, but fewer are aware that Reagan’s flagging screen career was revived by a job with the General Electric Corporation (GE). Reagan hosted the popular television show “General Electric Theater,” where each week his voice and face reached into tens of millions of homes, promoting didactic stories of individualism and free enterprise. At the same time, he traveled across the country on behalf of GE — visiting factories, making speeches at schools, and doing the dinner circuit in communities where GE had a presence — promoting the corporation’s stridently individualist antiunion and antigovernment vision.”
The Culture Of Complaint
This anti-government narrative has been fed to the nation for some 40 years and it has poisoned the place. Yes, there has been political corruption committed by both sides over the journey. No, the American democratic system is not perfect. However, it is a hell of a lot better than the authoritarian alternatives in Russia and places like it. The late Robert Hughes wrote a book about The Culture Of Complaint in America sometime around 1983. The politics of grievance may well have grown out of this cultural manifestation of this consumerist society. It has become de riguour to denigrate politicians in America and in the West more generally. We have grown fat, complacent, and irascible in our lifestyles and attitudes. In nature, when this happens it usually precedes a great fall or cataclysm. World wars play this role in transforming the perspective. When people have everything taken away, they soon lose that jaded eye about things. When the shit hits the fan most folk pull their head in.
What strikes me about the white American reactionary beef is that it is directed at the behaviour of small pockets of difference. The Christian nationalist is not content with adhering to his or her own rules, no, they want to impose it upon others. The white supremacist wants to define the lives of people of colour and determine their lifestyles. There is this general desire to impose the social values of the many upon the few. This whole anti-woke thing is a beat up by conservative and reactionary forces. The number of people effected by LGBTQIA lifestyles are miniscule in number. Where do reactionary conservatives get off in trying to control the reproductive rights of American women? Why can’t they butt out of other people’s lives? Respect the rights of others and learn to be tolerant. Tolerance comes through learning about other people and not by condemning what you don’t understand. Fox News revels in stirring up controversy and championing the ignorant and the bigoted.
Abraham Lincoln wanted every American famer to read Shakespeare, according to historian Jeremi Suri.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture was established by President Abraham Lincoln on May 15, 1862. Even in the midst of the Civil War, the darkest days of any American presidency, Lincoln viewed agriculture as a critically important component of his domestic policy. In addition to the Department of Agriculture Act, Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act and the Morrill Act during the summer of 1862.
This collection of legislation, providing for the development and education of rural America, would prove to be the most transformative of any policies ever targeted towards rural Americans. Speaking optimistically about the affect education would have upon agriculture and rural America, Lincoln said, “…no other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture.” “
Lincoln learned a lot from reading Shakespeare and the Bible, as he sought to educate himself. Education remains the most important aspect of life, in my opinion. Education is more than vocational training; and higher education should be for everyone. Parochialism and bigotry are products of a lack of exposure to new ideas and places. Rural areas are often hotbeds of intolerance and racism because the people who live there often don’t know better. Stupid shows like those on Fox News thrive on the ignorance of their audience. Championing ignorance is not going to make America a better place. Championing the reactionary bile of frustrated people who live in a white bread world is not going to make America great again. Phony nostalgia for a bygone time that never really existed is more political manipulation. The only way forward is through embracing progressiveness. You cannot turn the clock back and conservative forces, especially extreme reactionary ones, are smokescreens for grifters and exploiters. The politics of grievance captures the fears and prejudices of many, but they will not be rewarded with anything more than being conned out of their savings. The right, the GOP, is a coalition of big business, Christian nationalists, white supremacists, protectionists, libertarians, and right wing fanatics. Trump is a grifter, a mob boss, intent on making money above all else and to hell with America.
The President, according to American historians, is the people’s choice. Congress represents the various states; and Congress makes the laws. It is the President, however, whose role is designed to unite the country behind him. The divisive nature of America right now makes a mockery of this. The politics of grievance has many Americans so riled up that they are not thinking straight. The divisive nature of Trump and the cult like nature of his leadership of the GOP has the US on a collision course with itself. People wondered how the Soviet empire could collapse so stunningly in 1989. These things can happen with devastating consequences without a great deal of notice or warning. America is on dangerous ground right now and perhaps on the eve of destruction. The great experiment could be drawing to a close. Too many Americans underappreciate what they’ve got. The culture of complaint has been captured by the politics of grievance.
Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of Money Matters: Navigating Credit, Debt, and Financial Freedom.