Clueless Resentment Politics

Jamelle BouieJamelle Bouie is one of people I read every day. So I was interested to see the clip below from All In. Bouie got some email that was, well, if not racist, at least the kind of conservative claptrap that claims that the black community is all screwed up and that it is all their own fault. I remember hearing someone (I think it was EJ Dionne) talking about how when he goes to work early in the morning, what he sees is huge numbers of black and brown people getting on buses going to work. But for a lot of (and very possibly most) conservatives, minority groups will forever be Ronald Reagan’s mythical welfare queen driving a Cadillac.

What happened with Bouie is that he was able to figure out who had sent him the email. So he called the guy up and they had a conversation of sorts. Apparently, the guy did almost all of the talking and it wasn’t really about race; it was about his anger with the Republican Party. But in a wider sense, it was about his resentment. And hey, I get that. We all resent the injustices we see in the rewards of our society. As Friedrich Hayek said, it wouldn’t be possible to have a capitalist system if it were truly just. The only way that the losers in such a system could deal with it is to know that the system just isn’t fair. If they knew they were poor because they really did suck, the whole system would fall apart.

This is really interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Hayek seems to understand something that most other conservatives do not. For example, Ayn Rand was a fan of Hayek, but according to her the free market would always and forever compensate people perfectly for their worth. This, of course, is a standard conservative belief: we live in a meritocracy and if you don’t do well, it is your own damned fault. But Jamelle Bouie’s acquaintance captures the cognitive dissonance of conservatism perfectly. He is resentful of both the welfare queen and the fat cat banker. On all sides are takers. And stuck in the middle are the good, hard working people who I assume this guy defines as people like himself. (Don’t we all?)

But there’s a great twist here. The guy’s a lawyer! In addition to his living depending upon a strong government with strong courts upholding strong laws, he is protected as a member of a guild. I know a decent amount about the law. There are lots of poor people who would hire me to do simple legal tasks for them. But I can’t! Doing that would be a felony. Hell, it would probably be many felonies. What’s more, this lawyer is not just protected against potential proto-lawyers like me; he is also protected against extremely well trained lawyers in other countries. This guy’s entire livelihood is one big wet kiss from the government and all of its protectionist tendencies.

Still: I get it. None of us are especially happy with our lot in life. But our resentful lawyer is doing pretty well by the government he hates. I’m sure that he is easily in the top half of those benefiting from the government’s largess. But he will likely never recognize this fact. He is like a child who resents a sibling’s birthday party because he forgot that he recently had his own. But it is a lot more acceptable coming from a five-year-old.

Afterword

This whole thing begs the question though: if I send Jamelle Bouie some racist email, will he call me?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Clueless Resentment Politics

  1. Brilliant. I used to read Bouie at "The Nation," but these days I have so many library books to read I don’t follow online stuff the way I used to. What a killer move, though, to call the guy . . . and actually listen to his rant.

    Of course, the American Black community IS all screwed up. Naturally, when your schools are defunded, your employment base outsourced, your poor targeted by drug laws that pump up the value of bootlegging, your community is going to be a mess. It’s oppression 101: you demean and debase a segment of the population, they become more desperate as a result, then you say, "look at those people! They behave like animals! Our treatment of them is thoroughly justified!"

    In the most sophisticated version of that scam (the British were great at this), you allow an occasional individual or two to be accepted by the dominant society. You point to a Colin Powell, an Obama, a Clarence Thomas, and say, "see? Anyone from that group can Make It if they have the gumption." It absolves you from responsibility for the rest of the people you’ve profited from turding on.

    I hesitate with recommendations, especially movies, but did you ever see "Devil In A Blue Dress"? It’s based on a Walter Mosley novel (he’s written some good political books, too) and directed by Carl Franklin (who did the excellent "One False Move.") It’s kind of like a Black "Chinatown," but far less depressing. The hero (Denzel Washington) has some stability in Watts from his WWII-era factory job; he gets drawn into LA corruption against his will and eventually calls on his dangerous country cousin (Don Cheadle, in his first major role) to help out.

    The movie never makes it obvious, but you can tell that Washington’s character represents what Black Americans want to be, given half a chance, and Cheadle’s foreshadows what many will become, once racist oppression does its damage. It’s also a good, tense mystery with a happy ending, so I think you’d enjoy it.

  2. @JMF – I’ve requested the movie. All you have to do is compare a movie to [i]Chinatown[/i] and I’m on board. That’s such a great film for so many reasons, but most especially I like to see the director cut the star’s nose.

    I read somewhere, but I’ve been unable to find it, that if you take into account the number of blacks who cannot vote because of felonies and such, blacks vote at a shockingly high rate: far above the other major races. I think that says it all.

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