In November, voters in Ohio passed Issue 5, which more or less prohibits smoking in public places. There are exceptions, but not many; they are spelled out without much wiggle room. A friend who teaches in a small city there tells me it’s a relief to be able to go out for dinner now in a restaurant that doesn’t smell like old ashtrays. But he also had to write a letter to a local newspaper complaining about the editorializing in their coverage of Issue 5. The headline for a news article read something like “Freedom Abolished in Ohio.”
Well, it turns out that was just the tip of one great big iceberg of crazy. In a letter to the Toledo Blade appearing on Sunday, one John T. Kleeberger, of Metamora, identifies “the ominous parallels” (to use what I believe may be the term of art for such exercises).
In their quest to form a perfect world run by perfect people and rule over all others, corrupt little Nazi German people who could not control their own unhappy lives tried to control the lives others for their own good. But freedom-loving people rose up against them and restored freedom…..My main concern as I get older and near retirement is people will live longer and as Social Security fails, what will be the Smoke Nazis’ final solution to that problem? (via Unfogged)
Gosh, you don’t suppose they would enforce mandatory smoking for the elderly in order to kill them off? That would be evil. But also sort of appropriate, what with being Smoke Nazis and everything.
Absurd as the letter is, it reveals the deep and seemingly inexhaustible pools of self-pity that the the American right can draw on, as fuel.
For nobody reading the letter will believe that the author is actually afraid of the prediction embedded in his rhetorical question. But the question itself is more than a device. It shivers with the delight of pretending to feel threatened. Multiply that frisson by tens of millions of people, and you have a political outlook that is—let’s not say coherent, but effective, at any rate.
It used to be part of the conservative ideological boilerplate that belief in one’s status as victim was something fostered by left-wing academia, identity politics, etc. No more. But the right does not simply appropriate that attitude by reversing the flow of grievances.
Unlike the multiculti version (which at least gives lip service to belief in the possibility of liberation from oppression), the right-wing discourse of victimization revels in the thought that its suffering will continue, and must soon deepen.
Often the implied scenario is religious (how cruel will be the reign of the anti-Christ!) though not necessarily (how cruel will be the reign of Hillary!) Either way, there is a superficial pretense of panic and alarm that barely disguises contentment at wallowing in ressentiment.
Per Max Scheler, who, literally, wrote the book:
Improvements in the conditions criticized cause no satisfaction – they merely cause discontent, for they destroy the growing pleasure afforded by invective and negation. Many modern political parties will be extremely annoyed by a partial satisfaction of their demands or by the constructive participation of their representatives in public life, for such participation mars the delight of oppositionism. It is peculiar to “ressentiment criticism” that it does not seriously desire that it demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism.
Scheler was a conservative. No doubt the “modern political parties” he had in mind were socialist/labor parties. He lived long enough to see the emergence of reactionary mass movements wielding the same kind of “ressentiment criticism.” What he couldn’t have anticipated—and what still proves an enigma—is the present situation, in which a movement can hold state power for years, yet whine incessently about its own powerlessness. Can offer itself as the country’s only bastion of strength against a menacing world, while constantly daydreaming aloud about the impending and unstoppable totalitarianism that will soon overtake us all.
It doesn’t do any good to say that this is the politics of irrationality. It works too well, as politics, for that to make any difference. We are about to enter a season in which Republican factions try to work out a composite demonology for the next cycle—something to unify the base in fear/rage. (One exciting possibility is the Latino/Al Qaeda combo, though nobody has quite worked out how gay marriage will work under Sharia law.) The only thing that’s certain is that the new menace will be too powerful to resist. In fact, that is pretty much a requirement for the job.