I found this prediction for the coming year in the NYT, via Instapundit: “In 2008, a 100 percent chance of alarm.” It’s funny because it’s true. Whatever the year brings, we will hear about disasters and the approaching end of life as we know it.
John Tierney, the author, takes on the global warming craze. “Long-term climate models cannot explain short-term wheater,” he notes, but no matter.
. . . there’s bound to be some weird weather somewhere, and we will react like the sailors in the Book of Jonah. When a storm hit their ship, they didn’t ascribe it to a seasonal weather pattern. They quickly identified the cause (Jonah’s sinfulness), and agreed to an appropriate policy response (throw Jonah overboard).
Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepeneurs: the activists, journalists, and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.
I think such alarmism belongs to a larger, far less humorous development. Some portion of the American population appears consumed with rage and loathing, when it comes to events in their own country. They believe President Bush is the equivalent of Hitler or worse. (Google the two names and you get 1,230,000 hits.) They believe our economy is morally abhorrent and in a state of collapse. They believe our country’s foreign policy is evil and disastrous. (Google “Iraq” and “wrong” and you get 10,100,000 hits.)
The American people, in the eyes of this group of Americans, are Jonah in the ship. And the weather is about to destroy us for our sinfulness.
I encountered some of these loathers in the flesh over the Christmas vacations. They weren’t poor, unemployed, uneducated, or sickly — more like the exact opposite: prosperous, well-pedigreed, hard-working, bursting with good health. The bounty of America had been showered on them and their families. So what’s the source of the rage?
The vision of America they hold is false. That this should have to be said is bizarre enough. A smattering of articles have come out (see here and here), full of wonder that, despite the subprime crisis, the economy grew at a fast pace in 2007. Even the stock market was higher in December than in January.
But this is besides the point. Even if we were to slide into recession, the country described by the loathers would not exist. Even if the Patriot Act is judged overly intrusive, even if renditions of innocents were made, the America of the enraged is a delusion, a kind of ideological hallucination.
In time of war, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, FDR threw most of the Japanese population in California into concentration camps. Both were great presidents, doing the best they could in times of mortal peril.
So again: why the rage?
I believe it begins in a feeling of immense grievance and anger regarding President Bush. Not just his policies or his personality, but the fact that he was elected and re-elected — whatever guilt is placed on him, therefore, goes double for the voters. The country as a whole is to blame.
It begins with President Bush. A recent NYT editorial made the point explicit. It began, “There are too many moments these days when we don’t recognize our country.” It proceeded to a hallucinatory description of America as a place of torture, manipulation, deceit, cowardice, and high-placed crime. And it ends, bluntly enough, with the plea: “We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably.”
The NYT editorial can be considered a straighforward partisan appeal. As such, it is part of our electoral tradition. “Throw the rascals out” wasn’t coined for the present administration.
But I believe the grievance and the anger run deeper than partisan politics. It began with President Bush but it has spread, virus-like. While I don’t pretend to understand its psychological roots, its logic is plain enough.
The president must be shown to be the worst. By that I mean the most immoral, most incompentent, most egregiously failed political figure in the history of the human race. Thus every aspect of American life during his presidency must be shown to be the worst. This is the evidence produced by the loathers for their loathing: their self-justification.
There are many problems with this attitude. One is that it seems difficult to turn off: once committed to viewing one’s country as a moral, economic, and political disaster area, the feeling of righteous superiority becomes irresistible. The individuals I spoke with during the holidays said flat out that Americans were stupid. They themselves, the loathers stated, could understand a reality to which the majority, in its ignorance and dimness, was blind.
The addiction to intellectual and moral superiority will be hard to shake, even if, as the NYT hopes, the voters support the loathers in 2008.
The major problem is that the criticism which began with partisan discontent soon became, in tone, strategic rather than local. I am no apologist for the administration, and this blog isn’t political in intent. But I believe without qualification in the American way of life, and the virulence first aimed at the president long ago turned against every action conducted by anyone during his term of office, unless it was explicitly hostile to our government. Morality was politicized. Culture was politicized. And politics were made a Manichean exercise, rare in our history.
Either we deny our government, our country, our history, and our honor, or we face the wrath of judgment.
These individuals, most of them I think without realizing it, act like enemies of their own country. Behavior that once would have been unthinkable — Al Gore singling out America for abuse in Bali is only the most recent example — appears, to them, in the guise of righteous rebellion, and thus praiseworthy.
Many of their arguments are heard by our true enemies, and parroted by them. Major chunks of the MSM, like the NYT, are confused about who or what they loathe: the administration or their audience. Here is a cable news report on Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster and human tragedy:
ANNOUNCER: This is America? Chaos, anger, a desperate city feeling abandoned.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: We want help! We want help!
ANNOUNCER: Violence, gunfire, looting, and starvation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can’t take this. We’ve been out here for three days. And we’ve been asking for help.
ANNOUNCER: Mothers, children, the elderly, hurricane survivors still waiting for help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breathe, man, live!
ANNOUNCER: So, where is the help?
Once again, the storm is a punishment. The sinner is “America,” the sin our selfish way of life.
The loathers are a minority, no more than a fragment of the population. The electoral process demonstrates this fact. No ambitious politician can be nominated for the presidency, much less elected, on platform of rage against his own electorate.
But the ideology of loathing gets shouted from the media mountain-tops, an acid rain constantly pouring on the public discourse of America. Tierney is right. In a continental nation, awful disasters will always occur. The loathers, like the sailors in Jonah’s ship, need no more proof of the depravity of the times, and turn the images of sorrow and pain into political arguments.
Their ideology is a compound of Marxist analysis, postmodernist pose, and moral infantilism. It preaches rather than persuades, works through anecdotes and images rather than cogent reasoning or statistical evidence. Its logic suggests that the American people, being too stupid for self-government, should place themselves in the care of wise guardians who will make the appropriate adjustments to their behavior.
Draining this poison from our politics is, in my opinion, among the great tasks ahead for the next generation.