POLITICAL LEADERS USING THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT
Author Katherine Cramer says, “I call this book The Politics of Resentment because there are other ways to make sense of politics than by relying on ideas about which of one’s fellow citizens are getting more than their fair share and who among them is underserving. I draw attention to a kind of politics in which people do not focus their blame on elite decision makers as they try to comprehend an economic recession. Instead they give their attention to fellow residents who they think are eating their share of the pie. These interpretations are encouraged, perhaps fomented, by political leaders who exploit these divisions for political gain.”
“In the conversations of this book, we see how the weeds grow as people sow them in the minds of each other.”
Cramer does not look into the role of the media, especially talk radio, in sowing and growing “the weeds.” This would be an excellent research project for someone.
“We also see how certain contexts create a bounty harvest as politicians fertilize certain resentments for particular political purposes.”
“Finally, I conclude that this study gives us some serious warning signs about the tendency of modern democracy towards resentment. When arguments about how we should allocate resources to each other are made on the backs of our resentments toward each other, what does the future hold?
The present governor of Wisconsin used The Politics of Resentment in these ways.
1. Act 10
Included public sector employees paying more for their retirement and health insurance. A man working with milking machines said: “I’m glad Walker did what he did. It’s about time someone takes something away from those bastards.”
During the protests in Madison, one man stated: “Those folks down state have little understanding of what life is like up here.” “Enough is enough. Public employees gotta pay their share.”
Eliminated most provisions of collective bargaining. Several people supported collective bargaining while agreeing that public sector employees need to pay more for their benefits. Others agreed with this man: “I’m sick of collective bargaining. And I’m a taxpayer.”
2. Turning down $810 million dollars of our federal dollars. The governor framed the argument as an urban versus rural argument. “Walker took on the train as a major symbolic element of his 2010 gubernatorial campaign” arguing it was “an excessive government program that taxpayers could not afford.” “He talked about the train as being an expensive mode of transportation that most Wisconsinites would not ride.” He took on the “political machine” in Milwaukee County and will do it in Madison as well. He also “invoked animosity toward the cities, especially, Madison, in more subtle ways” speaking about “bus drivers in places like Madison who make $150,000 because of overtime.”
3. He portrayed himself as a regular Joe because of this “brown bag theme.”
“Scott Walker arrived at the right place at the right time. His candidacy and programs have tapped into the economic anxiety and dread that mark this point in history. Walker’s platform has also made use of the desire for people to make sense of their world, to figure out who is to blame and identify boundaries that clearly show that those who are to blame are not one of us.”
“Many people in the rural places believed that here, finally, was someone on the side of small town Wisconsinites.”
“One can view as misinformation or ignorance the perception among rural folks that are the victims of distributive injustice, but the conclusion that people vote the way they do because they are stupid is pretty shallow. It overlooks that much of political understanding is not about facts; it is how we see those facts (Bartels 2008, chap.5; Nyhan and Reifler 2010).”
“Wisconsin is a microcosm of the nation in another respect. What happened there is symptomatic of the role of divisiveness in contemporary politics, both in the public mind and in the manner in which politicians are actively using this divisiveness for political gain.”
“Why do people vote for the Republican Party when it is that party that is especially likely to represent the policy of the affluent and ignore those of everyone else?”
Cramer states: “the conversations suggest that the Republican Party has been successful at tapping into existing resentments toward particular targets. In the framework they provide, the demons are not affluent people, but, rather, the government, the people that work for it, and urban areas that are home to liberals and people of color.”
As we all know, we are seeing The Politics of Resentment playing out in Wisconsin as well as on the national level. What we are witnessing is ugly and unnerving. Part 4 will deal with the question: “What is to be done?”