Opinion: Making America the opposite of great

I’ll admit it: like many liberals, I feel a bit of MAGAFreude — enjoying the self-destruction of the American right.

After all, there has never been a spectacle like the chaos we saw in the House of Commons last week. It’s been a century since a speaker was elected on the first ballot—and the last time that happened, there was an actual, substantive disagreement: Republican progressives (yes, they existed then) demanded, and eventually got, procedural reforms they hoped would advance their agenda.

This time, there was no significant policy disagreement — Kevin McCarthy and his opponents agree on key policy issues like investigating Hunter Biden’s laptop and depriving the IRS of resources it needs to go after wealthy tax cheats. Long after he tried to appease his opponents by renouncing his honor, the vote continued.

But while the spectacle was amazing, and yes, entertaining, neither I nor, I believe, many other liberals experience the kind of joy that Republicans would feel if the roles of the parties were reversed. First, liberals want the US government to function, which, among other things, means we need a legitimately constituted House of Representatives, even if it’s run by people we don’t like. On the other hand, I don’t think there are many on the US left (such as he is) who define the themselves as many on the right define themselves: according to their resentment.

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And yes, I mean “resentment” and not “complaints”. Grievances are about things you believe you deserve, and may be lessened if you get some of what you want. Resentment is about feeling looked down upon, and it can only be assuaged by hurting people you, on some level, envy.

Consider the phrase (and accompanying sentiment), popular on the right, “the owner of the libs.” In context, “ownership” does not mean defeating progressive policies, say by repealing the Affordable Care Act. It means, instead, humiliating liberals personally — making them look weak and stupid.

I will not claim that liberals are immune to such feelings. As I said, MAGAFreude is a real thing, and I feel it a little bit myself. But liberals have never seemed as interested in humiliating conservatives as conservatives are in humiliating liberals. And it seems a good part of what is happening in the House of Commons is that some republicans who expected to own the libs after a red wave election, took out their disappointment by owning Kevin McCarthy instead.

And does anyone doubt that resentment from those who felt disrespected was central to the rise of Donald Trump? Are there any commentators left who still believe that this is mainly about “economic anxiety”?

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I’m not saying the decline in core manufacturing jobs was a myth: it really happened, and it hurt millions of Americans. But the failure of Trump’s trade wars to revive manufacturing doesn’t seem to have turned off his base. Why?

The likely answer is that Trump’s anti-globalism, his promise to make America great again, had less to do with trade balances and job creation than a sense that snooty foreigners see us as camels. “The world is laughing at us” has been a consistent theme of Trump’s speeches, and his supporters must have imagined the same was true of domestic globalist elites.

And I have a theory that Trump’s own underlying ridiculousness, his lack of intellectual ability and emotional maturity to be president, was part of what endeared him to his core. Do you like liberals think you are so smart? Well, we’ll show you, by choosing someone you consider a clown!

The irony is that the MAGA movement has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of evil globalists (if they exist) in making America the opposite of great. Right now the world is really laughing at us, although it is also terrified. America is still the essential nation, on several fronts. When apparently the largest economic and military power in the world cannot even operate a functioning government, the risks are global.

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I mean, even with a speaker in place, what are the chances that the people we’ve been watching for the past few days will agree to raise the debt ceiling, even if failure to do so creates a huge financial crisis? And there may be many other risks that require emergency action by Congress before we even get to that point.

Of course, the world laughs even harder at the Republicans, both the far-right refuseniks and the spineless careerists like McCarthy who helped empower the lunatics. Because what will a person benefit if he loses his soul, and still doesn’t get enough votes to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

I’m not sure what we’re waiting for, and neither is anyone else. But one thing is certain: America is already less big than it was when Nancy Pelosi ran the House, and it is shrinking every day.

The New York Times


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