The right's two-pronged religion of rage and self-pity

The group with the most power persuades itself that it is weak, oppressed and treated with great unfairness.

Published October 2, 2008 4:33PM (EDT)

(updated below)

The Right in this country -- meaning the faction that followed George Bush for the last eight years -- long ago ceased being a movement of political ideas and is driven by two, and only two, extreme emotions: (1) intense, aggressive rage towards their revolving door of enemies, and (2) bottomless self-pity over how unfairly they're being treated. As their imminent defeat looks increasingly likely (potentially on a humiliating scale), these two impulses are in maximum overdrive, feeding off one another in endless self-perpetuation (the more they lose, the more victimized they feel, the more they rage against their enemies who oppress them, etc.).

The Right's rejection by the public can't possibly be due to anything they have done. It can only be due to some extremely vicious enemy that oppresses them uniquely and so very unfairly. For the moment, they're only losing because The Leftist Mainstream Media hates them and is deeply biased against them. Blue Texan points out just some of the painfully obvious idiocy at the heart of this specific strain of woe-is-me-ism:

It's pretty clear that [Instapundit] and the drooling Malkinites in wingnutland are getting ready to blame the corporate media when Obama wins.

The problem with this narrative is that:

a) the GOP has dominated national electoral politics for a decade, in spite of said "liberal media" conspiring to elect Democrats, and;

b) the wingnut bloggers themselves spend lots of time and energy obsessing over the idea that the mainstream media has an ever-diminishing influence/relevance (how many posts has [Instapundit] done this year of the New York Times stock price/circulation figures?)

I'm not sure how they square all of this in their little brains exactly, but it makes my head hurt.

Needless to say, whether the excuse-making is coherent or consistent matters not in the slightest. The objective, as always, is to believe that they are weak and hapless victims being stomped on by some Evil, Unfair Force, and that self-pitying worldview can then explain away every last one of their failings. That is the mentality that lies at the heart of today's right-wing ideologue; more or less, it's all there is (for a long time, it was also the media and the Left's fault -- but not theirs -- that things were going so poorly in Iraq, even though they controlled all the branches of the Government).

As Blue Texan suggests, there are literally countless facts one could cite to negate the Right's incessant, tired complaint about The Liberal Media. As but just one example, the single most influential figure dictating what is reported by The Liberal Media -- Matt Drudge -- is a supreme right-wing hack. Just as Mark Halperin and John Harris proclaimed: He's the Walter Cronkite of our era, he rules the Media World, and is the nation's assignment editor. Every story he promotes -- Gwen Ifill has a Pro-Obama Conflict of Interest!!!! -- ends up immediately infecting the narrative of The Liberal Mainstream Media. How does one explain that?

Using only undisputed facts, one could write volumes -- and many have -- destroying the self-evidently moronic claim that the media outlets owned by the nation's largest and most powerful corporations are tireless propagandists for a Leftist agenda. But those facts can never and will never penetrate because the two-pronged Right-wing dogma of objective superiority and unique victimhood is a matter of religious faith and deep personal need.

Go pick whatever right-wing journals or polemicists you want and (with some isolated exceptions) what you will find is this simultaneously self-loving and self-pitying worldview permeating virtually everything they say, think and believe. You can reduce most of their arguments, and all of their group-based drives, to a rudimentary logical proposition: "I am X, and X is both superior and treated with deep unfairness." It doesn't matter what "X" happens to be for any one of them -- conservative, male, Republican, Christian, Jewish, religious, white, Western, American -- that is the formula that expresses how they perceive the world and their role in it.

Petulance and self-pitying grievance is what fuels them. This endless need to self-victimize would be one thing if the groups to which they belonged were small minorities targeted by a hostile and more powerful majority. But the exact opposite is true. By and large, the groups to which they belong (and therefore see as oppressed and treated with unparalleled unfairness) are the most numerous and the most powerful in the country and always have been. Yet still -- nothing is their fault; they face hopeless obstacles imposed by Evil and Omnipotent Forces which hate them; "I am X, and X is both superior and treated with deep unfairness."

They have run the country for the entire decade. For the last 14 years, they've controlled the House for all but 20 months. They spent substantial parts of the last eight years in control of all branches of government simultaneously. They've won 7 out of the last 10 presidential elections. The country's largest and richest corporations -- including the ones owning the most powerful media outlets -- pour money into their party and perceive, correctly, that their interests are served by the Right's agenda. But still -- they can't get a fair shake; everything is deeply oppressive to them; it's all so unfair.

As they've ruled the country, it's been driven into the ground on every level. The President they revered and endlessly glorified is the most unpopular in modern American history. They've ushered in disastrous wars, virtual economic panic, state-sanctioned torture and astonishing debt. Their leaders have been exposed as bloated, corrupted criminals and hypocrites. Their current candidate chose as his Vice President someone who can barely string together a complete sentence or opine on the simplest of matters, and himself acknowledges that he's been joined at the hip with the failed Bush Presidency on virtually all key issues.

But still -- they're about to lose not because of anything they did, but because the corporate-owned Media hates them and is distorting their message; because they're being persecuted for their religion (which more than 75% of Americans share); because they are just weak, kind, good little Davids being hopelessly crushed by the Goliath forces arrayed in a confederacy against them. That they belong to virtually every majority group and wield most power makes no impact on any of that. This kind of self-centered, self-victimizing, self-pitying worldview provides great psychological comfort and a release from any responsibility for one's actions, and so they are highly motivated never to give it up. To the contrary, they'll cling to it -- are clinging to it -- even more desperately as their failures and rejection by the public become more vividly apparent.

UPDATE: Without endorsing all of its particulars, here is a thought-provoking blog essay from last year, by Gordon Gartrelle, on the psychological use of -- and need for -- self-victimhood by those with the most power, by those whom the author describes as "privileged victimologists."

By Glenn Greenwald

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