The United States of Spite

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect distillation of our country’s political climate as this video.

The narrower point of this video is something I’ve seen play out on right-wing social media groups especially. Every discussion is framed around approval or disapproval of Donald Trump. Objecting to an overly critical or unfair hit piece against the president leads to immediate howls that you are a “Trump Humper.” Conversely, pointing out the flaws in some obsequious piece lauding Trump for allowing the sun to rise that day is to be labeled a socialist, communist, or, worse yet, a Biden supporter. No middle ground between “Trump is Greater than God” and “Trump is Worse than Hitler” is acceptable to seemingly 90 percent of the American population.

There is a larger subtext, and it is that the extreme edges of our political debates are motivated, it seems, by simple spite. “If Trump’s fer it, I’m agin it” See the likes of “conservative” columnists Jen Rubin disclaim long-held beliefs because Donald Trump has adopted it.

This stupidity plays out in the coronavirus discussion. How many people refuse to wear masks for no other reason than a bunch of (to them) liberal establishment types say it must be done? Conversely, how many individuals are delighting in ratting out someone who isn’t wearing a mask, or is not “properly” socially distancing?

It’s because of this that I was so annoyed by this picture.

Personally, I couldn’t care less. Dr. Fauci is seated next to his wife on one side, and a close friend on the other. Of course, unless he has the super new Iphone which has the bottled water app, I don’t see him drinking (he has a bottle to his side, but that’s not what is in his hand).

But the optics are terrible. It’s already going to annoy some that he even gets to attend a baseball game, a privilege denied to all other non-connected Americans. But there he is, mask off, chatting with someone not in his household just inches away. Like it or not, there will be people who see this picture and say, “Well if Dr. Smarty Pants ain’t gonna wear that mask right, I’m not going to wear it at all.” So Dr. Fauci needs to be more attuned to this environment.

Jonah Goldberg and others have noticed this tendency, so I won’t belabor it. But it does seem America’s increasing political tribalism is spurred on this spiteful inclination. More and more people are defining themselves not by what they believe, but what “the other side” believes.

Spite is thus one of the two animating drives in American politics. The other will be addressed next time.

To wrap things up, and also to set the stage for my next post, here’s another video from Ryan Long that also helps capture the current mood.