VICTIMHOOD

Posted in Quick Hits on February 28th, 2013 by Ed

The iconic political image of the post-Reagan era, for my money, is the 2003 Schwarzenegger campaign (in the California gubernatorial recall election) using "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister as its theme song. To see Arnold and his fellow Orange County millionaires on stage stiffly pumping their fists to a dated song about the terrible unfairness of it all was…rich. It requires the kind of total lack of self-awareness usually found only in ancillary characters in slasher movies.

If there's one thing I honestly, legitimately do not understand about politics, it's how so many well-off conservatives have managed to convince themselves that they are the victims of an unfair society. They are the luxuriously oppressed, the forgotten, long-suffering minority that has everything that money can buy. The urge to grab these people, shake them, and scream "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR LIFE? WHAT DO YOU NOT HAVE? HOW ARE YOUR NEEDS GOING UNFULFILLED?" is overwhelming. With right-wingers I know well, I have actually done this on more than one occasion. The amount of delusion necessary to allow someone to sit in front of a 70" TV in a giant house with two luxury cars in the garage and complain about the unfairness of it all is incomprehensible.

Recently I sat in a classroom (observing silently, neither teaching nor participating) while a group of about 20 freshmen in an honors class took turns complaining about the terrible unfairness of the concept of taxing an inheritance (the topic of the day was Edmund Burke). This segued into some broader griping about taxation – the entire concept is "wrong" and immoral because, like, what right does the government have to take MY money? Tropes about punishing success were trodden out for their moment in the sun. And I'm watching this, half terrified and half bemused, thinking: Here is a bunch of kids at a $40,000/year private university on mom and dad's dime, to say nothing of the cars, $2000 Macbooks, "Study" Abroad trips, Greek system dues, and other expensive things with which they have been sent off to college, whining their hearts out about how thoroughly our society screws the rich. I know that college freshmen are not well-known for having a lot of perspective on anything except themselves, but it still surprises me to see such a total lack of self-awareness on display from what are supposed to be the best students in the whole crop. That anyone could have so many advantages that he or she did nothing whatsoever to earn yet still think that the deck is stacked against them is difficult to condone.

I spent the hour channeling Dave Chappelle and thinking, "Should I be choking somebody?" In hindsight, I probably should have. There are some kinds of ignorance that can't be dislodged with words.