easy to be hard

Tea Partiers are driven by Status Anxiety; unless we provide an alternative status, their fear and anger will continue to escalate, until it bubbles over into real violence. The traditional markers of status in the USA–wealth and white skin–are changing. We cannot (and would not choose to) stop that evolution, but we can respond to the anxiety it causes. We can present a wider, more universal status (the inherent worth dignity of every person!) to soothe the fear and defuse the anger. Not only would this address the current crises (e.g. immigration reform and Islamophobia), it would provide a basis for a more just society going forward.

Writing at Slate.com, Jacob Weisberg calls the Tea Party “the Right’s version of the 1960s New Left. It’s an unorganized and unorganizable community of people coming together to assert their individualism and subvert the established order.”

Weisberg says the “strongest note in its tannic brew is nostalgia [and the second] strongest emotion at Tea Parties is resentment, defined as placing blame for one’s woes on those either above or below you in the social hierarchy.”

His main point is that “Nostalgia, resentment, and reality-denial are all expressions of the same underlying anxiety about losing one’s place in the country or of losing control of it to someone else. When you look at the surveys, the Tea Partiers are not primarily the victims of economic transformation, but rather people whose position is threatened by social change…Of no previous movement has Richard Hofstadter’s depiction of populism as driven by ‘status anxiety’ been so apt.”

I think Weisberg is slightly wrong here–I think that many Tea Partiers *are* victims of economic transformation–but that doesn’t detract from his main point. There is a great deal of status anxiety. The Tea Partiers fear losing their position, as a result of both economic distress and social change. Like many humans, their fear can translate into rage.

It is easy to say “the world is changing, the world is getting more diverse, get over it.” That only increases the anxiety, and makes violence more likely. If, however, we on the left demonstrate that we understand the values that the Tea Partiers feel are threatened; if we present a compelling alternative, that sincerely addresses both “liberal” and “conservative” values; if we show them that they do have inherent worth and dignity (at least in part by refraining from mocking them), then we may create an alternative status that will soothe fear and anger, thus freeing up all that energy, to be used in more productive pursuits.

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so may we categorize: