The Age of Grievance

There are a number of ways to escape “the news of the day.” Suicide, of course; substance abuse (mostly booze), studied ignorance…I can’t be the only person who needs some respite from the daily reports of Trump damage, environmental despoliation, insane conspiracy theories and the like.

Recently, I’ve been escaping into fiction. Mostly science fiction and mysteries–guilty pleasures that are finally available to an almost-retired person. I’ve particularly enjoyed a series written by a Canadian writer, Louise Penny, who follows an Inspector Gamache through sixteen books. I was reading book number 8, when I came across an observation that explained not just crime, but political behavior. The Inspector was explaining motivation–and attributing much of it to fear.

Especially, he said, fear of loss.

Could there be a more apt description of the political insanity we inhabit? During the past four or five years, the word “grievance” has become an indelible part of our political discourse. It applies almost always to people who believe they are at the cusp of loss–loss of the world in which their particular identity dominates others. As I have often noted, research has established that “racial grievance” is the most reliable marker of Trump support.

Other research has found that certain Christians exhibit an almost hysterical fear that their “religious liberty”–defined by them as their right to prescribe the behavior of others– is slipping away. Linda Greenhouse, one of the most thoughtful observers of the Supreme Court, focused on that fear in a recent New York Times column. She wondered whether Amy Coney Barrett would join the “grievance conservatives.”

Greenhouse began by discussing the recent 5/4 decision exempting religious gatherings from COVID restrictions, and noting that it was likely to be moot, since the restrictions had already been modified.

The real significance of the decision lay in the which-side-are-you-on test it posed for the newest justice. I don’t mean the conservative side versus the liberal side. Obviously, she’s a conservative. What matters is that a month into her tenure, she chose to align herself with what I call grievance conservatism: conservatism with a chip on its shoulder, fueled by a belief that even when it’s winning, it’s losing, and losing unfairly.

The embodiment of grievance conservatism is Justice Alito, who in a speech last month to his fellow members of the Federalist Society said that “it pains me to say this, but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”

Greenhouse pointed out how ironic this was:

Justice Alito is a member of a Supreme Court majority that during his nearly 15-year tenure has been more deferential to the demands of religious believers than any Supreme Court in modern history. Just this past summer, the court ruled that a state that offers a subsidy for private-school tuition must include parochial schools in the program; that religious organizations may exclude a substantial category of employees from the protections of federal civil rights laws under a “ministerial exception” that goes well beyond members of the ministry; and that employers with religious or even vague “moral” objections to contraception can opt out of the federal requirement to include birth control in their employee health plans.

As Greenhouse also reported, Alito and Thomas wrote “sympathetically in early October about Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused for religious reasons to issue marriage licenses to same- sex couples.”

Since the two justices were neither voting to grant the appeal nor dissenting from its denial, their opinion was entirely gratuitous. They simply used the case as a platform to reiterate warnings about the threat to religion from official recognition of same-sex marriage.

Greenhouse is absolutely correct when she observes that what religious adherents want is not equal treatment. Equality is no longer sufficient. “Special treatment is the demand.”

There is also irony to this (quite correct) “special treatment” characterization. Back in the early days of the gay civil rights movement,  religious figures hysterically objected to any grant of civic equality to members of the LGBTQ community, asserting that laws against discrimination weren’t equal rights, but “special” rights.

What these frantic warriors for “religious liberty” really fear is loss of their unearned privilege. And as Inspector Gamache understood, fear of loss can make people do criminal things.


  1. “Greenhouse began by discussing the recent 5/4 decision exempting religious gatherings from COVID restrictions, and noting that it was likely to be moot, since the restrictions had already been modified.”

    That the case was quickly brought before SCOTUS and the 5/4 decision exempting churches from limited gatherings was “front page” news. The fact that the restrictions had been modified before the SCOTUS vote was a small article buried somewhere on the “inside pages” of the media.

    “Other research has found that certain Christians exhibit an almost hysterical fear that their “religious liberty”–defined by them as their right to prescribe the behavior of others– is slipping away.”

    As I mentioned a few days ago; religion has become part of government in the form of Republican evangelicals and laws such as RFRA here in Indiana, government has not violated the 1st Amendment by “establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. But preachers from their pulpits are campaigning for and supporting the far right candidates and are fully protected by that 1st Amendment. This situation has to be at least part of the explanation for those 74 million who continue to support Trump in his never-ending campaign for the presidency. Trump and Giuliani’s 40-some court cases are his way of making his grievances public and continue to make money while doing so.

    Sheila’s escape into fiction, science fiction and mysteries. describes the only way the history of Trump’s four year reign of terror can be written in history books. As comic relief I hope they include the fast-food banquets he held for sports champions and the wild-eyed picture of Rudy with black hair dye running down both sides of his sweaty face. They might add him trying to shut up his hand-picked witness yesterday who lost all control and ignored him completely.

    Does anyone else consider Trump allowing Rudy Giuliani to almost daily embarrass himself, the presidency, the legal system and the comedic performances as a symptom of his further mental deterioration?

  2. Of course Thomas and Alito are gratuitous and not really very balanced in their rulings. Thomas’ white wife is a right wing extremist. Boy it must be interesting to be a fly on their wall.

    Alito was appointed by G.W. Bush from deep inside the Federalist Society caves; recommended, of course, by the Alabama-born Mitch McConnell.

    There is NOTHING impartial about having ideologues on the Supreme Court. Well done, Republicans. You have once again shown your disdain for the democratic ideals and checks and balances intended by our founders.

  3. JoAnn, Trump is fundraising; nobody else but Rudy will help him.

    I am struggling with this statement by Sheila:

    “Equality is no longer sufficient.”

    The last I checked, the only “rights of equality” are rights as a citizen. Period.

    “Religious adherents” don’t have any more rights than anyone else in this country. I believe where they err mostly is they wrongly believe this is a Christian Nation founded on Christianity.

    Therefore, if you make this false assumption, as a “Christian adherent”, you feel you’re entitled to rights that don’t exist under the constitution. They have wrong beliefs.

    If you don’t have these rights (which they don’t), how can you grieve over their loss? How can you grieve over the loss of something that never existed in the first place?

  4. Todd check the history of Pence’s RFRA which basically protected those who didn’t want to sell to or service LBGTQs in Indiana. He had to rewrite the original enacted law then enact it a second time; information was made public that there was only protection for LGBTQs in 10 areas of the state of Indiana and Indianapolis was NOT one of those areas. When Mayor Ballard began getting threats of relocation of tourism and money making conventions, etc., he quickly added the law which protected them and became the 11th area of the state.

    President Obama made reference to this situation when he said, “Joe Biden and I have become such close friends I doubt we could order a pizza in Indiana.” President Obama and Mayor Ballard were both well aware of the “religious adherents” in the state of Indiana “having more rights than anyone else.”

  5. Just an FYI, a Federal appeals court has recently struck down a Boca Raton ordinance prohibiting the use of conversion therapy.

  6. Thanks, JoAnn.

    In my personal opinion, and probably a legal opinion as well, what Pence is doing and others like him at the state and federal levels, is to use their position in government to raise or enhance the rights of “Christians” above the rights of regular citizens.

    This is why they are packing the courts across the land. They know their actions stomp on our constitution so they need judges screened by the Federalist Society and others to prepare for what’s coming.

    Where’s Marv when I need him?

    Anyway, Pence isn’t a man of faith. He’s a man of weakness, sin, and evil. In the scripture, they’ve been told who has all power over man and God’s creation. There is but one Power.

    Why do you think they are using the government instead of relying on God to get what they want?

    Think about that one today because it will create an Aha moment; trust me.

  7. See,

    I’m not the only one that brings religion into the discussion, and, it’s a discussion that should be had!

    Because like I said in many other comments, or alluded to, if you don’t understand the religious firebrand, you will never be able to rectify the situation! In other words, if religion is your enemy, if their conduct and dogma works against civil society, then one must be able to understand it! And one must be able to be familiar enough with its history to argue against it or its representation. If you cross your arms, tap your foot, purse your lips, and jut your jaw, and, make your argument; CUZ, you’ve just lost! And, you’re no better than those you’re arguing against!

    Okay now, with that being said, why would a constitutional entity such as the Supreme Court work against the Constitution? And, conservatively speaking, arguing for gun rights and arguing for right to life are diametrically opposed, in other words, fear of loss of your gun rights and fear to impose a religious viewpoint on a secular issue is driving a lot of this. But it makes no sense, maybe unless you delve into the nonsense of it all. And if you don’t delve into that nonsense, you’ll never be able to argue the issue!

    Why would you have a Supreme Court possibly roil against contraception, and then roil against abortion, and then consider rolling back healthcare (especially, children from all those unwanted pregnancies), and then support unfettered gun rights that would take lives? And, I believe this is more political than religious. Because the political is using religion to motivate a base to stay in power. You’re always going to have those middle-of-the-road folks, maybe some that vacillate back and forth between parties or ideologies, but you have that strong 30 to 35% that can be built on with the right mixture of propaganda/PR to self aggrieve the necessary percentages for victory.

    If religion were removed from secular society, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. People are free already to worship as they see fit! They are not free or are not supposed to be free to impose those religious beliefs and dogma on others in civil society. It’s just that simple! If you don’t approve of abortions, don’t have one! If you don’t approve of contraception, don’t use it! If you don’t desire healthcare, don’t purchase it and don’t go to the hospital, don’t get vaccinated, and don’t complain when you’re sick! And, the real kicker, if you don’t love your neighbor enough, you should have the right to own a gun to kill him or her! Of course that kind of goes against the sanctity of life, but I guess hypocrisy before the sanctity of life.

    Todd would say, this is all well and good but what are your opinions going to do about it? Well, I will guarantee, it’s not Sigmund Freud nor is it Albert Einstein! Nor is it having better news papers or better cable news networks. It’s delving into the Constitution, it’s making it work for everyone! Like was mentioned yesterday, the Constitution cannot be a dead piece of parchment that was written by a bunch of old rich slaveowning white guys, who happened to be the only ones who could legally vote, it has to be a living breathing document like society is living and breathing and evolving generation by generation. Technology is changing generation by generation. And, has left the Constitution in the dust.

    Amendments to the Constitution are fine, but it’s also been whittled away and whatever protections it’s had keeping religious dogma out of civil society. You can’t add on to the bow of the boat (front) when the stern (rear) is full of holes drilled by politicians for purposes of control and manipulation. It’s a waste of time adding on to something that is failing, there will have to be something done about an arcane document that does not represent civil society and has been manipulated to allow religion into civil politics.

    Can this be done? I think if it happens, people are going to be aghast at the speed of which it happens. Which group will do it? I would suggest the group that reflects the majority should make sure they pick up that mantle 1st, otherwise, you’re looking at Nazi Germany, you’re looking at the minority ruling the majority. And, we can see how that turned out! But, there propaganda did use religion to demonize their fellow man and neighbors, and definitely, demonize their perceived enemies all the way to fomenting a world war!

    lugenpresse (fake press or fake news), lebensraum (manifest destiny/room to grow/blood and soil) and propaganda (as explained by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels) and, last but not least, Landeskirchen (or the German Protestant evangelical church) which was dominant and front and center in the persecution and demonization of the Jews!

    Look to history, the fear of loss and grievance is not something new, it’s happened already! And, it’s happening again! The Germans rewrote their Constitution, it’s about time our politicians get busy and rectify a lot of wrongs before those wrongs rectify society in a way that nobody will enjoy!

  8. To John Sorg at 9 am:
    I made it all the way through your comment today, which I don’t always accomplish. And I have to say that, overall, I agree with you about the need to pretty much rebuild based on justice for all. I think I have more desire to use the Constitution (or a stronger sense of its usefulness) as a key tool in that rebuilding that I hear in your argument today, but that’s tactics, not vision or goals. My most fervent hope is that this time can be the doorway into the enactment of that larger, bolder, more just vision. Before it’s too late.

  9. Peggy I’m sorry to hear of that Boca Raton finding.
    “…fear of loss can make people do criminal things,” takes me to “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire.
    And, the religious conservatives believe any number of absurdities!

  10. Thanks Connie!

    I always try to add enough contrast to my comments so people kind of know what my particular thought process is. Sometimes, it does make for a longer read.

    I don’t know, maybe I should expand my vocabulary a little bit more to shorten up the verbiage, lol! I’ll have to investigate ??

  11. John, since we all look to you for religious guidance, I hope you have done research on the latest events occurring around the world.

    1) Great Isiah Scrolls were recently discovered in the Judean Desert. Some have said this confirms that the Bible is in fact the Word of God.

    2) Great Monoliths (3) have randomly risen from the ground. Two in the USA and one in Peru maybe.

    What does the mean biblically?

    p.s. Teens dressed in MAGA garb destroyed the monolith in CA while videotaping it. They will not like what is coming their way.

  12. Monoliths, lol! I know you have tongue permanently planted in cheek Todd?

    Although it is fascinating how everyone jumps to conclusions about alien production of these monoliths and other issues, when they were basically made out of metal and plywood. You would think aliens or supernatural creatures would use other building materials beside sheets of metal and plywood,! Lol.

    As far as further fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls, that’s nothing new. The old testament was transliterated way before the discovery of Dead Sea scrolls, they just proved that the original biblical writings were correct. That they had not really changed over time.

    As far as maga goes, or maybe Maga Googoo, I would venture to figure that they were involved in putting it there in the first place!

    Maybe that monolith was an extraterrestrial voting booth where aliens were coming down from other civilizations voting for Trump, LOL. ?

    Hope you’re feeling motivated today Todd!

  13. JoAnn,

    You are repeating a myth about RFRA which is 100% false. Whether a store owner can refuse to sell goods to someone from the LGBTQ community, or refuse services, is based entirely on whether that state or city has a civil rights law protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. I have researched state and federal decisions and made and put together a table including all the cases that mention RFRA, and I could not find a single case, not one, in which a RFRA overrode a civil rights law, including override a civil rights law to allow store owners to deny service.

    Whether LGBTQ discrimination in providing goods and services can take place in Indiana never had anything whatsoever to do with RFRA. It has to do with whether Indiana has a civil rights law covering that topic. Indiana does not, but some municipalities does.

    After RFRA passed, I was at a legal seminar at the law school and every last panelist, including an attorney for the ACLU, said RFRA had no effect whatsoever on a business owner providing goods or services to someone from the LGBTQ community. That the only thing that mattered was whether there was a civil rights law including sexual orientation.

    It’s so unfortunate how the Indiana RFRA was misrepresented in the media. There are 30 states that have RFRA statutes. 10 other states have judicial equivalents of RFRAs. (I don’t think there’s a single state where RFRAs have been repealed, though there was talk about it states doing it after Indiana. ) There is a federal RFRA. RFRAs used to be almost universally supported by conservatives and liberals. In fact, the federal RFRA almost passed Congress unanimously.

    Somewhere along the line, the view became that conservatives were just trying to pass RFRAs to engage in discrimination in providing goods and services to LGBTQ people. Even if that were true – which I would hotly dispute – the fact is legally that has never happened and is not going to happen. Again, the only thing that matters is whether there is a civil rights law. RFRA is completely irrelevant to the issue of LGBTQ people being denied goods and services.

    Instead of bashing RFRAs, which are about protecting religious discrimination, supporters of LGBTQ rights would be so much better off spending their time pushing for civil rights laws that protect the LGBTQ community. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters.

    people in the LGBTQ community can be denied service

    I searched federal and state court court decisions and I could not find a single case in which RFRA every applied

    There is not ONE example of the RFRA to situations in which

    Todd check the history of Pence’s RFRA which basically protected those who didn’t want to sell to or service LBGTQs in Indiana.

  14. Jo Ann,

    I also read the “Fix” to RFRA. It most certainly did not rewrite the law. The “Fix” simply added the caveat that the RFRA the legislature passed would not have the effect of overriding any civil rights law, including those which protect for sexual orientation. But that was already the law. I talked to a law professor afterward and he agreed 100% with my assessment that the “Fix” did not actually do anything.

  15. Sorry about the extraneous last four paragraphs of my comments, two posts up. I was editing off of them and didn’t realize I had not deleted them before posting.

  16. The concept of the fear of loss describes part of what is popularly known as the circle of life. Most of us here are closer to the departure than the arrival part.

    We were born with nothing. We were built from the chemicals left behind by the dearly departed and grew into adults as we gathered our first helpings of knowledge. Many gained a spouse and a house and replicates of ourselves and cars and clothes but more importantly exposure to the growing collection of human knowledge. We contributed to various human ventures and became part of communities of more or less like people.

    As we matured we also were introduced to loss. Grandparents, some freedom relinquished to responsibilities, perhaps some illness that chipped away at the ultimate delusion of immortality. For me the first loss that really made an impression to me was the loss of my brother to a fraternity house fire when we were both in our mid 20s.

    Somewhere we crossed a line into territory in which the losses seemed to outnumber the gains and became growing faster.

    The political effect of all of that may be best captured in the saying that has been attributed to various people that “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” As the losses of life became it’s definition we change from the dream of more to the fear of less and hang on to what we haven’t lost yet even tighter.

    As the demographics of the world changed by progress into more older and fewer younger it seems that the liberal/conservative balance changed from favoring liberals to favoring conservatives. Democracies have tended to change from a freedom and growth orientation to a fear of loss, need for power to hang on longer one.

    Coincidence? Possibly.

  17. In my tireless efforts to save to save the government money, I have suggested, on several occasions, that since Thomas and Alito’s votes are predictable 99.9% of the time, they can stay at home (at no pay) and I will mail in, free of charge, the vote they would have cast if they weren’t in their dens celebrating the passing of RBG. To that end, and using the same approach, could be added almost $9 million each year (in salary) since 2016 for the votes of Senators whose cringing Republicanism required them to support the party ticket 100% of the time. Imagine the savings on wear and tear of Senate offices and desks on the Senate floor if they could be made to stay away. Since he has single handedly keep our government from moving forward for the last 12 years, I would modestly request a small stipend for preventing Mitch from showing his mousy face. Perhaps I might might be due a few dollars for keeping bipolar Lindsey Graham out of Washington as well.

    What, I ask, is the point of a vote if it is predictable every time it is cast? Is it of any value to the nation? Of course not, since it is never preceded by a period of reflection on the merits of bills under consideration. That same group that applies the principles of Trumpthink to every legislative decision is also responsible for determining the fate of $4.4 trillion in government funds annually. It is safe to assume that unless funds are allocated to the state they represent and The Orange Fop approves, they devote an equal amount of intellectual energy to their 4 trillion dollar decision. If this is what it looks like, God help democracy.

  18. Paul K.; I won’t take time to research your research but will only say that “refuting the myth” articles must have been one or two of those small articles on the inside pages I referred to. I do have to wonder why President Obama wasn’t aware of LGBTQ protection here.

  19. JoAnn,

    Paul is correct–but in a way, so are you. The problem in Indiana is that only a few cities have anti-discrimination ordinances that cover LGBTQ citizens, and our legislature had steadfastly refused to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state civil rights law. The passage of Indiana’s RFRA–which differed in language from several other versions– protected anti-gay discrimination in the parts of the state where no protection existed. That included the pizza joint in NW Indiana to which Obama was referring.

  20. Todd’s “If you don’t have these rights (which they don’t), how can you grieve over their loss? How can you grieve over the loss of something that never existed in the first place?”

    and John’s “And, I believe this is more political than religious. Because the political is using religion to motivate a base to stay in power. “

    Sheila proposed the topic, Todd hit on the core question and John gave a pretty concise answer as to why.

    Politicians are taking key issues and weaponizing them. Through a great propaganda machine, and unscrupulous companies that profit off of these lies, combined with people that are lacking education in civics, and too lazy to learn a little history, the result is grievance conservatives. It is all fueled by politicians that have figured out a good way to lock in a good portion of the electorate, because angry fearful people will be motivated to go out and vote.

    I don’t know how or why a supreme court justice would have come to such a twisted view of the world. I don’t know what they would get out of repeating such propaganda.

  21. Paul K. Ogden
    Copied and pasted from a Huffpost article dated March 30, 2015: “Ballard issued a statement before RFRA became law, warning that the measure would send the “wrong signal“ for the state, but Monday was the first time he had publicly spoken about it.

    Ballard also signed an executive order Monday reaffirming that groups doing business with the city must still abide by its human rights ordinance, which bars discrimination on the basis of categories that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

    The executive order also called on the Indiana General Assembly and the governor to “expressly add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in state law” and exempt Indianapolis from RFRA’s application.

    So far, Pence and the GOP leaders in the state legislature have said they’re not interested in adding LGBT protections — while at the same time insisting that RFRA isn’t meant to discriminate against anyone. They have said that they will try to add language, however, to clarify that RFRA should not be used to exclude people from service.”

  22. No one is born with a religious prejudice. He or she acquires it via direct emphasis from parents and others via the osmosis of mores and folkways. We pick up other prejudices as we come of age such as racism, wealth worship, American exceptionalism etc., some of which are incorporated into our religious biases; some not.

    The distinguishing feature is that some of the sub-prejudices we have incorporated into Christian bias provide a rich feeding grounds for politicians and, yes, Supreme Court justices, who can play out their long but silently held prejudices as God of the Law what with their supposedly unassailable opinions in re, inter alia, who can safely escape the terrible obligation to provide wedding cakes for same-sex marriages – even though those wedding celebrants pay taxes to help provide for the bakers’ sewers, police and fire protection and other socialistic schemes to make for the common good. Originalists will point out that Madison and Hamilton did not require them to hold that homosexuals must be treated via Equal Protection of the Laws, which is true, but trouble is, Madison and Hamilton did not require them to hold that heterosexuals must be likewise accorded their Privileges and Immunities equally, either, so that with originalist thinking taken to its dry logical end, no one has a right to buy a cake.

    I think they thought that their successors would have enough brainpower to fill in the holes and that future judges would follow the law as an objective matter rather than what they learned at home and by exposure to societal mores and folkways, but, Alas! Our Founding Fathers were wrong. We are still somehow using religion as a shield to act unconstitutionally in high places. The good news is that I think (with the addition of more justices) we are on the cusp of rectifying such threats to bake sales and same-sex marriages via a statute that will pass constitutional muster.

    (Parenthetically, and as an aside from the serious, I broke up yesterday after reading a squib on the internet from a writer telling us that “Socialism plowed my street this morning.”)

  23. Since you began your post with escapism in mind and shared a mystery author how about a sci-fi recommendation?

  24. “The stars are God’s” 1977 by Benford and Eklund, “Something Wicked This Way Comes” 1962 by Ray Bradbury.

    Available on Amazon.

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