The Power Of Resentment

Every once in a while, as I wade through the onslaught of emails, newsletters, solicitations and media transmissions that clog my daily in-box, I’m brought up short by a sentence that seems profound. (Granted, the degree of profundity often varies with the amount of sleep I had the night before…) The most recent such experience was triggered by an Atlantic newsletter from Tom Nichols, who wrote that “resentment is perhaps the most powerful political force in the modern world.”

The context of that observation was in the newsletter’s lede

On October 7, the Republican House Judiciary Committee cryptically tweeted, “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” The tweet was, predictably, ridiculed—especially after Ye (as Kanye West is now known), just days later, threatened “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” on Twitter. But, intentionally or not, the committee had hit upon a basic truth: The three are alike.

What unites these successful men—and, yes, Trump is successful—is their seething resentment toward a world that has rewarded them money and influence, but that still refuses to grant them the respect they think is their due. And if we should have learned anything since 2016, it is that resentment is perhaps the most powerful political force in the modern world.

Nichols writes that the movements that historically motivated large numbers of people have dwindled, while today, it is “social and cultural resentment” that is driving millions of people into what he describes as a kind of mass psychosis.

I will leave aside Ye, who has his own unique problems (although I will note that his early career was marked by his anger at being shut out, as he saw it, from hip-hop and then the fashion world). Prominent and wealthy Americans such as Trump and Musk, along with the former White House guru Steve Bannon and the investor Peter Thiel, are at war not so much with the American political system, whose institutions they are trying to capture, but with a dominant culture that they seem to believe is withholding its respect from them. Politics is merely the instrument of revenge.

As Nichols reminds us, Trump has spent his life “with his nose pressed to the windows of midtown Manhattan, wondering why no one wants him there. He claims to hate The New York Times but follows it obsessively and courts its approval.” Elon Musk, who has put people in space and who claims to be a free speech purist, has blocked and suspended twitter users who made fun of him. “As one Twitter wag noted, Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is like Elmer Fudd buying a platform full of Bugs Bunnies.”

The great irony is that Musk’s other achievements might have vaulted him past perceptions that he’s a spoiled, rich doofus, but buying Twitter and making (and then deleting) jokes about self-gratification while telling people to vote Republican has pretty much obliterated that possibility.

Nichols is absolutely correct when he notes that the people who do support Trump are people with whom he would never, ever want to associate.

He is also correct when he notes that the people most likely to act out their resentments aren’t the poor–they are the “comfortably off populist voters” who were “never invited into the” top universities, the biggest firms, the major corporations.”

The January 6 rioters were, by and large, not the dispossessed; they were real-estate agents and chiropractors. These citizens think that the disconnect between material success and their perceived lack of status must be punished, and if that means voting for election deniers and conspiracy theorists, so be it…

And finally, look at the Republican campaigns across the nation. Few are about kitchen-table issues; many are seizing on resentment. Resentment sells. The GOP is running a slew of candidates who are promising that “we” will make sure “they” never steal an election again, that “we” will stop “them” from making your kids pee in litter boxes, that “we” will finally get even with “them.”

Voters in the United States and many other developed countries can lie to themselves and pretend that a one-year hike in the price of eggs is worth handing power to such a movement. Human beings need rationalizations, and we all make them. But voting as responsible citizens requires being honest with ourselves, and I suspect that we will soon learn that more of us are gripped by this kind of sour social irritation than we are by the price of gas.

Nichol’s essay is well worth reading in its entirety, and I encourage you to click through. I think his diagnosis is absolutely correct.

The problem is, he neglects to prescribe a remedy. And I can’t come up with one.


  1. Im not worried about Trump, Musk or West. I do see that some of there actions may be suicidal, but if you see injustice in your own eyes like they do and it goes against the power and political motives of others such as big government propagandists do you’re liable to be attacked.
    Florida did everything right and Desantis is called evil. Schools are showing the lowest test scores across the nation and that should be the main topic if you are an employer trying to find an educated work force.
    Most people on Twitter that are being cancelled are those that are pretending to be someone else. Its kind of like the New York Times pretending not to be a political arm of the Democrat party.
    These are successful people who would very much enriched in the eyes if the public to get a personal and political coach before they spew out an opinion.
    Regardless of ones politics and how these people effect the public. We need to be mindful that the poor need help as interest rates and prices are very painful. Its easier for us to handle economic hard times. Remember as we hunt down ourvpolitical enemies this Thanksgiving and election season to reach out and give a helping hand, donation of money or time.

  2. “—and, yes, Trump is successful—” I find this the scariest quote in the blog today. It was his years of obscenely successful business and sex life foisted on us as being a “success” by the media. Were and are the media voicing their “Resentment” believing it will raise them to Trump’s level of power and/or wealth? Trump continues “entering stage left – or right” applauding himself with his tiny fingered hands which are deep into other’s cookie jars. He is a “successful” Robin the Hood; stealing from the poor to increase his own and his cronies’ wealth beyond belief. Kanye, Elon and Trump trample over the rights of others, considering themselves as successful in whatever their endeavors may be. Elon obviously believed he could control America’s freedom of speech when he bought Twitter, only to have his own customers turn on him. They are turning up elsewhere to opine on Kanye, Trump and himself.

    I wonder have any of them; and the others who follow and support them, do they realize they are allowed to foist their demands and views on the world due to the democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution they are working so hard to destroy? What happens to them if they succeed; leaving them with their continuing resentment but nothing to protect themselves, their power or their wealth?

  3. Frankly I don’t give a damn about the three mentioned, or many, many others. They could disappear from the face of the Earth and I would not notice. I think DJT will run again and if by some fluke he is nominated again he will loose the general election and the Republicans do not want that to happen.

  4. Resentment is a tough one because it fuels an energy (rage and hate) that becomes addictive to the individual, but it’s also deadly. The classic analysis is resentment is a re-feeling of a wrong done (perceived or actual) to that person by another.

    However, after closer examination, the person with the resentment realizes they played a part in it. With a little more humility, the same person takes ownership of the behaviors which caused the resentment.

    Taking resentment from the ego and processing it in your heart is a process many people will never accomplish in their lifetime. John Sorg could probably identify where Jesus talked about it throughout the bible. It requires spiritual awareness. It’s also a gift that 10-step programs offer to participants should they want to get over their addictions.

    The three men mentioned are fueled by ego, and resentment accompanies an ego-driven life. Admitting you are WRONG is like death to an inflated ego. 😉

  5. These three “wise men” depicted in today’s blog present as malignant narcissists. In Trump’s case, he is a raving psychopath too. Okay. All rational people know that. But what to do? John S’s point about school test scores is one coincident symptom of where the “mass psychosis” lies.

    Resentment? Sure. The three amigos didn’t get the Little League trophy for just showing up. Besides the fact that they also present personalities fit for slime sweet fighters, they prey on the resentment of others – as was mentioned – to enrich themselves at the expense of the “suckers” and “losers”.

    But back to the solution: One Texas high school principal once told me that the ABCs of education were “Athletics”, “Band” and “Cheerleaders”. Gosh. Where do you suppose that (1) egoism and narcissism begins? And (2) where do you suppose the resentment factor comes from when the majority of the children aren’t part of the ABCs? But who demands the ABCs? The parents who want to live vicariously through the successes and exploits of their children. Bragging rights for the parents sitting next to the parents whose children are NOT part of the ABCs.

    So, resentment is learned through competition gone bad, or other factors like the lack of the perception of “beauty”. The point is that our schools/parents are raising a society that develops resentment. Some churches try to ameliorate that situation by emphasizing the humility of Jesus, but then the band strikes up the fight song. Resentment is, therefore, a solid part of our culture. What isn’t part of the solution is enough quality parenting that teaches humility and community service to those who aren’t part of the ABCs.

    What few people understand is the gratification that comes from being humble oneself and helping those who are not part of the ABCs to understand that their other attributes are just as important – if not more important – that blowing a horn, throwing a touchdown pass or being able to do a cartwheel. THAT comes from good parenting. And you don’t have to be rich to be a good parent.

  6. All 3 are spoiled, entitled whiners to whom much had been given.

    Had they been born 30 years earlier, they would have turned out differently.

  7. Terry Franzman; I view these three, and a few others, as being in the process of ego masterbation. Or; can it be considered a “circle jerk” at this time with no satisfaction in sight? I’m hoping it will become that “circular firing squad” President Obama warned the Democrats of becoming. Sadly; that is still an unheeded warning with some sitting Democrats who remain problematic in Congress due to that “resentment” of not getting their own way on all issues.

    Just my opinion from down here at grassroots level; peering through the weeds looking for a way out of our current Constitutional crisis.

  8. Resentment allows the right to take the easy way out. They don’t need to formulate policies. They don’t need to actually govern. They only need to make sure that the show continues to attract and entertain the base.

  9. Exactly correct JoAnn about the legislators being resentful on either side and bills don’t get passed. I was upset that the Senate bill to help our schools protect themselves failed when a unanimous consent failed. They used to be more civil. Maybe it should be that 60% in the house and 55% in the senate would be needed to forward a bill then maybe the little guy would not get hurt so easily.
    Resentment is what got Trump elected as some felt discouraged by the ACAs results. Failure to cross the aislecto create a better bill went to away two decades ago it seems.

  10. Exactly correct JoAnn about the legislators being resentful on either side and bills don’t get passed. I was upset when Senate bill to help our schools protect themselves failed when a unanimous consent failed. They used to be more civil. Maybe it should be that 60% in the house and 55% in the senate would be needed to forward a bill then maybe the little guy would not get hurt so easily.
    Resentment is what got Trump elected as some felt discouraged by the ACAs results. Failure to cross the aisle to create a better bill went to away decades ago.

    Enjoy this little ditty about twitter users snd resentment

  11. It seems to me that resentment is bound to crop up whenever one focuses exclusively on what one doesn’t have while ignoring, or at least devaluing, what one has. The antidote is gratitude. So, how do you teach gratitude and the joy of helping others? Not by reciting platitudes, but by example and by giving children opportunities to experience that joy for themselves. Good parents, teachers and mentors build that into their interactions with children. We can think about ways to nourish that in our culture and communities. BTW, it can be taught to adults, too.

  12. resentment,looking at trump and how he over decades,he was allowed to influence his political cronies who helped make him rich. NewJersey was the pinicle of that influence and his make Atlantic city his. few if any outside his grand vission cared how eminate domaine made the jersey shorline his,and his demond seeds called children very rich,at the cost of many a working/retired persons land,or life..the glitz of push and shove and the use of news medias by his big stature of money and bellowing bullshit shows us how dangerous the system is. the past day trump doesnt show us how his billionaire bullshit buddies who spit on him for being what he is,and how they now follow suit. its the glitz and power of media that gave the little person something to dream of. is it beyond reality,someone does the work?how about we get paid to afford our dream,instead of watching agent orange throw democracy around like a rag doll,that alone will end any america we ever dreamed of. money has become a glitz figure on any t.v. channel. hammered home by what you do not have laughing at ya. if the working class wasnt blinded by the money thug,would they recognize the problem? do the money thugs feel we dont deserve a even break,and they pay half of congress to make sure we never see one. no one has even mentioned the wealth of shareholders and the money the lock up out of the economy.but then take social media and yelling into their ears fox like propaganda has paid off. all these money thugs want is all of it,and they for 40 years have damn near made it all theirs. while the working class is lied to and given a rainbow stew of bullshit.we may have voted ourselves again into the same corner,the lies and spin of the canidates is impressive,to bad its all bought and paid for by those who have decided America is theirs and the working class can go to hell.

  13. The aggrieved (mostly) white males who easily found high paying manufacturing jobs for several decades since the economic boost after WWII have refused to accept that they must now compete with people of color, women and foreigners for good jobs. This was a country built on white male supremacy, so how dare the rest of us have the nerve to demand a fair chance in life?

    Musk and trump are spoiled little boys that are used to bullying others. Without the food fortune of inheriting their wealth, I don’t believe either one of them would have achieved their power and status on their own. It looks like Musk is rapidly destroying his $44B Twitter purchase. Kanye West is the only one of the three that accumulated his wealth on his own, but appears to be throwing it away by stubbornly thinking he can publicly attack a group of people without suffering any consequences.

    The republican party leaders recognized over four decades ago that they could not keep their power without lying and cheating. Newt Gingrich started the poisonous partisan combat of using name-calling, conspiracies theories and obstructionism that the republican party uses to this day. They don’t talk about what good things they will do for the country and citizens if elected, because they truly only care about corporations and their large campaign donations that keep them in DC and in state legislatures.

    Our only hope of saving what is left of our democracy is that enough young voters will be smart enough to recognize where the R’s priorities lie and demand fair voting and fair representation. They need to demand an end to gerrymandering and Citizens United.

  14. JoAnn:
    Obama ran off hand and hand with wall street. we put our dice in the cup,and rolled with least he should have been eloquent enough to expose the game,instead he ran with diamon and the lot. he sure was a nice guy to hear talk,he could have started the working class into a new institution of being the majority they are,instead he allowed by silence the working class get fleased by wall street and its greed games..

  15. Not sure if Nichols’ was saying Trump was successful at business and/or politics. But I would quibble with both assertions.

    Trump led his companies into bankruptcy six times. Several of them went out of business. He most years didn’t make money as evidence by what tax documents we’ve been able to obtain. When he was alive, his father was constantly bailing Trump out. Trump ended up inheriting a total of over $100,000 million over the years. He could have invested the money in the stock market and have made more money than he has now. If you add up how much Donald Trump has made over the years and subtract how much he’s spent, you’d most certainly have a negative number The only reason he isn’t in the hole is the bankruptcy laws. Donald Trump is one of the worst businessmen in the country. He’s failed at business his entire life.

    He’s not a successful politician either. He basically drew to an inside straight and narrowly pulled off an upset in 2016…thanks to the Electoral College. He’s been losing elections ever since then. Trump as a politician is a LOSER.

  16. One of the most lovely things in life is admitting you are wrong. When you become strong enough to know you are wrong, admit it and apologize means you are taking steps toward being a more highly evolved human being.

  17. Sharon,

    You are so right; however, the next generations have/are exhibiting “narcissistic” tendencies which are fed every day by the changes in brains from screen time v/s people time, the focus on personal/tribal “brands” and the role modeling of same by parents. IGIO.

  18. DJT is the antithesis of values-based leadership.

    A values-based leader possesses both integrity and servanthood: two principles that I don’t even think DJT can spell!

    But the hallmark of any values-based leader is humility: realizing at the core of one’s own being that we are not superior or inferior to anyone else. That is why humble people are truly great people who realize that there is always more for them to learn and open themselves to new growth. Such a person also recognizes that he/she needs each other person on the team and that none of them can accomplish their goals alone. Without humility, a person views the world through a totally different lens which spawns resentment.

    I would strongly suspect that DJT must be one of the loneliest people in the world when one peels back all the serious flaws in his character that so clearly define his life.

  19. You are right but it goes beyond respect. I had a conversation with a relative who lives in a rural area the other day and it hit me why my relatives who used to be democrats are now republicans and Trump supporters. They resent being left behind and ignored. I would have liked to have stayed where my relatives live but I got an education and there were no jobs in the area where I grew up for people with my level of education. She complains that the local Methodist church was closed down by the denomination because there the congregation had dwindled to the elderly poor and could not pay their apportionment. This left our elderly relatives who could not drive to the nearest Methodist church 20 miles away with no spiritual support other than the fundamentalist churches that have not pulled out. All of our mainline protestant denominations – not just the Methodists – have abandoned the people in small towns and rural areas and they resent it and rightfully so. The mainline protestants have basically driven small town and rural people into the arms of the fundamentalists who have not deserted them. The Catholics seem to be doing the same thing. Until the non-fundamentalist churches are willing to take care of people in small town and rural areas and not abandon them, we can expect small towns and rural areas to remain fundamentalist and red.

  20. Lester, there are very many examples around us of people teaching and practicing gratitude and service if we open our eyes to them. It is up to us to see them, appreciate them and emulate them. It is easy to focus on what is wrong and demand changes. Much harder to be the change. I do think that the people who are posting here are trying to be part of the change.

  21. Democracy, though severely wounded, came through again for freedom as in 2020. It turns out that it is more important to a majority of voters than entertainment is. There is hope.

    The next two years will be a shitshow of politics with minimal governance and maximum blame, the stuff of entertainment.

    The electrification of transportation will become officially underway accompanied by more sustainable re-sourcing of electricity; the temporary nature of fossil fuel economics will show up: more of the evidence of anthropogenic global warming will be piled up in landfills and both internal and external immigration stats; Putin will go the way of Trump into oblivion; Biden will become a well-respected President Emeritus; China will be the next threat to everything: resentment towards change will define the era.

    The sustainability of the work of freedom will be challenged.

  22. Excellent comment, Todd S.

    People don’t reason so much as they make emotional decisions and then use their thinking to justify whatever it was they wanted to do. This is supported by neuroscience. The only antidote is education and arming people with critical thinking skills.

    People who lack the these capacities, however, will always be this way, and this will always be a threat to democracies. The extension of political power to everyone means that many voters will always be incapable of making rational choices.

  23. In his book, “Morality,” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks argues, “Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.”

  24. Terry, raging psychopathy is part and parcel of malignant narcissism, but you are right, they
    do present that way, though I would venture that Trump is the only one who is such.
    And, no, TFG would not have made it were it not for his daddy’s money!
    Musk, as I’ve read, did make it on his own, but that does not mean that he’s not a wounded
    guy. Ye has other sorts of MH issues, apparently, as does Georgia’s Walker, and the latter
    has been somewhat open about it. Sadly, one does not wind up with DID without having been
    seriously traumatized at an early age, when one’s mind is still capable of creating such an extreme
    defense as “other” personalities.
    I can easily buy Nichols’ thesis, but I will ask…how many of us got into the top universities, and
    companies? I did not, for one, though I did finish college and graduate school. I’ve never been
    resentful of those who did. I used to respect those who did, until I found out about people like
    Ted Cruz, et al., who did and still wound up being worthy of no respect at all.

  25. Me’ism, self-agrandizement, narcissism, self-delusion, willful ignorance, cognitive disassociation, sociopathic Malcontents, on a massive pity party scale!!! They will take the entire planet down with them!

  26. Lester: Thanks for that heavy-duty quote from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. In so few words, the rabbi says so much. Paraphrasing “Blazing Saddles,” we might say, “Self-restraint? We don’t need no self-restraint.” Oh, but we do, and that includes Kanye, Musk, and Trump.

    Sheila: Interesting topic today. Thank you!

  27. After a half-dozen motorcycle trips across country on a big but very quiet BMW, in which I talked to hundreds of gas station owners, waitresses, store clerks, mechanics, farmers, and just plain people (I’m pretty gregarious in real life), I conclude:

    Average people are very nice when in their tribe, but they flail around in politics, sex and religion. Even tentative, careful forays into such conversations raise their hackles.

    Politics now is about sex and religion for the fear factor, and resentment about dashed dreams of endless toys and movies.

    All arguments for Technocracy. Wikipedia has a nice article.

  28. When existence becomes uncomfortable, people have a tendency to look for whom to blame. In regard to test scores, it seems to me the entity to blame is a virus called Covid. It caused many school districts to cancel classroom classes and students were learning via t.v. It has not been as effective as classroom experience and test scores have fallen. Why not concentrate on “make-up” efforts instead of searching for a scapegoat?

  29. Paul – I think, or hope, that Nichols referred to Trump’s “success” in controlling the GOP even after being twice impeached and losing the 2020 election. That is his real, and only, success.

    Great post Sheila.

    I see we still have the “both sides” and “damned youth” arguments.
    Many valid points were brought up on what is needed, picking just a few, jack smith’s comment on our abandonment of the workers, although I always thought Obama was less Progressive than many hoped. Also Jan’s comment on test scores. I could add that I have read some sources suggesting that we aren’t devoting enough resources, and perhaps using the wrong methods to make up the losses from COVID days.

    As a solution, I have one – look at the 2022 election and REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. One or two more thumpings and the bigots might crawl back under their rocks and leave the GOP to became a rational party again.

  30. Dear Sheila, I think that Vernon Turner is absolutely right in presenting Good Parenting as the solution to today’s question. Good Parenting includes two things, unconditional love for your children and recognition for the person that they are and teching them about social rules so they can move self confident andcomfortably through society as adults.

  31. Nice, Adrian! Many modern parents want to hang out with their kids and be the kids’ best pals! Note how moms dress and style their hair these days. Moms and dads are PARENTS, and kids need to hear ‘No’ occasionally. A certain re-elected TN governor was quoted at least once as saying that as far as he was concerned, no child entering school for the first time would be required to have any vaccinations. I couldn’t believe my ears. I also never heard him say that again. And a local school board decided that nudging the 3rd grade acceptable schoolwork improvement bar downward would make the system not look so bad (after Covid-19 isolation) as compared to nearby school systems. Swell, huh?

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