Tom Junod at Esquire has an excellent piece on the well-to-do, older white people who he calls “America’s Super Minority“:
… Republicans, who once decried the rise of identity politics, now practice it so relentlessly, so ruthlessly, and above all so successfully that they’ve created a beleaguered minority where only a cosseted majority stood before. It is a kind of super minority, its material well-being encroached upon by the swelling ranks of the shiftless poor and its spiritual well-being encroached upon by shadowy “elites” whose figurehead is in the White House. And the odd hallmark of the new identity politics is that it requires a denial of identity: because of who you are, you can’t even say who you are. You can’t say you’re a Republican; you have to say what my friend says, which is that he’s “more Libertarian these days.” You can’t say that or say that you’re wealthy or, God forbid, rich; you have to say that you “do all right,” and “make good money,” but that’s only because you work hard. And you can’t ever say that you’re white, because, as my friend insists, “skin color is irrelevant. C’mon, you know me. You know I’m no racist.”
Now, my friend is right: I know who he is, and I know what he’s not. But I also know that an identity politics that requires a denial of identity also requires a response to the denial of identity — and the response is rage. Because of who they are, you can’t say who you are, and it is by this dynamic that yesterday’s Silent Majority becomes today’s Tea Party, gaudy and loud in its discontent, and that my friend becomes part of a privileged majority that perceives itself as an underprivileged minority — one of the Sore Winners.
This is what you hear again and again from the Sore Winners, whether you hear it from the professional Sore Winners or the Sore Winners who happen to be your friends: the conviction that no amount of financial success, political domination, religious hegemony or cultural is sufficient to take away the sting of being looked down upon.
It is one of the biggest dividing lines between liberals and conservatives: sensitivity. Liberals are supposed to be the sensitive ones, but even the liberals who worked themselves into a froth over George W. Bush never really cared very much about what he thought of them. But conservatives care what President Obama thinks. They care to the point of imagining what he thinks…
Worrying about what someone who doesn’t think about you thinks about you: this is the essence of Sore Winnerdom, and it is no accident that it also the essence of the Republican animus. The Republican party was small and hidebound — the party of country-club corporatists, and the range-war West — until, with the Reagan Revolution, it began grafting unto itself the legions of the disaffected: the Christianists, the Southerners, the blue-collar workers displaced by the collapse of America’s industrial base and estranged from the unions that failed them. The Tea Party, in this sense, is not a new development so much as it is part of an ongoing migration of the perpetually petulant, a political phenomenon grounded in a demographic one: the creation of a class of baby-boom retirees who have been deprived of meaningful work but given personal computers as Christmas presents. The skin on the Republican Party’s “Big Tent” is by definition thin, and under it gathers a volatile throng of people with nothing in common but the fear that outside its environs someone is laughing at them — or simply having a better time.
By all means, go read the whole thing. I’ve got an old friend from the Midwest visiting, and one of the touristy things we did this week was a trolley tour through “historical Salem”. The abbreviated, tourist-friendly version of the “reasons” behind the Witch Trials, as dispensed by a couple of elderly guides with local accents so thick my friend kept looking to me for translation, involved money (witches’ properties reverted to the state or to previous owners), pietism (the conviction that encroaching outsiders failed to appreciate the local godliness requirements), and a conviction by “the rich men and merchants” that women, children, and non-whites (such as the probably mythical Tituba) were getting uppity and in need of stern correction. The more things don’t change…