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The Right's Urge to Kick Down: Doing Unto Others as Has Been Done Unto You

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Andrew Schmookler     Permalink
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In "More on the O'Reilly/Stewart Brouhaha: The Right-Wing Urge to Kick Down," I offered one explanation of how non-rich white people can get motivated to kick down on those below them (especially blacks, but also any of those "takers" they like to contrast with the virtuous, hard-working people they like to see themselves as being). It is an old con job, where the dominant class sells a phony picture to induce one group of people they are exploiting to take their anger and frustration out on those below them.

Kick downward at the suppopsdly lazy, good-for-nothing poor, rather than protest upward at the source of the real injustice.

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But that explanation doesn't explain the impulse to kick down shown by the likes of Bill "What White Privilege?" O'Reilly, nor by the rich men with whom Mitt Romney sought to ingratiate himself with his "47%" comment.

Surely, part of the motivation for the distortion of reality is that the warped picture provides justification for the elite's lack of compassion for those who suffer under their domination.

But something deeper is going on.

It is not only the poor who experience being the recipient of a downward kick. That template of the downward kick is so ingrained in the culture - at multiple levels, and especially in some parts of the culture - that even many who, in socio-economic terms, are in dominant positions have had profound experiences of that kick-down pain.

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Consider, for example, the core of the worldview of many in our civilization - i.e. in the religious realm - captured in the famous phrase of that eighteenth century New England theologian, Jonathan Edwards: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

This idea expresses an important part of how, over the centuries, a large segment of white America has understood the nature of the relationship between man and God.

Christianity can, of course, express itself in other ways. In black churches, for example, it is not "an angry God" one hears about--at least judging from the many hours I spent attending services in black churches (mostly in Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia) during my campaign for Congress a couple of years ago.

In these services, I heard three main themes.

One was a theme of God's love available as a comfort and a support in one's suffering and despair. Even if one knew nothing of the historical and situational context of the congregation, one would know that this message was being delivered to people who were struggling, beaten down, in need of an infusion of hope.

A second was a theme of gratitude, calling upon the listeners to be thankful for the things that they do have--thankful for that morning, for the sunlight, for breathing, for each person among their friends and families. Even if one knew nothing of the context, one would intuit that it was important for their well-being for the people in the congregation not to focus on their deprivations.

And the third was a theme of possibility and responsibility, the idea that giving in to despair was not allowed, that an attitude of "yes I can" will carry you through, and that God is there to support you along the way. (No encouragement heard there for being a slacker, or a taker, or a parasite.)

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Another thing I never heard a word of in a black church was any image of a wrathful God. (The world, perhaps, dishes out punishment enough. There's no need to look to heaven to compound that burden.)

In white churches, over the generations in America, the message has very often been different. * [Note, below]

The notion that we are all deserving of damnation, and saved from eternal torment only through an undeserved granting of God's grace, goes deep in the American religious tradition. Certainly not all white churches focus on the depravity of the human being and the wrath of God. But the sermons of "fire and brimstone" are still to be heard in America. And in any event, the echoes of that message still resonate in the culture.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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