Bryce Draper pointed out a NYT opinion piece that tries to explain the anger behind the Tea Party movement through Hegelian analysis. It makes for an interesting application of Hegelian thought.
It’s a little fancy for my tastes. I think the most insightful diagnosis of the deep divide in U.S. politics has been brought forward in this essay by Jonathan Haidt. The divide results from two different but equally-dominant mindsets: basically, those who favor social order vs. those who favor personal liberties. Here’s a relevant section of Haidt’s essay:
“My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever “lost” him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.
“In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at http://www.YourMorals.org.) We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.”
If this is so, then I think the Tea Partiers are angry simply because Obama represents to them a very different mindset, expressed through a different set of values. It is not a matter of intellectual disagreement with any particular policy; reading Tea Party screeds reveals that there isn’t any penetrating analysis going on. It’s more like when you are in a meeting, and someone stands up to speak, and their manner of speech and word choice immediately makes you feel like throttling them, regardless of the content of their speech. They’re just different, in a vaguely loathsome way. Adults are supposed to suppress these feelings, set them aside, and get on with rational public discourse, but the American political scene isn’t animated by adults, for the most part. A basic pre-rational prejudice fuels the animosity, and then catch phrases are employed to provide a veneer of political justification. And it works both ways; I saw plenty of the same phenomenon in the incredible public anger aimed at G. W. Bush, often without any well-conceived rationale or argument based on information.