Happy New Year. But it’s not very. In fact, the world is doing mostly the wrong things—and often deliberately so. The economy is booming and the only two real threats to human survival are global warming and nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, angry rural, poorly educated whites in the US, Britain, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Russia, France, and Brazil are choosing to destroy the rainforest; reject carbon taxes; cut funding for health care, education, and science; reduce taxes for the rich; permit the pollution of waterways and air; build the worst conceivable new nuclear weapons, insult their allies, and sell weapons to murderers.
Only in France are the populist movements mainly about economic inequality; elsewhere people resent their lowered social prestige. They direct their anger against rival “identity groups” such as immigrants, women, gays, Mexicans, Jews, and Muslims who are, they say, “treated better than us.” The sharpest rage is aimed at “smart-ass elites and journalists who keep harping on scientific ‘facts.’ We’ll fix them and their damned facts—even if it kills us!”
This is the politics of spite. The losers in a culture war retaliate against every policy promoted by the uppity intellectuals, scientists and environmentalists, even if it means “cutting off their nose to spite their face.”
Donald Trump is the perfect example. At some point when he was a kid, someone must have made fun of him. Infuriated, little Donald swore that he would never again feel shame. Since then, he has deliberately tried to shock others precisely to prove he is not humiliated by “your goddamn opinions.” His vulgarity is intentional.
Spiteful people prefer the past over the future, vowing to “make America or Russia or the UK great again,” by resisting every change that sophisticated city folks endorse—even if doing so ruins their own health and financial well-being. And it will.
What is the cure for spite? If you have a suggestion, please send it to our letters column. And happy new year.