Is “nostalgic resentment” the key to understanding religious supporters of Trump?


Just yesterday I was commenting on the research showing that cultural anxiety fueled by beliefs resonant with Social Darwinism are behind the Trump movement in America. That’s beyond question, I think, but there’s more to it. Fred Clark, the Patheos blogger behind Slacktivist, claims he sees the root motivation behind the strong support for President Trump among evangelical Christians:

The idyllic past that these folks are pining for — the “again” in MAGA — is, as Graham says, imagined. This is not a nostalgia based on misty watercolored memories. Remembering is not involved. It is a work of imagination — of invention and fabrication. The past is being reconstructed and reinvented in order to serve the sentiments of today. And so this nostalgia, I think, is not the key factor, but a function in service of the key factor.

I think, in other words, that we’re not seeing “a kind of resentful nostalgia” but, rather, a kind of nostalgic resentment. Resentment is the core value, the essence, the fundamental thing itself. It is the one-word description that applies to Trumpism, to Huckabee and Brody and Paula White and to the four-fifths majority of white evangelicalism that listens to them.

This resentment is nostalgic in the sense that it is sentimental. It has the wistful feeling of nostalgia — a feeling cultivated, nurtured, and savored for the sheer pleasure of dwelling on it. This resentment is their spirituality, their hobby and habit, their avocation. They are attached to it. They identify with it and identify themselves by it.

As so often happens with a cultural problem, fear and anger combine forces to create a powerful, drug-like attractor that can placate the soul. Cultural anxiety and toxic resentment are a sort of opioid for many people to distract them and help them avoid painful realities. Clark is correct to point his finger at the dimension of nostalgic resentment contributing to some (but not all) of Trump’s support.

The flip side, unmentioned by the progressive Christian writer, is that some (but not all) progressives are quick to paint the past as mainly a narrative of oppression as wicked people in the white, Western, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy subjugated everyone from a position of privilege that must be taken from them in the name of liberation. That’s not nostalgic resentment; it’s bitter resentment… and if there were a contest about who is holding on to the greater grudges and exaggerations about a complex and ambiguous history, I’m not sure who would win. Couldn’t we all use a little less of either variety of resentment?

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