Using resentment and envy to win the Presidency

I was recently interviewed by a University student as a project for his class on diversity. I told him how thankful I am that I don’t have any inclination to view people as better or worse based on race or status. Part of the reason for this is the fact that I grew up in a major metropolitan city (Philadelphia) and was surrounded by diversity. But I also didn’t hear or see any racial attitudes in my home.

My parents never treated people differently based on race or lifestyle. My father taught me to be as comfortable in the presence of a doctor or attorney as I am with any other person. I simply don’t rate or rank people based on these kinds of outward distinctions. Of course, this should be my outlook as a follower of Jesus Christ, but I am thankful it was part of my upbringing.

This is one reason why I have a growing hesitation to talk or write about politics. I don’t like being misunderstood as hateful or biased when I know it isn’t true of me. Yet, after many years of writing for newspapers, I’ve experienced a number of false accusations of hate and prejudice. This is part of the unfortunate nature of written communication. But I am willing to risk this rather than to conform to the mandates of a culturally imposed version of intolerance (ironically labeled as tolerance). We’ve foreclosed on authentic social engagement when we’ve been convinced that taking different views is equal to hate.

It’s sad that when we have to prove that a different viewpoint politically or morally doesn’t mean that we think we’re better than those with whom I disagree. Tolerance is clearly not part of our experience when a special interest group is telling us that certain viewpoints are forbidden from public dialogue (i. e. viewpoints within lawful parameters). I actually believe that the true virtue of tolerance is displayed when we strongly disagree with others and yet treat them with complete respect.

This brings me to the current political arena. Like a growing majority of Americans, I am dreading the campaign ad pounding we’ll be taking as the two parties move closer to the presidential election. The over-the-top demonization of candidates and political parties is enough to disgust anyone. The amount of money spent to do this is closer to being immoral. When news anchors are in overdrive to demonize everything about one political party, their extreme bias invites rational people to tune them out. Sometimes I wonder if certain ones are being paid to campaign for a political party.

I realize that this is “politics as usual,” but something is very wrong when a political party uses a narrative of resentment and envy to win the office of president. It’s one thing to demonize the other party or candidate; it’s another to feed public resentment toward a group of citizens. Those who are stoking resentment toward the so-called “rich” are intentionally inciting envy, hatred and perhaps even violence. Is this what we want to hear from our leaders? Although I consistently vote on the conservative side, I don’t demonize people with whom I disagree.

Equally disturbing is the number of people who are already playing the race card. If we want the public to move beyond issues of race, why do our leaders stoke such thinking by projecting it on to others as often as possible? This is feigned concern being used to manipulate the public and I hope it backfires — not because I want one party to win over the other, but to teach leaders not to risk inciting hate among the people for self-serving political purposes.

I hope reasonable people will see through these divisive efforts to stoke resentment and envy. Being successful doesn’t make a person evil or less caring any more than being poor means you deserve more money from others. Let us remember that the poorest among us have it far better than the large majority of people on this planet! Where are the leaders who teach us to work hard and to love our families and neighbors while finding joy in contentment and gratitude? I am not suggesting that one overlooks injustices but we have mechanisms for addressing such matters. But we should be very suspicious of any leader who fosters hostility in the electorate toward each other to lift himself to public office.

Resentment and envy take people to very bad places as individuals and as societies. I am reminded of how Pilate, the Roman governor realized that “it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him” to be crucified (Mark 15:10). Envy can lead you to want to eliminate the object of your resentment. It has happened repeatedly in some of the most horrific acts in history.

I am not interested in sounding conspiratorial, but I hope that no matter your political affiliation, you’ll have the wisdom to reject any leader who uses a narrative of resentment and envy to win your vote.

Steve Cornell