Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

GOP is drowning itself in its own resentment

Here's my thesis:

The primary cause of the multiple maladies afflicting the modern Republican Party is its reliance on resentment as its animating force.

That resentment has many targets: Resentment against minorities; against immigrants; against the Washington, New York and Hollywood elites; against government; against change; against political correctness and anyone in either party having the temerity to try to lead, and most of all resentment among many that they are being pushed aside and rendered irrelevant in their very own country.

Much of that resentment is understandable; some of it may even be justified. The problem is that by its nature, an overwhelming culture of resentment can be against many things but it can be in favor of nothing.  It looks backward with longing, not forward with hope; it leads always to no, never to yes, which explains why today's resentment-addled GOP has no answers, and why it cannot come to agreement about anything, not even among its own membership.

Some in the party, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, have at least recognized the problem even if they have as yet no solution to it. "I have made it a mission of my speakership to raise our gaze and aim for a brighter horizon,” Ryan said recently. “Instead of talking about what politics is today, I want to talk about what politics can be. I want to talk about what our country can be.”

That's fine talk; the problem is that his own people are deaf to it. As he was forced to acknowledge this week, Ryan's "Confident America" agenda is going nowhere in the House that he ostensibly leads because he cannot get enough votes within his own caucus to endorse it.

The reason is simple: What resentment craves is validation, not resolution. And the validation of resentment is all the explanation that you need for Donald Trump.

To be fair, it's not as if the House has been doing nothing. They've spent the last few days on what they've dubbed "IRS Week," passing a series of bills designed to express their contempt for the federal tax-collection agency and its employees. Those bills are going nowhere, but that isn't really the point. Nor does it matter to House Republicans that the target of their hatred is an agency struggling to administer and enforce a complex tax code written by Congress, using grotesquely outdated technology that Congress refuses to update, with an inadequate budget and workforce that a resentful Congress has insisted on slashing in recent years.

No management handbook ever written tells you that the way to improve customer service is to cut staff, run off good employees, make your remaining employees feel unwanted and despised and refuse to give them the resources they need to do an adequate job. So if your goal is to solve the problem, if your intent is to produce a more efficient, responsive, service-oriented IRS, the type of steps taken during "IRS Week" make no sense whatsoever.

But if your goal is to vent your frustration and resentment on a helpless whipping boy so that you can feel better about yourself, I guess it makes all the sense in the world.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.