Wednesday, July 07, 2021


On July 4, I wrote a rebuttal to Kevin Drum's post arguing that liberals are more to blame for the worsening culture war than conservatives. Drum asserted that liberals have moved further to the left in the past generation than conservatives have moved to the right -- ignoring the fact that the politicians conservatives vote for tend to be right-wing absolutists (on guns, on abortion, on the minimum wage), while Democratic politicians aren't absolutists of the left. If there's an asymmetry, it's in the relative moderation of most positions held by Democratic officeholders.

Writing for The New York Times today, Thomas Edsall makes clear that he recognizes Republican extremism and the harm it has done to the country, for which he blames Donald Trump ("he has left an enormous footprint — a black mark — on American politics, which will stain elections for years to come"). But Edsall approvingly cites the work of scholars who assert that partisan polarization, and specifically the desire to wish harm on opponents, is evenly distributed across the political spectrum, and thus is presumably damaging to both right and left in equal measure.
In their July 3 paper, “Partisan Schadenfreude and the Demand for Candidate Cruelty,” Steven W. Webster, Adam N. Glynn and Matthew P. Motta, political scientists at Indiana University, Emory and Oklahoma State, explore “the prevalence of partisan schadenfreude — that is, taking ‘joy in the suffering’ of partisan others.”

In it, they argue that a “sizable portion of the American mass public engages in partisan schadenfreude and these attitudes are most commonly expressed by the most ideologically extreme Americans.”

In addition, Webster, Glynn and Motta write, these voters create a “demand for candidate cruelty” since these voters are “more likely than not to vote for candidates who promise to pass policies that ‘disproportionately harm’ supporters of the opposing political party.”
So how does this manifest itself?
Webster argues that “among those who accept the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and is not attributable to natural causes, over one-third agreed that climate change deniers ‘get what they deserve when disasters like hurricanes make landfall where they live.’”

... Webster went on:
Democrats experience schadenfreude when individuals do not follow CDC health guidelines and get sick from the coronavirus. In a similar manner, Republicans tend to express schadenfreude when people lose their job due to businesses following government regulations on the economy during the pandemic.
But even the most partisan Democrats don't vote based on schadenfreude. We vote for candidates who want to mitigate climate change in red states as well as blue states, and who want to build infrastructure in Appalachia as well as New England. We may grumble on social media that vaccine refusers who die of COVID-19 are getting what they deserve, but President Biden wants those people to get vaxxed, and we agree with him.

The examples of Democratic schadenfreude cited above refer to bad things conservatives are seen to have done to themselves. Republicans, by contrast, voted twice for Donald Trump, who actively punished groups he saw as outside his base. He stiffed Puerto Rico after a pair of brutal hurricanes, broke up immigrant families, and banned visitors from Muslim countries; his son-in-law, in charge of responding to the pandemic, recommended forgoing a national anti-virus strategy in favor of blaming blue-state governors for outbreaks that at first were concentrated in their states.

Except perhaps among a subset of radical leftists and anarchists (who don't vote Democratic anyway), there's no left-wing equivalent to this:

Or this:

On the right, these are mainstream and not at all controversial.

On the left, there's some desire to punish the rich, but it's usually limited to the notion of reducing their wealth to approximately what it might have been in the Eisenhower era (which still would have been a lot). And yes, many on the left want to see Donald Trump and others in his circle imprisoned -- but only because they're presumed to be criminals. There's no widespread interest in harming ordinary Trump voters.

On the right, the cruelty is the point. On the left, not so much.

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