Christopher Hume’s column in the Toronto Star on Friday joined the plethora of pundit-led assessments of why Stephen Harper and his Conservatives fell out of government last Monday.
He spent most of his ink on the need of large municipalities to have federal dollars for infrastructure, but ended with the following about voter feelings: “The message of the federal election, we are told, was that Canadians are hungry — starved — for change. They’ve had it with the politics of resentment.” This is the first reference to resentment and to the idea that resentment deserves recognition as an important part of politics I have ever seen, despite Hume attributing it to unnamed others. He concluded with a hint about what causes resentment: “They want the public’s business conducted in good faith, not bad blood.”
Yes, the Conservative Party under Harper is mean. Even though its basic tenets are still popular — more money left in taxpayers’ pockets, defend your friends from terrorists — the public has noticed how mean-spirited he is, starting with the ads mocking youngish Liberal leader Trudeau as being “not ready.” There has also been the canceling of the Census’ mandatory long-form, so necessary to social scientists, policy analysts, and even marketers, along with muzzling government scientists across the board. His niqab ban was spuriously based on an assumption that the few Muslim women that wore them were needing protection from demanding husbands and fathers. His muzzling didn’t stop at government staff, but extended to his own backbenchers and, according to many reports, his ministers
Resentment is one of the emotions, but one that is different. While it is confused with anger, the word contains an important clue as to its power — and its significance to politics. “Resent” means to re-feel something. It is an anger against how one is treated by another person or institution — or how others one cares about are treated. And because the treatment is doled out by a person or organization that has more power, it cannot be reversed simply by fighting back, because the treatment is probably simply get worse. So it goes on and on.
Harper wasn’t this bad in how he treated others during his first two mandates; he had minority governments and restrained himself for what he really wanted: a majority. Once he had that, the way he treated others turned darker, enough so that he became enemy-number-one at the first time sanctions could be considered: a federal election.
In news examples of resentment, I have come to realize that those who mistreat others often are, themselves, resentful of real or imagined mistreatments throughout their lives. In Harper’s case, it is liberals and progressives, but also justices, media, and criminals. It is seen as a matter of justice — an idea from the “old West” — that when one has, finally, the chance, one corrects injustice. For the last four years, Harper was wearing a white hat, correcting age-old injustices he and fellow conservatives are resentful about.
He could, perhaps, have saved himself and the power he had amassed by utilizing the wisdom of PR people who suggest one can save one’s reputation by saying you’re sorry and promising to change. But that would have required self-awareness that Harper never evinced. Instead, he is muttering, “enough with all you knaves” — including his own colleagues in government — and exiting abruptly and without allowing the media any question (or gloating, as his mind probably sees it). Perhaps part of his blindness to this resentment — which, after all, most of us don’t identify as such in our lives — is his economics background: he so believes that voters want to maximize their economic well-being that he can’t see any role for emotion, especially for the most important one for voters: resentment.