New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is best known for his economic analysis and his advocacy for broadly left-wing policies. But in his time as a public thinker, he’s also become a trenchant critic of the right wing, and in a new column Monday, he skewered the conservative impulse to be outraged about the most trivial and absurd perceived affronts.
As Exhibit A, Krugman pointed to the following bizarre outburst from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who has been one of President Donald Trump’s most vigorous protectors:
At restaurant tonight waitress asks if we want straws. Says she has to ask now in fear of “THE STRAW POLICE”. Welcome to Socialism in California!
— Devin Nunes (@DevinNunes) March 10, 2019
“If this seems like a weird aberration — he wasn’t even denied a straw, just asked if he wanted one — you need to realize that rage explosions over seemingly silly things are extremely common on the right,” wrote Krugman. “By all accounts, the biggest applause line at the Conservative Political Action Conference — eliciting chants of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A!’ — was the claim that Democrats are coming for your hamburgers, just like Stalin.”
Another recent example of this kind of reaction, Krugman noted, was the conservative backlash against the “Captain Marvel” move because — horror of horrors — it stars a female lead who espouses some feminist ideas.
Krugman continued: “The point is that demented anger is a significant factor in modern American political life — and overwhelmingly on one side. All that talk about liberal ‘snowflakes’ is projection; if you really want to see people driven wild by tiny perceived slights and insults, you’ll generally find them on the right. Nor is it just about racism and misogyny. Although these are big components of the phenomenon, I don’t see the obvious connection to hamburger paranoia.”
Indeed, many of the conservative attacks on liberals and the rest of society often function in exactly this way. They accuse their perceived opponents of displaying their own worst vices, whether its corruption, hypocrisy, neuroticism or bigotry. When they say the mainstream media is in bed with the Democratic Party and hopelessly ideological, what they really mean is that they think (falsely) that it is the mirror image of Fox News.
As Krugman suggests, this isn’t a minor observation about the conservative movement or the Republican Party. Supporters of President Donald Trump in 2016 often cited his “political incorrectness” as one of his most appealing traits — basically a catch-all term for someone who embodies this kind of “rage-filled pettiness.” Krugman careful to say that not every conservative or Republican is driven by these motivations. But the overblown reaction to minor issues is a powerful force within the party, and it’s not clear how it will get any better.