Governing by Resentment

“Among the seven deadly sins resentment does not figure, and yet it is the gravest of all: worse than anger, worse than pride,” according to the great Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who died on the eve of the Spanish Civil War after publicly, and with great dignity, denouncing the Spanish fascists.

Resentment is the key to understanding our president’s personality. I do not mean this as an attack, and I do not believe there is a solution. I say it because virtually all of his public actions spring from resentment, and knowing this will explain a great many of them.

In her 2012 book, “Leadership by Resentment,” Venezuelan historian Ruth Capriles calls resentment “a morally harmful political passion. Rather than empowering people, it plays on their sense of impotence, corrodes their souls, erodes their institutions, and distorts social relationships and values.”

Capriles, a professor at the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas, wrote the book as a case study of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But the best study I have come across of resentment and its political uses is “Tiberius: A Study in Resentment” (1956), by the late Spanish physician and historian, Gregorio Marañon.

Because neither book mentions our president, but both provide X-ray analyses of what he has done so far, and will do tomorrow, I think their explanations worth consideration.

Tiberius (42 B.C.–37 A.D.), who succeeded Augustus as emperor, was a resentful, unpleasant man, who slid into degeneracy in his old age.

According to Marañon, “The resentful person is always a person lacking in generosity.” Resentful people cannot forgive, but resentment is not the opposite of generosity: one is a virtue, and one is a passion. “A generous nature has, as a rule, no occasion for forgiveness, because it is always disposed to understand everything,” so it is “impervious to the offense which presupposes forgiveness.”

Resentment, fostered by lack of understanding, is “a fermentation of feeling that breaks out when it is least expected, in some arbitrary form of conduct.” Marañon cites a speech Tiberius made to the Senate, during which “he broke out into a savage attack on one of his enemies” — who had been dead for 20 years.

Just so, Trump breaks out into savage attacks on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or whomever his latest target is, when they are nothing to the point, because Trump is not directed by the issues at hand: he is directed by his simmering, in fact, disabling resentments.

Success does not quell resentment. In fact, success feeds it, for the resentful man feels his success was delayed, not by his own failings, but by other people’s hostility, even by an unkind fate; this lends to his success “a certain quality of grandeur. … He regards success as a solemn consecration that his resentment was justifiable.”

Even benefactors — especially benefactors — are resented, for they are living reminders that he did not do it himself.

This helps explain Trump’s frequent double-crossing of his own party members: because he resents his own need for them, and again, because he is not reacting to the issue before them: he is reacting to his resentments — and he resents even himself, for needing the people he just double-crossed.

“Resentment filters through the soul, and betrays itself in every action,” Marañon wrote. He also was a psychologist, who treated people for these problems. He found that the resentful man often has an “addiction to anonymous letters.”

This was in 1956, before there was an internet or Twitter. One of his patients, Marañon said, “a tireless writer of anonymous letters,” told him that “with every one he wrote, he ‘got rid of a weight’ inside him.”

Here is the explanation for Trump’s ceaseless barrage of insulting tweets. They will never stop, because Trump will never shed that weight, nor will he ever run out of enemies, because they come from his own self-crippled, ungenerous mind.

Capriles sums it up in her case study of Hugo Chavez, who “systematically cultivated resentment and used it to grow a base of compliant followers who feel strong because they nurse a smoldering rage over a real or invented insult, grudge, injustice, or claim against others. Such followers are capable of abandoning human decency because of their misplaced belief that it is necessary to even the score. … Resentment allows terrorists to justify killing children and citizens to rationalize attacking their neighbors.”

As I said, I have no solution. But I believe this clears up what the problem is.

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