Since the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, there has been a brisk journalistic trade in narratives centered on political anger. We live in an “age of anger,” as the title of one 2017 book declared; more specifically, many argued that Trumpism was driven by “white rage” (the title of another popular book of the period). Yet journalistic anxiety over popular anger goes even further back than this: It also permeated coverage of Occupy Wall Street and other left-populist movements.
This framing has become increasingly obsolete. The anger and rage on evidence in the last decade seem to have subsided into slow-burning resentment. For those of us who have been following politics on the fringes for the past decade, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this resentment is the ultimate fruit of the political seeds planted in Zuccotti Park, ground zero for the Occupy movement, all those years ago. But this futile seething is most clearly in evidence on the far reaches of the right, which like the left has suffered one political disappointment after another in recent years.
Occupy Wall Street had a simple slogan: The 99 percent versus the 1 percent. That simplicity was appealing but analytically misleading. As Julius Krein has argued, “99 percent versus 1 percent” obscures the true nature of the class conflicts playing out in Western societies, which pit the top fraction of the elite, reliant mostly on capital gains, against lower, often downwardly mobile tiers of the elite largely reliant on professional salaries. It is from the latter sector that the footsoldiers of recent populist revolts were drawn.