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The New Entitled

A sense of entitlement is a state of mind. There are lots of people who feel entitled in our society and the number is growing. Let’s take one example—the one percent. These are the people who appear to run the country. They don’t just run it economically, being CEOs or executives of major corporations, elite physicians, relatives within the  circle of a family owned megabusiness, superstar athletes and entertainers or just those who have inherited millions from their parents or grandparents. They also run the country politically. The now well-known 2014 study by Gilens and Page, published in the academic journal Perspectives on Politics concluded that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.” Furthermore, the organized interests that, along with the affluent, controlled policy in this study, were largely business-based, rather than mass-interest based. We have seen what happens when those who think they control the political process are frustrated by the the success of someone such as Donald Trump, himself a member of the one percent economic group and through his business donations in the past, part of the organized business interests. Those who contributed most heartily to Republican campaigns and candidates opposed to Trump—those who have controlled Republican party politics for decades—were dumbfounded and incensed that someone who did not acknowledge their right to choose the next Republican presidential candidate, could successfully challenge them. Their sense of entitlement was revealed. On the Democratic side, a similar challenge to entitled power interests has been apparent in the challenge of Bernie Sanders and his followers to the Democratic establishment, which is as much beholden to the wealthy and corporate interests as are the Republicans.

But those who control the American political establishment with their mostly monetary influence are not the only group whose sense of entitlement has been revealed in this election. Many of the folowers of Donald Trump and former candidate Ted Cruz who are White and Christian feel as if it is they, not non-Christians, recent immigrants, or people of color, who are the rightful heirs to this country. As such, it is their, not others', interests that should come first and whose rights need to be protected. Thus, despite it being a violation of the U.S. Constitution, they want to reverse birthright citizenship, to ban Muslim immigrants to the U.S., and to set up surveillance of their fellow Americans based upon their religious affiliation.

The sins of entitlement of both the rich and powerful and the religiously and racially bigoted have been a feature of America for centuries. The current election season has only revealed how much they still play a role in American life and politics. But there is a new kind of entitlement that has surfaced in this election. This is the sense of entitlement that gives people the right, in their minds, to put their own opinion and their own agenda above, not just the policies of the establishment, but the means by which politics are run in this country. I don’t just mean agitating to overthrow the Citizens United Supreme Court decision or campaigning for politicians who will not succumb to corporate lobbies. What I mean is those who refuse to allow those they oppose to speak. I mean those who disrupt political events so that they cannot occur. I mean those who threaten people whom they oppose or whom they believe are violating their sense of moral justice. This behavior represents a mind set in which one has elevated his or her judgments on issues to a level that, in his or her mind, justifies imposing them on everyone else—what he or she believes is so right that entertaining any concession to an opposite view is the equivalent of a moral failure. The person with this sense of entitlement doesn’t listen to counterarguments and when they are made in his or her presence, this person attacks whoever is making those arguments.

There have always been people with this sense of entitlement among us and in some societies, those people have become a majority that has used its political power to prohibit alternative points of view. Stalinist Russia is an example that comes to mind. What began as a rebellion led by a small group of zealots who were acting upon their newfound belief in a system that would right the wrongs of the cruel and repressive Czarist regime, became a system of equally cruel and repressive monolithic efforts at mind and behavior control. The Russian Communist example is an extreme one, but the Iranian revolution following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 imposed similar control on the population. What we are seeing in America in the 2016 election is certainly less revolutionary and is better conceived as a movement within the existing political structure. But there are stirrings of an ascendency of entitled thinking within some of these political movements, particularly among those that feel they are challenging the power within the existing system.

In Chicago Illinois, and Costa Mesa and Burlingame California, when Donald Trump tried to speak to thousands of his supporters, protesters tried to shut down his speeches and attack his supporters. In Nevada at the State Democratic Convention, Bernie Sanders’ supporters threw chairs, disrupted speakers, cursed out the Democratic Chair of the convention and sent her insulting and threatening emails and texts. In both cases, many of those who engaged in such behavior legitimized it as justified by either Trump’s positions on issues such as immigration or on what they viewed as a “rigged” convention system within the Nevada Democratic Party (and whether the processes within the convention were biased remains a matter of debate). Meanwhile, social media sites are filled with hate messages towards leaders or candidates who hold opinions different than the person posting on media and on college campuses speakers are either shouted down or disinvited at record levels (analysis of FIRE’s record of attempted “disinvitations” from 2001-2015 shows that they have not only tripled over that period of time, but that, in recent years such disinvitations from students on the Left are more than double those from the political Right). Young people, in particular, seem to think that their opinions hold a higher moral ground than their opponents' and justify not only suppressing their opponents’ speech, but also threatening them with violence or actually behaving with violence toward them. This lack of respect for the right of everyone to express his or her opinion and the additional view that one’s position is morally superior enough to justify attacking others with violence is a form of entitlement that threatens the process of democracy in this country.

Our political system in the United States is undermined by the influence of money on not just elections, but on government policy making. Those who proffer such money to politicians or spend it on election ads feel that they have earned the right to subvert our democratic processes. Bigotry toward minority races, nationalities and religions has long undermined the processes of democracy in the U.S. and generated protections within the Bill of Rights to our Constitution that, today, are in jeopardy by populist movements of those who feel that their White, Christian backgrounds entitle them to restrict the rights of those who don’t belong to their group. Both of these brands of entitlement, both of which threaten democracy, have been a part of America since its beginning. What is new is the kind of entitlement that imbues many people today—and to be fair, more of them are young and on the political left—with the belief that their moral positions, which they view as superior to those of others, legitimize suppressing the views of others and attacking those who possess them. This too threatens democracy. In America it is a struggle to make our political system work in the way it was designed to work. This struggle is lost at least as often as it is won. But violating the precepts upon which the system was founded—precepts that include allowing free speech, following rules of order to determine group decisions, and not engaging in violence to secure one’s own ends— is not the way to return it to the right track. No one is entitled to do that.



Reader Comments (3)

Well, you seem to have issues with Trump. Join the club! But I must say you also seem to have issues with the white, Christian group as well. Some of your points are valid and are true about the human identity...you are just choosing to pick on particular groups you don't seem to identify. Groups are going to have influence. That is the advantage of "groups." But you seem to skew meanings to fit your narrative, when the opposite is true. For example. Most people do not have a problem with immigrants coming into this country. I think we are one of the most generous countries in the world. No one is saying they want to stop that. BUT....you seem to forget that there is a rule of law in this country. THAT IS THE ISSUE. We have a system to protect the Legal Citizens, and to manage our populace. If the system isn't working, that doest give anyone the right to break the law. Change the system. That is how WE do it in America. Otherwise, why have laws??? Why do I as an American citizen have to follow ALL the laws of the land or else I go to jail, but you think it is okay for a foreigner not to have to do the same? NO other country in the world let's people sneak into their borders, pays for their education & healthcare, subsidized their housing, allow them to vote, get driving licenses, break laws, or partake in government subsidies! Nor do they allow Americans to live in their country and form Sanctuary cities where American's live by American laws! Christians are notorious for taking the poor, weary, and needy with open arms. To group them as some kind of protectionist fanatical is wholly unfair! Also, to imply that people who are against the Muslim migration into this country, or who are for building a wall are bigot is misleading, as well as shortsighted. Americans are very generous through government and charity groups helping those in need. To ask to be better prepared for immigrant to come into this country/cities/communities, be properly funded so that the small governments are not strapped, to make sure that people who are KNOWN enemies of the state, to be properly vetted before entering does not seem unreasonable or illogical. In fact, it seems quite sane and proper. NO ONE is saying to close our borders or to not help. In fact, quite the opposite. They are just saying, let's be organized, safe, and ready. That doesn't sound like hate or bigotry to me. As far as power in government....both sides are equally hoarding their power and not listening to "the people." Hence why both Democrats and Republicans alike are pursuing Candidates outside of the political machine. People are tired of not being listened to, and are raising their voices. Say what you want about Trump...but he is a movement against the very things your are complaining about: Fighting the Systematic Power of the few. But "the few" is not what you are claiming to be...only white, rich, Christian, and privileged.In California the MAJORITY voted against same sex marriage...and yet the officials felt that they knew better. Environmental groups have a strong hold in government and this President, making decisions for everyone (The Pipeline), overlooking the people's will. The LGBTQ organization is all powerful influencing what is being taught in schools outside of what Parents want. The yielding power you complain about is not one sided in the least. And the "money" is not in the hands of the conservatives only. The Clintons are prime example of this. So, although I agree with your premise that few people hold the power...and the majority are being left behind, I disagree with how you present your point. The point being...we the masses, need to be more aware of what is going on, stop giving these groups so much power, speak up, get involved, vote wisely, and take back the power our Constitution allows us to have!

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Torphy

Actually, the three types of bigotry-based issues I mentioned were 1) reversing the law about birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by our constitution, 2) banning Muslim visitors and immigrants from entering the U.S. (and per Ted Cruz, only allowing Christians from the Middle East to enter) and 3) Adding police surveillance to neighborhoods with a large number of Muslims. Restriction of freedom based on one's religion is bigoted and prohibited by the constitution. The issue of illegal immigration is not one I mention, but I would remind you that illegal immigrants are not eligible for government services, except emergency medical care, though their citizen children may receive them. And they are not allowed to break laws any more than is anyone else, except they are usually not deported after serving their sentence for breaking a law and of course being in the U.S. illegally is a civil offense, though not a criminal one. The real point of the article was about the "New Entitled" —those who use violence or suppress free speech because they elevate their moral code above that of others.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

Thanks for writing this, Casey. You make some good points and point out some potentially serious problems with the current political climate and the way people discuss (or fight about) politics. I was a little surprised when you singled out white Christians as the guilty party, since I think there is a prevalence of political bullying across the spectrum of opinions and demographics, but I acknowledge the increased potential for harm when a majority starts to fall into this kind of behavior. It's definitely something to be wary of and keep in mind.

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert L.

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