But more than the logic of leftist politics, its emotional dynamic has contributed to the cultivation of campus violence. Identity politics, which is now more or less synonymous with progressivism, has its soul and substance in resentment. It thrives on the arousal of resentment, on the instigation of perpetual outrage. The sentiment it needs most of all is the readiness to be offended, so it cultivates this frame of mind relentlessly. It takes little knowledge of human nature to understand how prone young people are to being corrupted by such rhetoric, given their emotional propensity towards defiance. Once corrupted, their indignation can take on a life of its own. There is no controlling such a beast once it is let loose.
Bruni wants the protestors to be alight with resentment, but nonetheless to respect the decorum of civilized life. He never considers that resentment is, per se, an uncivilized attitude, one that inevitably brings about uncivilized behavior. He writes of the early stages of the protest: “(Murray) arrived on campus … to encounter hundreds of protestors intent on registering their disgust. Many jammed the auditorium where he was supposed to be interviewed … and stood with their backs to him. That much was fine, even commendable, but the protest didn’t stop there.”
Imagine how unacquainted with basic human psychology you must be to suppose that a pack of 20-year-olds—aroused against the presence of a branded villain, inflated with self-righteous disgust, and egged on by their professors to behave with flagrant incivility—would somehow magically take hold of their passions and stop there. If the students were taught that, thus far, the effects of resentment were “fine” and “commendable,” then who in the world can be surprised they would push a little bit further?