This week’s readings raise questions about how “we the people” function within structures of feeling, influenced by media or government. In Engels’ Essay I, “Reimagining the People: From Duas Civitates to E Pluribus Unum to E Unibus Duo”, Engels looks to Greek and Roman thinkers, the founders of the Constitution, political philosophers, and U.S. presidents to trace how resentment has been redirected in the context of democracy.
Engels suggests that the politics of resentment require a war within democracy, in which “the people” are redefined so citizens perceive themselves “not as a demos but instead as two groups at war” (26). He traces two redefining periods of “the people” — first, during the founding of the Constitution, and second, during 1960s Vietnam protests and calls for equality. Engels describes the first shift of “the people” by painting the founders as anti-democratic in many ways. They perceived democracy as dangerous because the masses posed a threat to the elite. The founders rejected, however, the classical conceptions of democracy “as a battle between the mass and elite” (duas civitates) and instead projected oneness: “e pluribus unum, out of many, one” (26).
Engels argues that the founders made this saying a reality by employing the rhetoric of enemyship (relying on a somewhat Hobbesian understanding of civil society, in which citizens agree to the authority of the state in exchange for protection against the enemy). In the face of economic and status inequality, oneness conveyed the message of “we’re all in this together”, especially when an enemy was present. Through enemyship, the founders made it so resentful citizens were seen as traitors. We see this still in the rhetoric of “you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists”. Engels argues wisely that this rhetoric disqualifies all dissent as unpatriotic. According to Engels, the unification of e pluribus unum suffered from 1960s Vietnam protests and calls for equality, and Nixon responded by encouraging division — e unibus duo, out of one, two. Engels says that Nixon used divisive politics to redirect resentment towards political enemies, creating a platform for the politics of resentment. This reading made me wonder whether the rhetoric of unification can last when economic or power inequality is vast. Do we reflect e pluribus unum today, or is it e unibus duo?
Diving deeper into structures of feeling, Engle’s “Putting Mourning to Work: Making Sense of 9/11” examines how the government/media prescribed a specific type of mourning after 9/11. This mourning tried to “make sense” of 9/11 in a way that created a selective idea of who was a 9/11 victim and how we should perceive the threat. Engle examines Norman Rockwell’s The Four Freedoms For Which We Fight series (inspired by Roosevelt’s 1941 speech) and the post-9/11 versions. Engle criticizes the ads “not from their commodification of Rockwell, but rather from their attachment of mourning to an object lesson — to make it work for comprehension of something inherently traumatic and without reason” (71). Engle says these post-9/11 versions redirected Cold War fears to Arabs and Muslims. In addition, she criticizes the group psychology encouraged through 9/11 souvenirs or kitsch sentiments (occurring when people try to situate themselves within historical moments of tragedy). Engle’s work is interesting in that it poses mourning as a kind of “work” and presents it here as a prescribed instead of natural experience.
Lastly, Sanchez-Escalonilla argues in “Hollywood and the Rhetoric of Panic” that film-makers have generally failed in depicting the complexities of life post-9/11, but between 2001-2008, Steven Spielberg became “one of the most sensitized Hollywood directors to the social fault lines caused by 9/11” (11). Sanchez-Escalonilla examines four Spielberg films: Minority Report (2002), The Terminal (2004), War of the Worlds (2005), and Munich (2006) to reflect on American society. Sanchez-Escalonilla categorizes Spielberg’s five points for reflection as the controversy between security and civil liberties, the risk of xenophobia, the self-destruction from constant panic from external threats, the implications of a preemptive war, and the human and social cost of violence-vengeance (12). His work further comments structures of feelings, in this case commented on through film. Are there any implications that his work is creative fiction, rather than more realistic or direct references to the five points of reflection?
These readings raise questions about the direction of political resentment (vertically towards government, or horizontally towards citizen) and how the direction can be influenced by government or media. They also highlight the influences of government or media in shaping structures of feeling, whether toward other citizens or not. Lastly, they raise concerns about how government or media can alter civic relationships through strategic rhetoric of oneness, enemyship, or division.