Righteous indignation is an emotional or angry reaction over the perception of the mistreatment of another. Though it has a basis in Christian doctrine, it has become a rallying cry on all sides of the political spectrum. The more one is able to claim moral outrage, the easier it is to make a moral argument. Historically, it can be the basis of the fight to free slaves, the creation of the New Deal, or even the establishment of a federal income tax. But more recently, it is being used to club political opponents.
Democrats used it throughout the Trump Presidency. Republicans used it against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and are now using it against New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo. The problem is that whereas righteous indignation used to be used in earnest to put right above wrong, and the victimized over the oppressor, it is now being mined and cultivated like any other resource. Those who waned to abolish slavery had the primary goal of abolishing slavery. However, righteous indignation today is used as a means to achieve political ends. Simply put, righteous indignation is a currency. The more indignant one is, the more sympathetic others are to their views.
This is on full display whenever a high-ranking official is on the hot seat. Democrats benefited from being able to impeach Donald Trump twice without removing him from office. They were able to elevate him onto a pedestal and point to Trump as the bogeyman. There was never any reason for them to want Trump out of office. They were able to use him to run successful campaigns in 2018 and again in 2020. Trump was more useful as the whipping boy than he would be if they had successfully removed him from office. One could say that Democrats were more interested in keeping Trump in office than they were in removing him. After all, the man was a never-ending righteous indignation mine. If anyone was ever running low on resources, all they had to do was look up what he had said that morning, and just pick at the best supply.
The proof of this is that ever since President Biden has taken office, Democrats have had a hard time replacing him. For the first several months, they didn’t. They kept going back to the Trump mine. But they could not understand that the fact that he was in office was what was supplying the materials. Once he was out of power, the mine kept producing, but the materials were not as precious as they had previously been.
We are now seeing this same concept play out in New York State. It seems like the only people who do not really want Governor Cuomo out are the conservatives. After all, it is a lot easier to punch up at Cuomo while he is in office than if he is to be ousted. The moral high ground is with state Republicans as long as Cuomo is in office. If the Democrats fail to oust Cuomo, the Republicans can continue to claim the high ground. Additionally, Republicans may be afraid of who would be the next governor once Cuomo can no longer run. The next executive leader of the state may be further to the Left than the present one. The longer New York has a moderate Democrat at the helm, the longer they may not have to deal with a radical.
However, Democrats have the opportunity to not only claim the moral high ground, but do something incredibly rare: impeach and convict a member of their own party. If they are able to do this, they will create a righteous indignation mine that will be giving them resources for years to come. “See?” they will be able to say. “When our own does wrong, we take care of it. You let it sit.”
The irony here is that while Republicans publicly call for the head of Andrew Cuomo, they secretly hope he stays, much like when the Democrats called for the head of Donald Trump. If Cuomo can stay in power, and perhaps run for office again, Republicans can make something out of it. In fact, since New York is such a blue state, many who would normally be registered Republicans are registered Democrats. And if Cuomo were to survive this and run for office again, guess which “Democrats” would be more likely to vote for him in a primary?
As long as we treat righteous indignation as a precious resource, it will always be more likely for the opposing party to secretly hope that the problem for the other side remains the problem.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.