The New York TimesThe New York Times

How the right turned radical and the left became depressed

By Ross Douthat

29 Mar 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

The NYT's conservative columnist Ross Douthat examines the rising "happiness gap" between Republicans and Democrats, offering a sharp analysis of the (very strange) state of American politics.

One of the notable dynamics of American life today is that conservatives report being personally happier than liberals but also seem more politically discontented. The political left has become more institutionalist, more invested in experts and establishments, even as progressive culture seems more shadowed by unhappiness and even mental illness. Meanwhile conservatives claim greater contentment in their private lives — and then go out and vote for paranoid outsiders and burn-it-down populists.

These dynamics aren’t entirely new: As Musa al-Gharbi writes in an essay for American Affairs, the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives is a persistent social-science finding, visible across several eras and many countries. Meanwhile, the view that “my life is pretty good, but the country is going to hell,” which seems to motivate a certain kind of middle-class Donald Trump supporter, would have been unsurprising to hear in a bar or at a barbecue in 1975 or 1990, no less than today.

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