Mediating shame and pride: countermedia coverage of Independence Day in Poland and the US

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  • 1 University of Helsinki, , Finland
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This article adopts a comparative qualitative approach to studying the rhetoric of injured pride in the coverage of Independence Day celebrations by the right-wing countermedia in Poland (wPolityce.pl) and the US (Breitbart News) from 2012 to 2018. In both countries, the number of countermedia articles on Independence Day proliferated in the aftermath of the election of the Law and Justice party (2015) and Donald Trump (2016). Based on the analysis of the narrative strategy for affective polarisation, we argue that the countermedia mobilise support from an electorate of ‘the disenfranchised’ by strategically invoking emotions of shame and pride. By positioning the radical right as a political force that shields ‘patriots’ from the leftist ‘pedagogy of shame’, the outlets instrumentalise the mobilising potential of shame by transforming it into righteous anger and pride. This strategy results in a mediated ‘emotional regime’ that offers guidelines for an acceptable emotional repertoire for the members of the nationally bound in-group.

Abstract

This article adopts a comparative qualitative approach to studying the rhetoric of injured pride in the coverage of Independence Day celebrations by the right-wing countermedia in Poland (wPolityce.pl) and the US (Breitbart News) from 2012 to 2018. In both countries, the number of countermedia articles on Independence Day proliferated in the aftermath of the election of the Law and Justice party (2015) and Donald Trump (2016). Based on the analysis of the narrative strategy for affective polarisation, we argue that the countermedia mobilise support from an electorate of ‘the disenfranchised’ by strategically invoking emotions of shame and pride. By positioning the radical right as a political force that shields ‘patriots’ from the leftist ‘pedagogy of shame’, the outlets instrumentalise the mobilising potential of shame by transforming it into righteous anger and pride. This strategy results in a mediated ‘emotional regime’ that offers guidelines for an acceptable emotional repertoire for the members of the nationally bound in-group.

Introduction

In the rhetoric of the radical right, emotions feature prominently. Invoking the emotions of shame and pride in particular has rallied expanding electorates of the radical right on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years (Bonikowski, 2017). Against this backdrop, it is important to analyse the strategic use of emotions in radical right countermedia (Ylä-Anttila, 2017; Pyrhönen and Bauvois, 2019; Ylä-Anttila, Bauvois and Pyrhönen, 2019; Kazlauskaitė and Salmela 2021). In this article, we examine the emergence of the polarising, nationalist narrative of injured pride, electrifying a right-wing constituency of ‘patriots’ in Poland and the US during the 2015 and 2016 elections (Kasprowicz, 2015; Klaus, 2020), and which continue to build an ultrapartisan collective identity.

On the occasion of the 99th Anniversary of Independence of Poland in 2017, the leader of the ruling right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS) Jarosław Kaczyński publicly declared: ‘We reject the politics of pedagogy of shame. We are going in the direction of Poland, which will be able to tell that it is an independent and proud country.’1

In his speech, Kaczyński promised that his party would shield the patriotic Polish citizens from the negative emotion of shame (for a discussion on the role of shame in the Polish context, see Törnquist-Plewa, 2002; Bilewicz, 2016; Czapliński, 2017; Gosk et al, 2019; Kazlauskaitė and Salmela, 2021). Since harnessing the term ‘pedagogy of shame’,2 the party has further developed this narrative to condemn any critical accounts of Polish history in the mainstream media, films and historiographical works. The new politics of history downplays Polish participation in the Holocaust and emphasises the role of Poles as victims and heroes in the Second World War, which could be interpreted as a sign of repressed shame felt in relation to the Holocaust (Leder, 2019: 41). Instead of shame, Kaczyński instilled hope for a renewed, stronger and united Poland, offering sources of pride for citizens by promoting the markers of identity perceived as stable and rooted in Polish history, such as Catholicism, patriotism, ethnicity and the fight for freedom.

In the US, Donald Trump’s ascendancy brought about a similarly emotion-infused rhetoric, rousing the so-called alt-right with the promise to ‘make America great again’ (for example, Hawley, 2018). Parallel to Kaczyński’s promise of a ‘good change’ – the great opportunity for finally overcoming the losses of the past and to emerge triumphant – Trump heralded a new, glorious future in his inauguration speech of 2017: ‘Our country will thrive and prosper again. [...] A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.’

Both leaders, in Poland and the US, appealed to a similarly emotionalised story, pledging to make the homeland strong and proud again. This rhetoric reveals the importance of emotions in mobilising support in an electorate called to self-identify as ‘disenfranchised’ (Taggart, 2004). While the scholarship on the role of emotions in political life has attracted substantial academic interest, more effort is needed to identify specific trends in the mediated politics in the post-truth era (for example, Boler and Davis, 2018). Despite their differences, the US and Poland underwent similar political transitions that allows for tracing the prevalence of overlapping repertoires for shaping the emotions of the media audiences during this particular period, marked by the rise of right-wing populist politicians.3

While much of the scientific literature has focused on fearmongering escalated by right-wing populist leaders (van Prooijen et al, 2015; Wodak, 2015; Rico et al, 2017; Peters, 2018), the scholarship addressing the role of shame has remained underdeveloped (Salmela and von Scheve, 2017; 2018; Kazlauskaitė and Salmela, 2021). As the hidden underbelly of pride, shame is an important emotion for understanding the escalation of pride in the radical right rhetoric. The ‘identity politics’ of right-wing populist parties instrumentalises the emotion of shame, creating a community and a movement of like-minded individuals, united by a shared aggravation (Hanson and O’Dwyer, 2019). Collective public displays of solidarity, such as through the mass events of Independence Day, provide a way to transform the emotion of shame about past wrongdoings into pride and hope for the future.

By studying the coverage of Independence Day celebrations in Poland and the US in right-wing countermedia, we examine how these outlets invoke the emotions of pride and shame in their audiences and analyse how they scapegoat specific targets as sources of shame and shaming, and pit them against ‘protagonists of national pride’. The Independence Day events in Poland, particularly the controversial March of Independence, organised annually by far-right nationalist youth organisations, have been a venue of intense emotional expression, often ending in street violence.4 Independence Day in the US has traditionally been celebrated with friends and family, together with huge sports and other media events with a strong mainstream appeal. More recently, the celebrations have seen a surge in protests, in an effort to confront the legacies of slavery and White supremacy (Joseph, 2020). Considering that the public expression of emotions is paramount in the creation and maintenance of affective bonds of solidarity, it is crucial to look at the role of the countermedia in facilitating the performance and expression of emotion.

We define ‘countermedia’ as media outlets, which ‘tend to explicitly oppose “the (mainstream) media,” as well as the establishment more generally’ (Ylä-Anttila, Bauvois and Pyrhönen, 2019: 1). A feature of the countermedia content, which has received little attention in the emerging countermedia literature (for example, Ylä-Anttila, 2018; Noppari et al, 2019; Hopp et al, 2020), is management of the audiences’ emotions. We argue that the right-wing countermedia outlets in Poland and the US, through their emotion-based coverage of Independence Day celebrations, help advance a particular ‘emotional regime’ (Reddy, 2001) that offers guidelines for an acceptable emotional repertoire for the members of the in-group. We define ‘emotional regime,’ following Reddy (2001: 129), as a ‘set of normative emotions and the official rituals, practices, and emotives that express and inculcate them; a necessary underpinning of any stable political regime.’ We seek to show how the right-wing media outlets actively participate in shaping the emotions of their audiences for political gain: in other words, how they contribute to an emergence of an emotional regime founded on pride, anger and rebuttal of shame. By igniting outrage and identifying targets for the release of anger, the countermedia outlets prime their audiences for the antagonistic schema of shame and pride.

In order to tap into the nature of emotional appeals in the politicised media, we focus on the portrayal of Independence Day in the right-wing countermedia in Poland and the US. The article compares the coverage of Independence Day in Poland and the US by, respectively, the media outlets wPolityce.pl and Breitbart News between 2012 and 2018. Both are among the most popular right-wing media outlets in Poland and the US, and they are vocal supporters of right-wing politicians.

We divide the Polish and the US countermedia coverage of their Independence Days into two periods. The first period dates back to the three and a half years directly preceding the right-wing populist leaders’ rise to power (2012–14 in Poland and 2012–15 in the US), while the second period of the same length pertains to the time right after their election (2015–18 in Poland and 2016–18 in the US). Operationalising the time periods like this allows us to trace the emergence of a similar shift in mediated emotional expression in both countries, a shift that appears to coincide with the rise of right-wing populism in Poland and the US.

Before moving into the empirical analysis of the countermedia coverage of Independence Day in Poland and the US, we first conceptualise the mediated repertoires for managing emotions that drive support for radical right, and provide an overview of the dataset and method of analysis applied in order to map the emotions in countermedia articles.

Invoking emotions in radical right mobilisation

The rhetoric of right-wing populist parties aims to mobilise electoral support by tapping into the fears and insecurities of their voters. Salmela and von Scheve (2017; 2018) draw attention to the link between fear, anger and shame in capitalist societies, where the precariousness of working life and a heightened sense of personal responsibility for failure augments the mobilising potential of shame. These negative emotions are skilfully utilised by the radical right, who redirect the self-destructive feeling of shame away from the self and transform it into anger towards elites, refugees, minority groups, those who are long-term unemployed, and various internal and external ‘enemies of the nation’ (see also, Scheff, 1994; Turner, 2007; Salmela and von Scheve, 2017; 2018).

The framing of Others by the countermedia as freeloaders enjoying the good life without the hardships of work serves to infuriate the right-wing populist constituency and encourages them to feel victimised, humiliated and betrayed (Flecker et al, 2007). They long for recognition, respect and appreciation for their hard work and sacrifices (for example, Hochschild, 2016), yet are not able to maintain the standard of living they feel both entitled and obligated to achieve (Flecker et al, 2007; Hochschild, 2016). This further contributes to the feelings of insecurity, fear and helplessness, which the radical right simultaneously generates and taps into by voicing outrage and promising empowerment.

In this context, demands for tolerance, empathy or political correctness constrain people’s ability to act on their negative emotions (Salmela and von Scheve, 2017). Anger, on the other hand, instils a sense of power, dominance and righteous action (Britt and Heise, 2000). Movements wishing to diffuse such a transformation from shame and loneliness into pride and a common purpose externalise the blame for people’s loss of self-esteem or status, encouraging individuals ‘to feel angry not only because the system is unjust, but angry that they have been made to feel ashamed’ (Britt and Heise, 2000: 257). The public displays of anger injected in the celebration of national unity thereby empower those susceptible to feeling stigmatised or ashamed. The yearning to feel pride instead of shame is embodied in the figure of Donald Trump, who not only deflects anger and resentment onto the out-group through the use of strong emotive language in his public speeches (see, for example, Wahl-Jorgensen, 2018), but also presents the emotional response of his supporters – national pride, enthusiasm, hope – as a collective achievement (Hochschild, 2016: 225).

While Hochschild’s (2016) work illustrates how the emotional messages of the right-wing populists’ opinion leaders are effective because they resonate with the authentic, lived emotional experiences within the population, it does not explain how affectively charged rhetoric is circulated and internalised. However, as Polletta and Callahan (2017) suggest, the political common sense of Trump’s supporters is shaped by stories they encounter in the right-wing media and through personal contacts. When presented by familiar talk show hosts and columnists, these emotionalised, ultrapartisan narratives transform public accounts of anger and shame into experiences perceived as the audiences’ own (Bonilla-Silva et al, 2004). In this sense, Polletta and Callahan’s (2017) argument expands on Hochschild’s (2016) insights by highlighting how people’s sense of personal experience encompasses the stories encountered online and offline (cf. Prins et al, 2013).

The above point illustrates why public displays of anger and pride have the capacity to generate emotions and mobilise individuals, who previously did not feel them (Hochschild, 1983; Thoits, 1990; Clark, 1994; Reddy, 2001), providing a powerful resource for political parties, social movements and ultrapartisan (counter)media outlets. Criticism, anger and hatred targeted at perceived enemies of the nation and the self constitute an effective emotional appeal, used by mainstream and populist parties alike (Ost, 2004; Wahl-Jorgensen, 2018). Anger has a capacity to cultivate ‘an emotional connection with supporters, […] an emotional bond that can best be maintained when the other is cast negatively as an object of aversion’ (Ost, 2004: 230). The source of anger, hatred and resentment, however, can be found in a repressed shame that remains hidden as the eliciting emotion (Turner, 2007; Salmela and von Scheve, 2017; 2018).

As Turner (2007: 521–2) argues, when ‘shame is repressed, it can be manipulated by those with an interest in deflecting this anger onto chosen targets; typically this manipulation involves the symbols of one social identity and juxtaposes this identity through narratives about the evils of another social category or social identity’. Strategic media communication contributes to the work towards emotional transformation and the maintenance of an emotional regime (Reddy, 2001), as political parties or social movement agents incite emotion in order to mobilise support (Britt and Heise, 2000). Countermedia outlets play a crucial role in this process, creating bonds of affective solidarity built on emotion-infused stories.

The shifting socioeconomic and cultural landscape whereby traditional institutions, values and gender roles lose their salience further fortifies the feelings of insecurity. Since social identities that emphasise national identity, ethnicity or language are free from shame-provoking references to competition, they become attractive sources of belonging and self-esteem (Salmela and von Scheve, 2018: 447). This explains the heightened role of Independence Day celebrations in radical right rhetoric. They provide an opportunity to establish a sense of collective belonging and national pride, and to foster collective memory (for example, Šarić et al, 2012). Because of this strategic mobilising potential, Independence Day coverage also becomes a site of contestation in the media, where established outlets compete with countermedia outlets in the politics of identity transformation and emotion management.

Mapping emotions in the dataset

In order to illustrate the strategic use of emotion in countermedia coverage, we selected articles from two prominent right-wing countermedia outlets in Poland and the US. In 2010, wPolityce.pl was established by twin brothers and journalists Jacek and Michał Karnowski. Its content focuses on the coverage of political news and is connected to the print weekly Sieci and online news channel wPolsce.pl. Since its establishment, the popularity of wPolityce.pl has grown steadily. According to a March 2018 survey, wPolityce.pl was the most popular right-wing news website in Poland, with over 1.2 million individual users (Wirtualmedia.pl, 2018).

Breitbart News was founded in 2007 by Andrew Breitbart and it vociferously supported Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Its former executive chair Steve Bannon served as the White House chief strategist in Trump’s administration. In the aftermath of Trump’s election, however, Breitbart News experienced a sharp decline in visitor traffic. In June 2018, the website attracted 6.1 million visitors, down 54 per cent from June 2017 (Darcy, 2018).

All the articles included into the analysis were published during the Independence Day weeks (9–15 November in Poland and 2–9 July in the US) between 2012 and 2018.5 We gathered all the articles that mentioned Independence Day from both countermedia outlets per each individual year and country, searching for mentions of ‘Fourth of July’ and ‘Independence Day’ in Breitbart News and for ‘Święto Niepodległości’ (Independence Day) in wPolityce.pl. Out of the total number of weekly articles (see Figure 1 below), we then selected the most commented and/or shared articles from each year. This meant that the selected articles elicited strong reactions among their readers, attesting to their emotional impact.

Figure 1:
Figure 1:

Number of articles per Independence Day week, wPolityce and Breitbart News

Citation: Emotions and Society 2022; 10.1332/263169021X16364177574612

The dataset to which emotion mapping was applied consists of 40 articles in total that encompass right-wing countermedia coverage of the Polish and American Independence Days during two periods – before and after the electoral success of right-wing populist politicians – allowing us to trace the shifts in mediated emotional expression. The first set of articles covers the celebrations in Poland between 2012 and 2014 and in the US between 2012 and 2015. The first set consists of 16 articles in total (eight per country). Both in Poland and the US, the number of articles on Independence Day increased in the aftermath of the election of the Law and Justice party (2015) and Donald Trump (2016). Hence, we decided to include more articles in the analysis of the post-election period. The second set of articles consists of 24 articles (12 per country), covering the Independence Day celebrations in wPolityce.pl (2015–18) and Breitbart News (2016–18).

We coded the articles inductively with Atlas.ti, focusing on emotions and other relevant attitudes, judgements and evaluations connected to the Independence Day events. The primary focus of recognising emotions surrounding the contentious issues discussed in the content was driven by the chosen theoretical framework, but codes were derived from the data. In this regard, we adopted a blend of a conventional and directed approach to content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). We chose the qualitative approach because expressions of emotion were often employed in the media content indirectly and had to be identified with the help of contextual knowledge.

In the case of shame, both explicit mentions and implicit markers were taken into account. For identifying the latter, we used Salmela and von Scheve’s (2017; 2018) theoretical framework. When the media outlets referred to humiliation, inferiority and helplessness in the context of low status and defeat, which are linked to feelings of shame, we applied the code ‘shame’ to those passages. Both instances of shame and shaming were coded as ‘shame.’ This meant that, irrespective of what the audiences felt, the media outlets sought to channel shame by alluding to it indirectly, via the negative feelings of inferiority, humiliation and helplessness. They sought to use these negative feelings as a catalyst for anger and affirmation of (national) pride, self-esteem, hope and empowerment. As we wanted to examine both the concrete and indirect repertoires for expression and interpretation of emotions in the countermedia coverage of the Independence Day celebrations, we chose to analyse this dimension qualitatively.

The coding process resulted in 306 codes, the majority of which were grouped into seven code groups: Criticism (69), Pride (66), Shame (52), Respect and Disrespect (41), Mobilisation (29), Anger (17), and Fear (14) (see Appendix A for details on the coding approach). We then identified the most popular codes in the countermedia dataset in both countries before and after the right-wing populists’ rise to power (see Appendix C for a detailed list of these codes for each time period and country). The aim of this approach was to detect the key thematic trends in countermedia content in both countries and time frames, which then served as the basis for the qualitative analysis in the following sections. The main themes that are listed at the beginning of each section of the empirical analysis directly refer to these most popular codes.

In terms of the quantitative features of the countermedia coverage, we observed a particularly sharp increase in the number of articles in Breitbart after the electoral victory of Trump. Figure 2 shows the number of articles per year (2012–18) in wPolityce.pl and Breitbart News relating to the topic of their respective Independence Days. The content of each article included in Figure 2 was verified as dealing specifically with Poland’s or the US’s Independence Days. In Breitbart News, an overall pattern of increase in the number of articles can be observed, particularly after the victory of Trump. In Poland, the number of articles on Independence Day is higher in 2012 and 2013, when the current opposition party Civic Platform was in power. Around the time of the 2015 Polish parliamentary elections, the number of articles on Independence Day noticeably declines, likely explained by the media’s priority to focus on the elections and to avoid to escalating the topic of Independence Day after the take-over of power by Law and Justice. After the 2015 elections, the number of articles on Independence Day begins to grow steadily. A sharp increase marks the 2018 centennial anniversary of Independence Day of Poland.

Figure 2:
Figure 2:

Number of articles on Independence Day per year, wPolityce and Breitbart News

Citation: Emotions and Society 2022; 10.1332/263169021X16364177574612

Comparison of the top codes, both between the countries and the different periods, reveals, first of all, how criticism became a more prominent element in the countermedia content in the period following the right-wing populist victories in both US and Poland. The primary addressees of criticism include celebrities, the liberal/leftist political elites and mainstream media outlets. In the US, starting from 2016, there is a sharp increase in the criticism directed at celebrities for their lack of patriotism, disrespect for right-wing values and the US itself, and criticism of US history. In Poland, criticism of celebrities and leftist/liberal political elites or mainstream media outlets also increases markedly from 2015, and is accompanied by ridicule and sarcasm as rhetorical repertoires are used for downplaying the points of view of opponents. Criticism here is connected with the emotion of shame and encompasses being both the subject and object of criticising/shaming. As we will illustrate in the next section, the shared characteristic of the countermedia framing in Poland and the US is the claim that the left invokes the past in order to shame and feel ashamed about past wrongdoings, whereas the right invokes the past in order to feel pride.

Mapping shame and pride in countermedia coverage

Shame and pride before the right-wing populists’ rise to power in Poland

In wPolityce.pl, shame and pride emerge in the period before the victory of Law and Justice (2012–14) in relation to three key themes: (1) the shameful image of Poland in the international context, (2) the shaming of celebrities for their lack of patriotism, and (3) a role model of patriotism that counters the shame associated with being a Pole, and instead exudes pride and loyalty.

The annual violent clashes on Independence Day between the demonstrators of the March of Independence and the police, as well as the 2013 attack on the Russian embassy by demonstrators, stirred up discussion about their impacts on the Polish ‘brand’. The choice between feeling proud or ashamed of the Independence Day celebrations and, in particular, the March of Independence, became the emotionally polarising point between right- and left-wing supporters. Politicians and celebrities, who position themselves against the policies and values of PiS, are portrayed in wPolityce.pl as being ashamed of Poland or Poles. For example, actor Jerzy Stuhr, when asked if Polishness amuses him, is quoted saying: ‘As the first reaction – always. Later I begin to feel bitterness and pain. Because Polish politicians again made fun of themselves […]. I am often ashamed.’6 (D34; please refer to Appendix B for the list of cited articles)

The actor not only equates the shameful actions of Polish politicians with Polishness, but links Polish identity with negativity, self-victimisation and aggression, which manifested most visibly at the March of Independence. Stuhr claims that his criticism of Polishness has the purpose of helping to fix the negative traits of his national community. Stuhr’s stance is seconded by actress Anna Mucha, who expresses feeling ashamed and wanting to emigrate because of the violence enacted in the name of patriotism on Independence Day. In turn, wPolityce.pl instrumentalises her critical remarks in order to shame the actress for not paying regard to those who sacrificed their lives for the Fatherland (D31). The feelings of shame are redirected away from the self and transformed into righteous anger and shaming of celebrities in return.

In contrast, wPolityce.pl offers a role model of patriotism, Maciej Jewtuszko, a Polish mixed martial artist, who declares: ‘I am not ashamed of being a Pole and always support Polish teams. This is patriotism for me: to always be together to the end.’7 (D33)

As a response to shame, he offers a formula of patriotic pride, which underlines the importance of preserving the memory of and feeling proud of the deeds of his ancestors. Throughout these different stories appearing on wPolityce.pl in the period before 2015, it is possible to observe a shared narrative that offers guidelines for national emotion management: Poles should get rid of their shame and embrace pride.

Shame and pride before the right-wing populists’ rise to power in the US

On Breitbart News, shame and pride emerge in the period preceding the victory of Trump (2012–15) in relation to the following themes: (1) criticising the left, which it claims is ashamed of the US on Independence Day; (2) emphasising how the left want their audience to feel ashamed and guilty on Independence Day; and (3) highlighting how conservatives are defiantly resisting the shaming and aspire to feel proud of their country.

Breitbart News frames the celebration of Independence Day as a pivotal topic of affective polarisation between the conservatives and the liberals, the right and the left. In this spirit, comedian Chris Rock is shamed by Breitbart News for tweeting ‘Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks’. Rock’s tweet is presented as an ungrateful refusal to celebrate Independence Day, despite the fact that the country has made him wealthy and famous (D42). Breitbart News engages in emotional management of its audience not only by interpreting Rock’s comment as ingratitude and lack of patriotism. The feelings of shame evoked by the history of slavery are redirected back to the comedian, suggesting instead the need for a celebration of the anniversary of ‘big, tough, bad ass’ Rock attacking a woman (D42).

Such criticism of celebrities is indicative of a wider attitude towards the liberal elites and media outlets. The left is presented as a killjoy that wants Americans to feel ashamed and guilty for ‘what we did to the Indians, for our racism, for our evil capitalism, and especially for the disposable plastic bags at the grocery store’ (D47). Breitbart News speaks of the ‘joyless negativity’ of the left, which seeks to tear down a sacred American celebration together with the founding values and principles of the US (D47). Liberal media outlets are criticised for their negative and shaming headlines on Independence Day and for their lack of pride and patriotism (D47). Even the government’s recommendation to grill fruit when celebrating Independence Day is presented as being in alliance with a leftist agenda that seeks to undermine this sacred celebration and the right-wing values associated with it. Grilling meat then becomes one of the ways to express pride in the US on Independence Day – one’s Americanness.

Breitbart News instructs the right to remain defiant and proud in the face of perceived anger and shaming from the left. An army wife, Holly Fisher, is presented as a model citizen, who is proud of America, celebrating Independence Day by tweeting a picture of herself holding a Bible and an AR-15 rifle with the US flag in the background (D45). The article underlines the criticism received by Fisher from the left as undeserved attacks, which once again proves that the left stands against the founding principles of America. She emerges as a courageous patriot, not afraid to speak up and defend sacred American values, against a ‘growing intolerance among the left’. Fisher serves as an embodiment of the desired emotional regime.

These cases of Polish and American countermedia coverage of Independence Day illustrate a shared narrative of affective polarisation between left and right, liberals and conservatives. On the one hand, the left is introduced as an internal enemy of the nation, ashamed and critical of its country, national history and identity, the founding values and principles. Linking the left with shame and guilt permits the right to adopt the mission of shielding citizens from the negative emotion of shame, diffusing it away from the self by transforming it into righteous anger and pride.

Shame and pride after the right-wing populists’ rise to power in Poland

In wPolityce.pl, shame and pride emerges in the period following the victory of the Law and Justice party in relation to three key interrelated themes: (1) the shaming and ridiculing of celebrities, who are portrayed as ashamed of Polishness, Polish nationalism, and the March of Independence; (2) criticism and shaming directed at liberal leftist political leadership and media outlets for their ‘pedagogy of shame’; (3) the Law and Justice party with the president Andzrej Duda encourage Poles to be proud of their country, nation and its history.

In the aftermath of the electoral victory of Law and Justice, wPolityce.pl fiercely criticised and mocked famous actors and journalists who were critical of the Law and Justice party and the rise of right-wing nationalism in Poland. These celebrities are portrayed as emphasising their feelings of shame felt about Polishness, the Polish language, Polish nationalism, and the nature of celebrations surrounding Polish Independence Day. Actors Jerzy Stuhr and Andzrej Chyra are introduced as examples of the ‘pedagogy of shame’ led by celebrities (D9). It is claimed by wPolityce.pl that Stuhr is ashamed to speak Polish aloud when abroad, while Chyra supposedly does not feel like a Pole anymore (D9). Journalist and social activist Mateusz Kijowski is criticised for comparing the atmosphere in Warsaw on Independence Day to the Hitler’s Berlin in 1933 (D39); meanwhile, journalist Grzegorz Miecugow is similarly chastised for describing the participants of the March as uneducated and unemployed alcoholics (D35).

The prevailing rhetorical strategy of wPolityce.pl when responding to perceived shaming by the left is mockery and ridicule, directed at celebrities, but also liberal media outlets. The liberal daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza is targeted with scorn and mockery, questioning the newspaper’s right to exist, calling for its closure, and sarcastically depicting an imaginary story about how its editors organised a competition for the journalists to write an article that bad-mouths the Poles (D40). Gazeta Wyborcza is portrayed as a media outlet peddling a ‘pedagogy of shame’, directed at Poles with an aim to insult them and making them feel ashamed of their Polishness.

This forms a sharp contrast with President Andrzej Duda’s official Independence Day speech in 2015, reported in full by wPolityce.pl (D36). In his speech, Duda narrates the difficult history of Poland and underscores Polish steadfastness in the face of many occupations and struggles for freedom throughout the centuries. Duda tells Poles that they have a right to be proud of their nation and that they can look at the past holding their heads high, because they defeated their adversaries (D36). Remembering the past and taking care of the (national) politics of history are given great importance in this work of the maintenance of national pride in the president’s speech. National pride in the past is combined with hopeful anticipation of good changes to come in Poland’s future, thanks to the leadership of the Law and Justice party.

The rhetoric of pride reached its apogee in 2018, when Poland celebrated the 100th anniversary of regaining its independence. Just a few days before Independence Day, the mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz banned the march, but the ban was lifted by the court. At last, the government and far-right organisations, which were in charge of organising the March, agreed to hold it together. The annual March of Independence, led by the President Duda and high state officials, attracted a record crowd of approximately 250,000 participants. One of the foci of the wPolityce.pl coverage in 2018 was countering the claims of the mainstream Polish and Western media that the March of Independence was a ‘march of fascists’. For this purpose, wPolityce.pl extensively relied on pictures of the March posted on social media, which show families, nuns, people from minority communities (Black, Asian, Jewish), children and older people attending the March (D65).

Shame and pride after the right-wing populists’ rise to power in the US

In Breitbart News, shame and pride emerge in the period following Trump’s victory in relation to the following themes: (1) criticism and shaming of celebrities for their lack of patriotism, their refusal to celebrate Independence Day, and their criticism of the US; (2) criticism of the left more generally for imposing shame on Americans in relation to Independence Day; (3) a polarising division between left and right on whether to feel ashamed or proud of the US and its history; and (4) Donald Trump as a polarising figure of mockery or pride.

Condemnation of celebrities who oppose Donald Trump, are critical of US history, or refuse to celebrate Independence Day becomes an extremely prevalent aspect in the coverage of Independence Day on Breitbart News in this period. For example, the decision by National Football League (NFL) player Colin Kaepernick to commemorate Independence Day by going to Ghana and getting acquainted with the history of his enslaved ancestors is vehemently criticised by Breitbart News (D54). Kaepernick chose to problematise the celebration of Independence Day by highlighting how it institutionalised slavery. Similarly, in relation to the accusations thrown at Chris Rock in a 2012 article, Kaepernick is accused of shaming the US, of being ungrateful and denouncing the country that has made him wealthy. Furthermore, Breitbart News enters into a lengthy historical debate with Kaepernick, aiming to prove that the NFL player lacks evidence to support his claim that Independence Day ‘“intentionally robbed” his ancestors of freedom’ (D54).

Numerous Hollywood celebrities receive criticism from Breitbart News for their negative, shame-expressing posts on social media about the US, its history, or Donald Trump on Independence Day. For example, former Netflix show host Chelsea Handler apologises to the world for Donald Trump in her tweet and expresses her shame at his electoral victory: ‘To every country on the 4th of July. We’re sorry about our president. He doesn’t reflect all of our views – and we hope you know that the majority of us are ashamed’ (D58).

Many actors are reported by Breitbart News as encouraging their followers on social media to remember US history as that of slavery, racism, genocide, imperialism and oppression on Independence Day. As a counterpoint to the criticism from the left, Breitbart News advances an alternative narrative of pride in US history, its unique character and values. A lengthy opinion article argues that the left in the US is seeking to undermine its unique character by rewriting history and erasing historical memory (D51). It decries the changes in school-history education, which replaced the patriotic narrative with the shame-inducing history of oppression and exploitation. The author warns the readers that this special holiday may soon be transformed into ‘a special occasion for atoning for America’s historic guilt, especially the roots of all evil, the guilt of “white privilege”’. The article frames the rivalry between the right and the left in the US as essentially a political battle between those who want to feel pride and those who are ashamed of their country or feel guilty about its past.

The same affective rhetorical polarisation between ashamed liberals and proud conservatives can be found in an article written by Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart News senior editor (2014–17) and show host (D50). His article is directed at the conservative readership, praising the US as ‘the land of optimism and opportunity’ and the ‘greatest country in the history of human civilisation’. Yiannopoulos (D50) describes Trump as a leader seeking to rescue Americans from their shame and enable them to feel pride again: ‘Daddy Trump […] is making it okay for Americans to say “we are the best” in public without being made to feel bigoted or worse’.

Donald Trump becomes a polarising figure and an embodiment of national pride in the rhetorical battle between conservatives and liberals in Breitbart News’ Independence Day coverage. While celebrities express their feelings of shame as a form of protest on Independence Day, encouraging their followers to mobilise to remove Trump from power, Breitbart News diligently reports on the mockery and criticism directed at Trump, and instrumentalises these critical voices on social media by presenting them as being identical to attacks on the US’s national pride.

This further contributes to the framing of the left by Breitbart News as a killjoy that wants ‘to ruin the fun’ and force Americans to feel ashamed and guilty on Independence Day. The left is presented in Breitbart News as those who make Americans feel ashamed and guilty on the occasion of a sacred celebration. With aid from the tweets of conservative users of social media, Breitbart News, in response, discredits anyone questioning America’s greatness as ‘shameful, undeserving of respect, and not a true American’ (D52). Feeling of pride in one’s country, national history and identity are used to mark the limits of belonging to an emerging emotional regime and its associated nation-state.

The coverage of Independence Day in Poland and the US after the right-wing populists’ rise to power reveals two growing trends in relation to the preceding period. First, both wPolityce.pl and Breitbart News increase the focus on the criticism of celebrities who express their shame in their country, its history, national identity, and the political leadership. Second, the issue of national history, its commemoration and evaluation, becomes a heated topic not just in Poland where history and memory are traditionally regarded as important aspects of national identity, but in the US also. History becomes a key dimension of affective polarisation between liberals and conservatives in countermedia coverage. Since those on the left are portrayed as being ashamed of their country, its national identity and its history, they are excluded from the envisioned emotional regime that accompanies the rule of right-wing populists.

Conclusion

Countermedia coverage of Independence Day in Poland and the US plays a strategic role in bolstering support for right-wing populism, providing an expedient opportunity for creating bonds of affective solidarity. The mass events of Independence Day provide an opportunity for collective public displays of solidarity and belonging, and, together with it, for transformation of the negative feelings of inferiority, humiliation and shame, via anger, into pride and hope. Independence Day celebrations evoke feelings of pride, self-esteem, belonging, empowerment and, as such, constitute a useful resource and an occasion for media outlets and political entrepreneurs to bolster support for the populist right.

Our analysis illustrates how countermedia outlets provide a platform for mobilising audiences with an ultrapartisan narrative, which creates affective bonds based on a collective sense of outrage, injured pride, and an aggressive rebuttal of shame and self-critique. In particular, we have provided empirical evidence on how articles in wPolityce.pl and Breitbart News delineate an emotional repertoire that furnishes the constituency of ‘the disenfranchised’ with strategies for obliterating ‘the pedagogy of shame’ and articulating a resurrected pride. The stories narrate an emotional response that presents ‘the left’ and ‘liberals’ as being ashamed of their country and positions right-wing nationalists and conservatives as the legitimate protagonists of national pride. The analysed countermedia coverage in Poland and the US reveals overlapping trends. In both countries, the number of articles on Independence Day begins to increase following the right-wing populists’ electoral victories. Compared with the period before their rise to power in both countries, criticism and shaming of celebrities, the left/liberal politicians and mainstream media outlets become a much more prominent aspect in the discussed content.

Expressions of shame and deliberate shaming increasingly cut across the polarising divide between left and right. In the countermedia, the right positions itself as the political force that insulates the people from the emotion of shame, allegedly imposed on them by a guilt-ridden leftist narrative of past collective wrongdoing. Further research might explore whether the right-wing countermedia consistently seeks to reinterpret group-based guilt about past collective wrongdoing as collective shame linked to national identity. This is relevant inasmuch as group-based guilt tends to elicit affirmative action, apologies and reparations, while group-based shame motivates the distancing of oneself from shame-inducing events (for example, Lickel et al, 2011).

Pride, on the other hand, is achieved through positive identification with one’s national identity, the history of the country, heritage and achievements of past ancestors. As a result, history and the past become both an important source of national pride and a key polarising theme between left and right. Such a way of relating to history is present in both the Polish and US countermedia, and it becomes particularly pronounced in the US context after the election of Donald Trump. Breitbart News celebrates Trump as the leader who allows Americans to feel pride in their country’s history, presenting him as the embodiment of national pride. Consequently, the outlet keenly reports any criticism or mockery of Trump in mainstream media and on various social media platforms, vehemently policing and issuing rebukes against these attacks that taint the right-wing narrative of national pride. Even when articles do not explicitly mention pride and shame, these emotions are mediated through strongly affective themes, such as freedom, national symbols, patriotism, national heroes, past events and their evaluation.

In addition to articulating a mythical past that exudes pride, the countermedia also links the radical right to the promise of pride in the future. Both in Poland and the US, radical right figures act as the catalyst of hopeful anticipation for ‘good change’, and as heralding an end to a regime of shame. An overlapping temporal sequence can be observed in the countermedia narratives, whereby the shame-ridden past is replaced by the hope of pride in the future, via the emphasis on pride in the nation’s past. This future-oriented positive identification with pride and solidarity is mediated through a narrative that frames opponents with reference to negative emotions, particularly of shame and anger. This juxtaposition renders right-wing populism an attractive political force for the people, especially for those who may be prone to holding repressed shame and resentment.

Two limitations apply to the study. First of all, our research design is such that comparisons only take place within the Independence Day news outputs between two markedly different countries (vis-à-vis political culture and the history of nationalism and its expressions). As such, this approach limits our ability to assess the prevalence or exceptionality of these findings compared with non-Independence Day output. Second, including two countries only does not allow us to assess which national context is ‘more exceptional’, or if either exemplifies a more typical countermedia approach to Independence Day from a transnational perspective. Notwithstanding these caveats, this study shows how the countermedia enhance a sense of security and stability among the supporters of the radical right (Flecker et al, 2007), by focusing on perceived past glories, underlining the continuities between the past, present and future, and condemning the violation of traditional values and norms. Emotions of fear, shame and resentment intensify the need for things to feel proud of (Hochschild, 2016), which creates favourable conditions for national identity, ethnic group identity, heroic past, religion abd traditional gender roles to re-emerge as sources of pride and as stable positive aspects of one’s identity. Public displays of collective anger, solidarity and pride in the Independence Day coverage enable renegotiations of shared meanings of the past and for the building of strong identifications with a nation and/or state. Our analysis shows that the countermedia coverage of Independence Day in Poland and the US consistently enacts narrative construction and maintenance of an ‘emotional regime’, whereby shame and pride become instrumentalised for the purposes of mobilising radical right electorates. The fact that very similar patterns in mediated management of audiences’ emotions can be observed on both sides of the Atlantic suggests that this is a global phenomenon that manifests in the context of political ascendancy of right-wing populism. Further research should explore whether analogous patterns of emotion management are instrumentalised in mediated affective politics in other national contexts.

Notes

1

All translations are by the authors. Original in Polish: ‘Odrzucamy politykę pedagogiki wstydu. Idziemy w kierunku Polski, która będzie mogła powiedzieć, że jest krajem niepodległym i dumnym.’

2

‘Pedagogika wstydu.’

3

Radical right’s political fortunes shifted favourably at about the same point in time in Poland and the US. Law and Justice came to power in Poland in 2015 and Donald Trump was elected the president of the US in 2016.

4

Narodowe Święto Niepodłegłości (the National Holiday of Independence), on 11 November, marks the day in 1918 when Poland restored its independence. In recent years, Independence Day has been marked by controversies surrounding the March of Independence in Warsaw, attended by tens of thousands and organised annually by Polish far-right nationalist youth organisations since 2008. The 2018 March of Independence attracted an estimated crowd of 200,000 people.

5

In Poland, Independence Day is on 11 November, and it is on 4 July in the US.

6

‘W pierwszym odruchu zawsze. Później zaczynam czuć gorycz i wstyd. Za to, że polscy politycy znowu się wygłupili […]. Często się wstydzę.’

7

‘Nie wstydzę się, że jestem Polakiem i zawsze kibicuję polskim drużynom - to jest dla mnie patriotyzm, żeby być zawsze do końca.’

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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Appendix A

The charts listed below represent seven code groups (Criticism, Pride, Shame, Respect and Disrespect, Mobilisation, Anger, Fear) and their top ten codes in terms of code groundedness (that is, the number of associated quotations). Although the coding scheme emerged inductively from the data, the theoretical framework also guided the focus on expressions of emotions and related evaluations or judgements in the media content. As the primary focus of the article, expressions of shame were coded in a consistently theory-driven fashion, while the inductive approach facilitated the coding of other emotions such as pride, anger and fear, as well as the frequent emotive expressions of criticism and respect. Typically, multiple codes from different code families were applied to paragraph-long passages of texts, which enabled identification of larger themes across the data and relationships between different emotions. This applies mostly to the relationship between shame and pride in the media content, as well as to the relationship between criticism and emotions of shame, pride and anger. The identification of larger themes and relationships between different emotions was informed by features of axial coding, with an emphasis on exploring relations between categories and subcategories, thereby aiming to identify themes that span across the coded material.

Code groups (listed in the order of number of codes per group) and their top ten codes

Appendix B

Cited Countermedia Articles

Appendix C

The four charts in this section show the top 15 codes for the periods before and after the radical right came to power in Poland and the US. The empirical analysis sections were organised according to the themes that were derived from these most popular codes.

  • Bilewicz, M. (2016) The dark side of emotion regulation: historical defensiveness as an obstacle in reconciliation, Psychological Inquiry, 2(27): 8995. doi: 10.1080/1047840X.2016.1162130

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boler, M. and Davis, E. (2018) The affective politics of the ‘post-truth’ era: feeling rules and networked subjectivity, Emotion, Space and Society, 27: 7585. doi: 10.1016/j.emospa.2018.03.002

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bonikowski, B. (2017) Ethno‐nationalist populism and the mobilization of collective resentment, The British Journal of Sociology, 68(S1): S181S213. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12325

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bonilla-Silva, E., Lewis, A. and Embrick, D.G. (2004) ‘I did not get that job because of a black man …’: the story lines and testimonies of color-blind racism, Sociological Forum, 19(4): 55581. doi: 10.1007/s11206-004-0696-3

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Britt, L. and Heise, D. (2000) From shame to pride in identity politics, in S. Stryker, T.J. Owens and R.W. White (eds) Self, Identity, and Social Movements, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp 25268.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clark, M.S. (1994) Historical emotionology: from a social psychologist’s perspective, in A.E. Barnes and P.N. Stearns (eds) Social History and Issues in Human Consciousness: Some Interdisciplinary Connections, New York: New York University Press, pp 2629.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cnbc.com (2017) ‘Read President Trump’s full, blistering inaugural speech, attacking Washington, promising “America first”’, viewed 13 May 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/20/transcript-of-president-trumps-inauguration-speech.html

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Czapliński, P. (2017) A war of shames?, Teksty Drugie, 1: 6390.

  • Darcy, O. (2018) The media’s fascination with Breitbart has faded – and that could spell trouble for the site, CNN Business, 24 July, https://money.cnn.com/2018/07/24/media/breitbart-media-coverage/index.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Flecker, J., Hentges, G. and Balazs, G. (2007) Potentials of political subjectivity and the various approaches to the extreme right: findings of the qualitative research, in J. Flecker (ed) Changing Working Life and the Appeal of the Extreme Right, Aldershot: Ashgate, pp 3562.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gosk, H., Kuziak, M. and Paczoska, E. (eds) (2019) (Nie)opowiedziane. Polskie Doświadczenia i Upokorzenia od Czasu Rozbiorów do Dzisiaj, Kraków: Towarszystwo Autorów i Wydawców Prac Naukowych Universitas.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hanson, K. and O’Dwyer, E. (2019) Patriotism and nationalism, left and right: a Q-methodology study of American national identity, Political Psychology, 40(4): 77795. doi: 10.1111/pops.12561

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hawley, G. (2018) Making Sense of the Alt-Right, New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Hochschild, A.R. (1983) The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Hochschild, A.R. (2016) Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, New York: The New Press.

  • Hopp, T., Ferrucci, P. and Vargo, C.J. (2020) Why do people share ideologically extreme, false, and misleading content on social media? A self-report and trace data-based analysis of countermedia content dissemination on Facebook and Twitter, Human Communication Research, 46(4): 35784. doi: 10.1093/hcr/hqz022

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hsieh, H.F. and Shannon, S.E. (2005) Three approaches to qualitative content analysis, Qualitative Health Research, 15(9): 127788. doi: 10.1177/1049732305276687

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Joseph, P. (2020) How Black Lives Matter transformed the Fourth of July, CNN Opinion, 2 July, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/02/opinions/black-lives-matter-fourth-of-july-joseph/index.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kasprowicz, D. (2015) The radical right in Poland – from the mainstream to the margins: a case of interconnectivity, in M. Minkenberg (ed) Transforming the Transformation? The East European Radical Right in the Political Process, London: Routledge, pp 15782.

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