Cristiano Ronaldo's career-hobbling interview with celebrity bottom-feeder Piers Morgan, in which he denounces just about everybody in the Manchester United orbit as being guilty of the grave sin of under-appreciating Cristiano Ronaldo, comes as the latest in a long line of similarly petulant outbursts on the part of powerful men. To be clear, I’ve been a United fan since I was a kid. Ronaldo’s legacy there is rightly lauded. But it’s a shame that he can’t leave it intact. Perhaps feeling justified in his outburst by the plethora of such complaints emerging from what he deems to be his peers, he is requesting transfer to a very delicate, very aggrieved club. It has a dubious record. Let’s take a look.

From insurrections to invasions, to racist invective and corporate suicide, the power meltdown generates radioactive fallout that has very real effects. Trump, Putin, Kanye, Musk, and now Ronaldo have contributed to the brain-melting toxicity of what may one day be described as The Age of Grievance. What characterizes this ear-splitting era? To begin with, a certain infantile narcissism. Not a boot smashing a face, but a cigar-chomping baby gushing crocodile tears, forever. Much maligned on the right as a symptom of identity politics and wokism out of control, the cancer of complaint has metastasized to every inflamed organ of society, including those on the right side of the body politic. These powerful men, all conservative, are reflecting in their gilded mirrors precisely the politics of animus that is supposed to animate the campuses and streets of the nation. This new Leviathan is the self-regarding state of internet capitalism that has made literally everyone a narcissist. The Age of Grievance is the resentment of all against all, and proves that, if nothing else, at least resentment is bipartisan now. Or, to be more accurate: ressentiment is. And it is everywhere. 

Ressentiment, while similar to its cousin, resentment, has slightly broader shoulders, as popularized by Nietzsche. It is more systemic in nature. It is a revolt against privilege on the part of the disenfranchised. Nietzsche sees it as a product of Judeo-Christian morality, a principled revolt against power that he dubs slave morality. Listen to Fox News, and America has apparently perfected this Nietzschean slave morality, this ressentiment. From campus safe spaces to cancel culture, it has become axiomatic on the outraged right that outrage and sensitivity to offense is a strictly leftist phenomenon. And, let’s be clear, it is unquestionably that too. But what then are we to make of this new figure, Grievance Man. His is the discourse of ressentiment rendered in the service of unbounded narcissism. He feels justified in speaking not because of his lack, but precisely because of his abundance. In an era in which the Supreme Court equates money and speech, he speaks his world into submission. Or he feels he should. And when it doesn't listen, there’s hell to pay. 

Where ressentiment functions among socially fragmented movements as a tool of revolt (despite often feeding capital in that process), the new ressentiment is conducted by the powerful on behalf of power, as a tool of re-assertion. Which is to say, this new ressentiment works for capital itself. It might be called capitalist ressentiment. What separates plain old resentment from true ressentiment is that the capitalist ressenter claims that his grievance, while personal, is actually also universal. It is being voiced in the service of the people. This is the element of supposed principle required to systematize grievance into ressentiment. Grievance Man claims to be populist, to be working for the masses, while in reality he is in it for himself. But in his populism, the ressenter may actually raise some good points. Trump’s criticisms of a rigged system, Putin’s impression of being goaded by Nato, Musk’s complaints about dwindling free speech might all have a basis in validity, but none are their actual objectives: they are cover. Their objectives are selfish, they are expressions of power, and they are dangerous because the widening gyre of their ressentiment always spirals out of control. Thus Ronaldo’s complaints against the Glazer family’s rapacious evisceration of a storied club are fair enough, but it doesn’t follow that he should savage everyone else too, including his talented manager, who has done an extraordinary job of maintaining sang-froid in the face of the striker's failing form and flailing tantrums while ushering him kicking and weeping toward retirement, or Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else that will pay him half a mill a week to miss goals he would once have scored in his sleep. He has decided to burn the house down, which feels an awful lot like Trump’s assault on Congress, Putin’s assault on Ukraine, whatever it is Ye is doing, or Musk’s assault on (sorry, purchase of) Twitter.

To the narcissist, to speak while wealthy is to shape the world. When the world refuses to be shaped, the speech becomes a scream. Or in Ronaldo’s case, it becomes a pouty scream into the doughy pillow of Piers’ ample bosom, forever.