Anger in America Gerry OShea
Rage is dominating the American body politic. The culture has become so toxic that we can no longer just agree to disagree.
In April of this year, reputable pollsters revealed that 70% of Republicans declared that the presidential election was stolen and Donald Trump should be re-installed in the White House. A September gauge of opinion showed that the figure of Republican disbelievers in the Biden presidency has grown to a whopping 78%.
It is important to explain that there is not a scintilla of evidence supporting this erroneous contention. Mr. Trump’s lawyers’ claims of electoral impropriety were considered by close to sixty judges, some of whom were appointed by the former president, and none of them even allowed the case to be heard because no evidence of wrongdoing was presented in court.
The Supreme Court with a strong influence of Trump appointees refused even to consider the case. The Department of Justice under William Barr could find no reason to question the election results.
Still, a sense of rage permeates Republican supporters. Over 70 million voted for Mr. Trump, so, in round figures, about 55 million reject the official election results. These are mind-blowing numbers that raise serious questions about the future of American democracy.
What has caused such a flight from reality, unmatched in the history of the republic? To complicate the situation, many of the same Republican deniers parade with the anti-vaxxers and feel that the insurrection on January 6th was somehow justified.
The faces of most of the rioters during the Capitol revolt on January 6th revealed furious indignation about the election outcome which showed Joe Biden winning the presidency. Most Trump supporters are seriously irate about what they call “the big steal.”
I recall my eminent professor of psychology in Manhattan College, Dr. Frank Lodato, in his lectures about strong grievance emotions like wrathful anger and blind prejudice, explaining that these fierce feelings are really symptoms of a person’s wider psychological problems and should never be taken at face value.
He gave a simple example. A young person growing up in a family and community environment where love and respect and caring are largely absent will surely carry a dark emotional cloud into his or her teen years and adult life. Thus, the individual from the political left or the right angrily emoting about some controversial issue often reveals less about the matter he is loudly engaging with and more about pervasive fears and serious unresolved emotional issues.
Conspiracy theories abound and seem to fill a need for the many citizens who see the world through the prism of jaundiced eyes. According to Pew Research, up to the year 2000 only 16% of Democrats held a “very unfavorable” opinion of Republicans. This has changed dramatically, rising to 38% by2014, and another recent poll brought the total to a huge 52%. Republican numbers measured by the same yardstick revealed similar levels of disdain for Democrats. The malaise has infected both political parties.
These disturbing statistics were confirmed when people were asked about a family member marrying someone from the other party: an astonishing 55% would not want intermarriage outside their own political clan.
Or consider the prestigious right track/wrong track poll judging citizens’ satisfaction with the direction of the country, which normally hovers in the area of 40-50 percent, but since the turn of the century this number has plunged, settling in the 20-30 percent range.
The cogent socialist perspective points to the growing inequality in American life as the hidden cause of the anger. Over the last sixty years, workers’ wages have barely held stable at a time of major improvements in industrial productivity and company profits and while the salaries of the top echelon have shown exponential growth.
The federal minimum wage has fallen by a third since 1970 but, during the same time, worker production has increased by 150%. Many retirees depend solely on their social security cheques to get by from month to month. This is confirmed in a recent study completed in Boston College which reveals that three out of four workers, aged fifty to sixty-two, do not have a company retiree pension plan.
Trade Union membership has declined dramatically in the past half century leading to a drop in income and in respect for working people. This is a major problem, but, surprisingly, those who are hurt most – workers without Union representation in their jobs – are not directing their energy and rage against their bosses at the top who will pull every trick out of the bag to prevent their employees from joining a Union.
Wall Street is booming like never before. The various stock indices reveal big gains in the last half century. Great, but most workers can’t afford to own shares. The 10% at the top have accumulated 84% of this wealth, and about half of American employees do not hold stock in any company.
The Trump tax giveaways benefited millionaires and people on high incomes. Those lower down the economic ladder got negligible amounts but were told by then Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that some of the trillion dollars going to the top 5% would trickle down to them. Trickle down talk from millionaires is the modern version of voodoo economics.
The people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder have every right to be furious that the political parties have sidelined their concerns over the last few decades. Many of these families are barely paying their monthly bills, but they are not united in promoting any cohesive plan that might mitigate their justified sense of alienation and indignation.
Some engage in disturbing cognitive dissonance as they applaud some autocrat screaming right-wing tripe on the influential talk radio shows, blaming immigrants or the welfare system or inevitably elite liberals.
Bernie Sanders’ solutions are rejected by many of the men and women who would benefit most from progressive policies. He has been the leading advocate in Washington for reducing the cost of drugs and introducing adequate coverage for quality dental care and hearing aids, but, inevitably, he is pegged as a socialist or even a communist. Instead of standing in his corner, many of these low and mid-level people show a venomous dislike for the Vermont senator.
Fox News debuted in 1996 and, after a few years, they decided that their niche, the place where they could have the biggest impact, was in promoting far-right conservative views. Fox does not usually produce serious news programs where reporters check out the facts behind any story and interview people representing a variety of perspectives.
Instead, its fundamental message is one of daily rage at what liberals are doing to the country. Their list is well-rehearsed – open borders, Benghazi, Christian bake sales, critical race theory, lazy poor people, athletes taking the knee in protest and so on – and the main culprits are inevitably Fox News’s bete noire, liberals in the media and in Washington.
Where will all this toxicity end? Are we on the road to terminating the American experiment in self-government? Are we heading for a major crisis?
The poet Langston Hughes asked the same serious question close to a hundred years ago.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Gerry OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.com