The Politics of Rage

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The pressure to take your ball and go home:

I’ve been thinking emotionally a lot lately, and if you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll say it’s unlike me. I like to think I’m a passionate guy: I love my family, my job, my art, my community. I try extremely hard to avoid hardcore negative emotions; I’d like to follow that with a “Don’t we all?” but I’m finding that harder and harder to believe. I find rage, jealousy, envy and paranoia petty and wasteful.

My column this month is a little more aesthetic than usual. Not a lot of fact-finding, not a lot of citing, but more the sincere reactions of a middle-aged progressive who is growing more and more depressed with the current state of the presidential campaign. Sorry for my fans who enjoy me being my normal mean and acerbic self. Next month will be your regularly scheduled vitriol.

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I understand and respect that there are plenty of people in this country who don’t support a progressive worldview. I understand and respect that there are many conservatives who are compassionate, patriotic and well-meaning, people who are earnest in their beliefs and generally good human beings. I think that two-party politics (the pros and cons of which I wrote about last month) are allegedly about differing views on the role of government, and I’ve always believed that is something smart people can disagree over respectfully and vigorously. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Respectful debate is good.

This year is different. I see a progressive candidate that I like very much. He has made a compelling case for fundamental issues with the current system but has begun to lose perspective because of, I suspect, extremely bad advice, which may very well lead to bad judgment. I see a brilliant, experienced, dedicated public servant get slammed by left- and right-leaning media alike because of her gender and because of who she married a lifetime ago. I see a dangerous and narcissistic demagogue roiling up the very worst angels of our nature at every turn; his lies, his exaggerations, his hateful, racist, misogynist, offensive speech are covered with slathering drool by most of the fourth estate with little or no real culpability.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Respectful debate is good.[/pullquote]So none of my usual snark this month. We can be passionate about our politics but when it comes to extreme emotions like rage and paranoia, we need to stop it at the edge of policy discussions. President Obama, whom I’m generally a fan of, is often accused of being too cool and collected, to the point of callous; this is a charge I’m familiar with. But don’t we want a commander-in-chief who will make calm, reasonable decisions based on facts? Republicans love to use this to paint him as weak on national security; but this president is one of the most hawkish Democrats we’ve seen in that chair in decades.

The dark and bitter hatred being drudged up by the aforementioned demagogue depressingly reveals the basest desires of a shockingly large amount of Americans. But color me a cockeyed optimist; I haven’t given up hope yet. Government can be good. Government can be a place where people come together. There hasn’t been a single word or idea from the Trump campaign introducing a positive or substantive path for the country. There has only been empty rhetoric, race-baiting and infantile caterwauling, a litany of hate and fear-mongering that not even Karl Rove could have dreamt up.

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There are a lot of reasons to be angry in this election cycle. Clinton, Sanders, Stein, Johnson: there are a lot of options for progressives out there and I can understand their passion, in every direction. The day I find they misplace that passion is usually Election Day, unfortunately. Your sacred democratic right is to back the candidate of your choosing, and that’s extremely important and should not be infringed.

But. If you’re a progressive, whatever your views — and this is an as-promised Unsolicited Opinion — it is time to unite to beat the man who is potentially the most terrifying presidential prospect since Andrew Jackson, who fought more than 100 duels and killed a bunch of people. Rage is what the other side does. Fear is what the other side does. We must lead with positivity, hope and a clear, logical plan for governing. As depressing as the support Trump is receiving may seem, I have confidence that the better angels of our nature can convince the country that the best way forward, to quote the current Democratic frontrunner from years ago, is to put the car in D, not in R. Passion is good. Desire for a fair system is good. Standing up for your principles is good. But our ultimate responsibility as voters is to make an educated, sensible and logical choice.

Drop your rage at the door this November. We cannot allow hate and fear decide the fate of America and the world in 2016.