“I want to punch you in the face.”
Match this quote with the person who said it:
A) My 10-year-old daughter.
B) A female supporter at a Trump rally.
C) My 11th-grade science teacher.
The answer is A and B. I don’t know if that shocks you or not, but I can tell you I wasn’t thrilled when I heard my daughter hiss those words at one of her siblings. On the other hand, I understand the sentiment. She was feeling frustrated and powerless and wanted to make a ripple. The words were the punch.
As for the Trump supporter, according to the reporter covering the rally, she said the words quite cheerfully. I get that. A lot has been made of Trump inciting violence, but I don’t buy that. Blaming The Donald for American anger seems a lot like blaming video games for increased violence. The anger was already there.
American anger is well publicized from senseless shootings, road rage to, yes, Trump rallies. But there’s a lot of grassroots anger, too. Go watch a youth soccer game (or any sport, probably) and listen to the fans. There’s more red-faced, spittle foaming seething than at a Yosemite Sam convention. It’s possible the anger at a soccer game isn’t so different than my daughter’s anger or the Trump supporter’s—it’s helplessness and frustration in the face of untouchable authority. You’re not supposed to yell at referees and certainly not assault them, yet people routinely upbraid them and some even cross the line to physical confrontation. Are they that invested in the outcome of their kid’s soccer match? Unlikely. It seems more plausible they’ve got other issues.
Have you ever faced a wall of indifferent and incompetent bureaucracy and felt like smashing something? Like at the DMV maybe or an online customer service center with no phone number or chat service but only a generic email address that you suspect is like writing to Santa. It’s beyond maddening.
Now imagine the issue you’re trying to solve is actually critical. I’m going to guess the majority of recipients of this blog have most of their physical needs met and have comfortable homes, educations, fairly secure futures and feel like they have semi-reliable resources should an emergency or injustice poke it’s ugly head from the muck.
Many, many other people don’t have this reassurance of relevance and security. This, says political and social commentators, explains the immense popularity of Trump. They see him as their anger surrogate, an enfant terrible not afraid to hurt feelings, ignore etiquette and mash the rules of common decency to promote his—their—cause. It’s like having your sweaty, normally embarrassing uncle stand up for you when you’ve been humiliated. He’s going to bat for you and doesn’t care whose toes get stomped in the process. If I had trouble with elites, I’d love Uncle Buck backing me up.
How fun to see all those Ivy League country clubbers squirm in their wood-paneled offices and sweat through their Brook’s Brothers blazers. How else are you going to touch them?
This is all understandable, but it’s not good. We’re in crisis—material and spiritual. This used to be the country of the American dream, yet polls show less people than ever believe the dream is within their reach. And the National Center for Health Statistics recently reported the American suicide rate has climbed to a 30-year high. Analysis shows the suffering is worst for poor, less-educated whites. Though it may be difficult for many of us to relate to these critical levels of hopelessness, we can certainly imagine them. And, if you have any sap in you, it’s easy to relate to the anger and frustration that accompanies the misery.
I would guess the situation is only made worse by the insulated remoteness of politicians. If you’re poor, undereducated and unrepresented you have about as much chance of being heard in Washington as winning the lottery.
I can’t think what I can do about that on a national level, but the problem is local, too. Anger exists at all social strata. Last year I heard rage rooms were becoming, well, all the rage. These are businesses where you pay to smash items with a bat or crowbar. $5 for a vase and $20 to pound on a car for a few minutes. Some psychologist said it was a healthy way to release anger. We don’t have a rage room franchise in our town, so I broke a tennis racquet during a match to see how it felt. It was slightly cathartic, but I felt really stupid afterward and had to shell out $150 for a new racquet. (Full disclosure: I really wanted a new one, anyway.)
It seems illogical to try to fight anger with anger. The solution is probably if we just loved each other a little more. No, I’m not advocating 60s-style free love, I’m talking about listening more, reacting less, working to understand others, empathy, trying to help, volunteering, stopping demonizing those who disagree with us—all the stuff that’s really, really difficult, but really, really important.
We’re going to have to do something here pretty soon, though, or I’m going to punch someone in the face.