“If you are angry today, I’m here to tell you to be angry. I’m furious. I’m furious that yet more innocent lives were taken by gun violence.”
- Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, in the wake of the July 4 mass murder at a Highland Park Independence Day parade.
Anger is potent. It can be a tool for good and for evil. It can lead to progress, and it can pave a spiraling path to the breakdown of society.
How leaders deal with anger — their own and the population’s at large — has helped shape the course of human history. Anger can be stoked, and it can be quelled; it can be channeled, and it can burst forth uncontrollably. It can be marshaled to fix our problems, or it can be weaponized toward explosive violence and destruction.
We live in angry times. And this fervor is tearing at our national fabric. It cannot be ignored and explained away. It and its root causes must be confronted.
Much has been written about the anger Donald Trump tapped into and amplified in his rise to the presidency. The propaganda and lies that Fox News and other right-wing media outlets spew forth are meant to keep viewers engaged through anger. Much has been made of the grievances, real and imagined, of Trump voters who say they have been left behind. Of course, we should never overlook the long shadow race continues to play in deepening the societal fissures that have been ripe for exploitation.
But anger is not limited to one side of our political divide. And I don’t think the role it has played in the forces opposing Trump and the broader Republican movement has received enough attention, although that is starting to change.
In electing Joe Biden to the presidency, America chose in overwhelming numbers a man whose political identity is the antithesis of a hothead. Here is a man who has faced unspeakable personal tragedies and maintained, at least in his public persona, a seemingly unquenchable optimism.
For all the differences between our current president and the man with whom he served as vice president, both President Biden and President Obama have been seen as steadying figures whose natural instinct is to calm rather than enrage. And to calm is a critical role of a president — except when anger is required. It is a delicate balance, but one that is necessary for both the governance of the nation and a president’s personal political fate.
A large swath of the electorate hoped that after the chaotic presidency of Donald Trump, America could return to a more tranquil path. To be sure, a deep current of anger has remained on the political left at myriad social ills — from racial injustice to income inequality to the assault on our democracy. This is natural and important. But at the political process level, there was hope among many Democrats and their supporters that with congressional majorities — desperately slim as they may have been — and the presidency, progress could be possible.
We don’t need to rehash in detail all that has transpired since Election Day 2020. It’s enough to say that whatever anger existed on the political left a few years ago has only magnified, and in recent weeks it has exploded in intensity, driven by still more mass shootings, grim revelations about the insurrection, and the Supreme Court's multiple extremist rulings, including throwing out the constitutional protections for women to determine the fate of their own bodies.
Naturally, much of the fury has been directed at the justices and other Republican politicians who are the lead actors of regression. There has also been ongoing fury at Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for refusing to get rid of the filibuster for voting rights, gun regulations, or abortion rights. But increasingly, that ire has also been directed at President Biden, members of his administration, and other senior Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
The politically savvy understand that there is little President Biden can do legislatively with the current membership of the Senate. But there is a general sense that he is failing to grasp the urgency and desperation of the moment. In short, why isn’t he angrier? With so much at stake, with such intransigence on the part of the Republicans, with the justices taking away existing rights, with an anti-democratic movement swelling at the state level, why doesn’t President Biden sound like Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, whose quote began this post?
I suspect that for many Democrats, it feels as if the president isn’t hearing them. It’s not like the anger is hidden from view or wasn’t predictable.
We have written many times in this forum about the headwinds Democrats face in the midterm elections, but we have also said that a mobilized response to outrages such as the abortion ruling can shuffle the dynamics. In this formulation, anger is the motivating force that allows the party to potentially hold the House and gain seats in the Senate, as improbable as that outcome might seem at the moment.
Are President Biden and other Democratic leaders out of step with where a large part of the country is? Will this tone doom the party’s chances in November? Or, as many of their supporters suggest, is this Democratic infighting and criticism counterproductive?
Perhaps Biden will grow angrier in his statements, especially as the criticism intensifies and the midterms draw near. Perhaps he will stand back and let the candidates on the ballot run on anger, including, if necessary, anger at him for not doing enough.
In the end, the only long-term salve is for there to be results. Action can quench anger. That requires political power. And that will mean winning elections. At this point, it seems to many that harnessing Democratic anger is the party’s best chance at beating the odds.
Are you angry? Do you think that anger should direct the Democrats' election efforts? Do you wish the president and others were angrier? Or do you think that there is enough anger out there and so a calm demeanor is the best response to holding the nation together on a road to progress?
It doesn't matter how angry we are.
Democratic leadership does not need to be responsive to voters because the deep-pocket donors that support them do not care about bread-and-butter issues.
Every slow mail, email, and text message I receive from the local and national branches of the Democratic Party express anger but tinged with shame on me if I don't respond with a donation. That approach ilicits my anger and lack of faith in the political party that must achieve miracles in November. I started supporting and working for Democratic candidates over 50 years ago. I donated money to individual candidates and Democratic Party goals, not out of shame but pride in our system of government. Engagement and pride in citizenship will motivate people to change government through the legal and Constitutional means of supporting and electing reasonable, well-informed, and qualified candidates in all levels of government. Wake-up, Democrats, get beyond anger.