The rise of Republican rage

By Rebekah Crawford

The Republicans have become the party of anger and grievance. Their rage is amplified by the conservative media and gun rights associations. This is bad news for society.

Proud Boys. Image: Anthony Crider, Flickr. Creative Commons.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Like many people, I spent the last four years living in a permanent state of rage fuelled by Donald Trump. So my relief when Joe Biden was elected and Democrats became the majority in the Senate was overwhelming, to put it mildly.

Since Biden became president, he has impressed me more and more. This really is his moment. He has decency, kindness, experience, vision, humility, and most of all, I trust him. I trust that he will always try to do his best. His years of experience are tonic for my soul. He knows how government works. He has learned from past mistakes and, while certainly not infallible, he can avoid many of the pitfalls that normally beset a first time president. Most importantly, he ignores the Former Guy as he trudges forward with popular policies that actually help Americans.

Unfortunately, the Republicans are using a different playbook. They don’t care about policy. They don’t want to help people. They understand they can rule by minority law and are hell bent on stripping voters’ rights and obstructing Democratic relief plans so they can continue ruling by minority.

This isn’t new. The Republicans became the obstructionist party in 2008 when Obama was elected. It is not in their interest to give Democrats any victory whatsoever, even if that victory were to provide relief for their own constituents, even if that victory shows clear public, bipartisan support. They have been playing this game for so long they have become masters at it. It’s tiresome and it’s frustrating but that’s not what keeps me up at night.

What infiltrates my sleep in the wee hours of the morning is their anger. The GOP has become the party of rage and grievance. Their rage is amplified by conservative media pundits and talk show hosts and gun rights associations blasting from every soap box.

Since they are no longer able to have policy discussions (because they have no policies), they can only peddle rage. And rage is addictive, as we have all learned. The Republicans keep their base riled up all the time with a rage-fuelled rush of threats: they’re coming for your guns, they’re coming for your rights, they’re coming to strip away your freedom, they’re coming for your family, they’re coming for your money.

None of this is real, of course. But they keep the over 70 million people who voted Republican on tenterhooks, jacked up on fear and anger, seeing red. No wonder red is the colour of the Republican Party.

Anger wears away at the soul. It is toxic and creates stress hormones. It is irrational. It is blinding. It leads people to do crazy things (think the storming of the Capitol). It is destructive. It makes formal policy debate impossible or, for that matter, any debate that requires a cool head. How can anyone participate in an informative, well-rounded, consensus-building discussion while high on rage?

Rage is also an excuse not to build up but to tear down, which is so much easier. Building is hard work. It’s what the Democrats have to do right now. All the Republicans intend to do is tear down, which is one action easy to perform when enraged. Republicans and the conservative media have only one goal: stoke the anger, feed it, grow it, keep it boiling, keep it coming, keep giving it oxygen, keep it alive. That’s the GOP ticket – anger.  

Trump’s legacy will not be Trump himself but his nasty brand of slash and burn politics and the politicians so eager to shed any sense of decency in their thirst for power. Trump made it okay to be open about being a racist and an angry white supremacist. He made it okay to run on that platform, to allow that to become the new platform of the GOP. He paved the way for people to behave reprehensibly, to slander and slur other people, to regress to bullying schoolyard tactics of ugly nicknames and physical insults.

He took all the class out of Congress and now it seems anybody with a gun and a loud enough, angry enough mouth can be elected. Experience or actual caring about humanity are no longer electable qualities in the GOP. Access to rage, either one’s own or the ability to stir it up in one’s constituency, has become the new marker for an electable Republican. As Republicans jockey for position in the 2024 field, they are vying to see who can be the biggest jerk, because being an asshole seems to be all that’s needed for garnering Trump’s (and hence, his base’s) support.               

When Trump lost the election and incited an insurrection, a pathway opened up for Republicans. They were provided an easy off-ramp to Trump and his churlishness. A brave few took it – Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney. Many others hovered uneasily at the exit route, sorely tempted. Should they take it? Wipe themselves clean of him? Start anew? Without all the vitriol?

Oh, what relief this classy, new road offered. If only they could take it. A few even started confidently down that ramp until they looked behind and realised they were in the minority. Then they hastily clawed their way back and joined the herd like good little soldiers.

But in not getting off the Trump highway, Republicans unwittingly revealed something about themselves: their only interest is self-preservation and power. They don’t care about Democracy. They don’t care about the Constitution. They don’t care about fair elections. They don’t care about Americans. They don’t care about values or ethics or morality. This make them just. like. Trump.

It turns out Donald Trump is merely a reflection of their values. We can no longer say that Trump is some freak aberration; like the chicken and the egg, it is impossible to determine which came first. Whatever Trump says and does from now on signifies who they are as the Republican Party. Because they kept quiet, because they did not take the high road, they can no longer distance themselves from him. Trump is their mouthpiece. They are him.    

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