As a political emotion, anger has long been controlled by the left.
Leftists market their anger as “righteous,” leverage it as a tool of asymmetrical warfare, and then sell it as a virtuous driver of collective action for the collective good. The left’s leaders and activists are trained and encouraged to display unapologetic anger against sundry injustices (i.e., Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Rev. Al Sharpton, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street). Even its “comedians” (Bill Maher, Jon Stewart) cloak leftist anger in “humor” to promote its agenda and destroy conservatives. They’re not called social justice “warriors” for nothing.
But when conservatives have tried to channel their righteous anger, they have been smeared, intimidated and crushed (i.e., the Tea Party movement, which, once attacked unjustly by the left, media and Internal Revenue Service, could not fight back).
It all has to do with the left’s control over “tone” as a way to neutralize anger as a potent — and acceptable — weapon for the right.
Voters’ fury — over particular issues, unresponsiveness and failure of leadership, the state of the country — has long been accepted as a normal state of affairs.
But Republican leaders’ and candidates’ anger about those same things has long been condemned as childish, unacceptable in content and “tone.” Forced, then, into adopting a more “acceptable” tone, they lose anger as an organic political tool and end up submitting to the left’s rules.
For decades, the political class maintained its power in part by attacking GOP candidates’ anger as negative in tone, unserious, radical and immature as a way to disqualify otherwise legitimate hopefuls. This is how both sides pushed radical leftists and mushy moderates on us and cemented their own power. As a result, voters’ fury only grew worse.
Until Donald Trump smashed the cycle and the “tone trance.”
Mr. Trump embraces voters’ anger in a way that mirrors and validates it rather than spurns or fears it. He is unafraid to reject the counterproductive and destructive “restraint” forced on previous generations of candidates — and to put a stop to it.
Mr. Trump’s decision to walk away from Fox News’ Iowa debate because of his anger over how the network has treated him is a case in point. The message he’s conveying: I won’t allow myself to be disrespected, and I won’t let America be disrespected.
He is also demonstrating that anger is necessary (though not sufficient) to win elections and to get the country back on track. Mr. Trump has turned fury into not just an appropriate political emotion, but an asset.
In her response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley reached for the old establishment default position against candidates’ anger. She warned against the temptation “to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” by whom she meant Mr. Trump, among others. After the predictable backlash, she attempted to recast her comments about Mr. Trump’s “anger,” but by then the damage to her and the establishment had been done.
Two days later during a Republican presidential debate, Mr. Trump was asked about Mrs. Haley’s characterization. He made no apologies:
“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger . I’m angry because our country is a mess.”
There it is: anger, as necessary (though not sufficient) to fixing our nation’s problems.
Mr. Trump’s full and fearless embrace of his own anger has turned it into a righteous motivator of real, restorative change for the party — and the country. Having allowed Mr. Trump to do the political blocking for it, most of the other candidates have now, to varying degrees, carried their own anger into the fight.
They have also managed to maneuver anger into effective pushback on the deeply entrenched presumptions and false choices the leftists have pushed into our collective thinking. These straw men show up in all kinds of questions to the candidates: How do you fight Islamists without harming innocent civilians? How do you respect the Second Amendment if you want to stop gun violence? How do you cut government budgets without hurting average Americans? How do you protect our borders without penalizing immigrants who just want a shot at the American dream? And so on.
In order to justify leftist policies, liberals have set up these false choices, and the political culture has gotten so used to accepting them that they have enslaved us. This group of Republican candidates is finally torching the bogus setup, by first getting angry about it and then explicitly rejecting it.
What Mr. Trump and the others are proving is that most voters are not turned off by anger or by a rejection of the elites’ buried assumptions. They are embracing those things because they finally feel understood and respected. They finally feel seen.
Mr. Trump is making asymmetrical warfare more symmetrical at last. And all future GOP candidates will benefit from his achievement — if they are gutsy and savvy enough.
• Monica Crowley is editor of online opinion at The Washington Times.
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