Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is Anger Sufficient?

     “If you are to rule France, you must learn restraint. Keep cool in battle or in sports. Be angry, but in cold blood.” – Alexandre Dumas pere, The Man In The Iron Mask

     Quite a number of commentators have noted that the rise and persistence of Donald Trump at the front of the crowd of aspirants to the Republican presidential nomination speaks to his willingness to orate on specific things that are making many Americans angry. Before Trump, the theory runs, no one with an adequate platform from which to declaim had, in the words of Faye Dunaway’s character from Network, “articulated the popular rage.”

     There’s some substance there. There are also echoes of Nixonian “silent majority” thinking to it, though the silent majority wasn’t so much angry as displeased with Great Society social policy and desirous of changes.

     Anger is a motivating force. At the low end, where it’s more commonly called irritation, it’s the source of a great many transient frustrations and the reason for no small number of largely avoidable discourtesies. At the high end, where the words fury and rage become applicable, its power can be great enough to take a life...or break a nation.

     Yes, many of us are angry. I’m certainly one such. Moreover, the subjects that elicit truly great ire from us are relatively few: the illegal-immigration mess and its consequences for public safety and order; the explosion of privileged groups claiming special rights as “victims;” and the general sense that “our” government holds us in contempt. As justifications for anger, these are better than most, especially given how deeply the source of our anger, the federal government, mulcts us to pay for our own multi-pronged oppression.

     The United States approaches a threshold whose exact placement cannot be known beforehand: the point at which a sufficient number of us are sufficiently furious to rise against Washington, depose our political class by force, hang the worst offenders, and indulge in a little therapeutic looting, vandalism, and mass murder.

     If you’re not frightened by that prospect, check your pulse. If you can’t detect it, lie down and tell the nearest benevolently inclined person to summon the county coroner.

     Anger is sufficient to accomplish a lot of destruction. It’s not good for much else.

     I recall, many years ago, reading an exchange between some moderately well-known apostle of revolution – moderately well-known then, not now – and an opinion monger for a regional paper. As was commonplace back then, the revolutionary was incensed at “the system.” He decreed its destruction, root and branch. He would countenance no half measures; the entire edifice of American society, he said, was irreclaimably rotten and must be swept away.

     The commentator put a question to him:

     Commentator: And what would replace the system as you see it?
     Revolutionary: I don’t know, but anything would be better than what we have now.

     Ponder that, Gentle Reader. It’s been a common attitude among rage-filled revolutionaries for centuries, though they seldom articulated it quite that clearly. To be fair, many of them did have a post-upheaval vision. However, those visions were nearly all much rosier than what reality imposed upon them. There’s a moral in there, somewhere.

     The electoral impact of anger gave us Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. In all three cases, the prior administration had done something to elicit wider and stronger disapproval than any milder reproof would have served. We didn’t suffer much from our pique at Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. There have been considerable adverse consequences from the Clinton regime, though most don’t become visible to any particular American until they’re visited upon him personally. As for the Obama regime, though the bills are still being totaled, they’re already high enough to throw into question the survival of America as we know it.

     Commenters here and elsewhere have opined that the Republic has already fallen. In this they may be correct; I tend to think so, myself. However, most such commenters have proceeded thence to say something along the lines of “if we’re to be ruled by a dictatorial son of a bitch, let’s make sure he’s our dictatorial son of a bitch.” That’s anger speaking in its least reflective tone.

     The United States won’t be a happy dictatorship, even should the dictator follow policy directions that please the majority of us. We are both unaccustomed to and unfriendly toward subjugation. Moreover, it’s the immediate impulse of every dictator, once he rises to power, to eliminate all possibility of overthrow or resistance. He reaches for the public’s means thereof – its private firearms and its means of private communication – to ensure that any opposition’s plans will be known to him and any move made toward displacing him will be futile.

     This is the point at which the great majority of today’s angry Americans will say that “that can’t happen here.” That it already is happening – that important components of the program have already been completed – is lost on all too many.

     In Olaf Stapledon’s seminal novel Odd John, one of the true classics of science fiction, a superman character named Langatse declines to join a forming community of other, younger supermen, preferring to take his own life. It’s what he says to John, the novel’s central figure, that’s with me this morning:

     When John had reported this speech to me he said, "Then the old man broke off his communication with me, and also ceased prattling to Harry. Presently he thought to me again. His mind embraced me with grave tenderness, and he said, 'It is time for you to leave me, you very dear and godlike child. I have seen something of the future that lies before you. And though you could bear the foreknowledge without faltering from the way of praise, it is not for me to tell you.' Next day I met him again, but he was uncommunicative. At the end of the trip, when the Robinsons were stepping out of the boat, he took Harry in his arms and set him on the land, saying in the lingo that passed as Arabic with European residents, ''L hwaga swoia, quais ketir!' (the little master, very nice). To me he said in his thoughts, 'To-night, or perhaps to-morrow, I will die. For I have praised the past and the present, and the near future too, with all the insight that Allah has given me. And peering into the farther future, have been able to see nothing but obscure and terrible things which it is not in me to praise. Therefore it is certain that I have fulfilled my task, and may now rest.'"

     So also with your commentator this morning, though I certainly don’t intend my own death, and with God’s favor will persist to pester you all for a few years more.

     The fruit of uncontrolled anger is always bitter. Think about that before you throw your support to a man well supplied with anger and bluster, but no detectable principles and a record of blatant amorality.

     Have a nice day.