Rage Surfing

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 31, 2016:

“I bring rage out.  I do bring rage out.  I always have.  I don’t know if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do.”

  • Rage, Bob Woodward, 2020

It is clear that former President Trump is authentically enraged.  Throughout his public life and perhaps throughout his entire life he has genuinely felt disrespected, and what he considers rightly his to have been unfairly taken from him.  It doesn’t matter, in this context, whether such feelings are reasonable; they are sincere.  It enabled him to give voice to a large swath of Americans stung by the scorn of elites who feel that what makes sense to them, what seems fair and right to them, what should be theirs, has been robbed from them by those with ways foreign to them.  Some of their anger (certainly their resentment at the disdain of the elites) – if not Mr. Trump’s — is justified.  That said, our national fabric seems to be wearing dangerously thin because these — even if in many instances, their plight has resulted from an intentional or oblivious failure to adapt to an evolving world — consider themselves to have been dispossessed.  They are … Enraged.

I fear that we are at a perilous point in this country.  I would submit that while Mr. Trump made the rage socially acceptable, displayed a unique ability to exploit and exacerbate it, and for a while was arguably able to manage it, neither he nor anyone else any longer controls it.  One frequently hears commentators opine that if Mr. Trump would admit the truth about this or that, more aggressively tout COVID vaccines, etc., etc., our social conditions in various areas would improve.  I disagree.  Mr. Trump now appears to me more than a bit spent; he seems to be struggling to maintain his position as titular head of the Enraged to whom he gave license (I recently saw them referred to as, “Trumplicans” – an apt moniker.  I intend to use it.)  The former president is renowned for his ability to “read a room”; I suspect that he realizes that his influence is waning better than bootlicking Republican officials or the talking heads do.  Although he can justifiably claim credit for the development of life-saving COVID vaccines during his presidency, he gives at most tepid support to inoculation efforts because he fears losing the support of the anti-vaxxers.  He’s no longer leading the Enraged; he’s trying to stay in step with them.  Objective observers can appropriately decry Fox News’ despicable failure to accurately cover the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Capitol riot, the Coronavirus, and the value of the COVID vaccines; however, when Fox reports a fact that the Enraged don’t like – for example, (accurately) calling Arizona for President Joe Biden on election night – the Enraged don’t believe Fox but instead abandon it for outlets that will tell them what they want to hear.  The majority of Republican officials can be rightly castigated for spinning fabrications that they for the most part must recognize to be poppycock; I would venture that they, manifestly more desirous of retaining power than abiding by their oaths of office, realize that if they tell the truth, the Enraged will simply replace them with others who will support their reality.  Driving through the middle of Wisconsin this past weekend – six months after President Joe Biden’s inauguration — I saw a huge Trump banner flying above a peaceful corn field.  It used to be that a losing presidential candidate’s banners were quickly dismantled by his disappointed supporters.  Trumplicans are not only enraged … they are defiant

We have always had, and will always have, fringe elements.  What appears alarmingly clear is that at least at this point, a disconcertingly significant segment of our electorate will not accept truth.   One need merely note that 60 judges and innumerable state election officials, many of them Republican, found no merit in Mr. Trump’s electoral challenges in order to understand that he lost the election.  One need merely note the correlation between states’ vaccination rates and where COVID is again raging in order to recognize the effectiveness of COVID vaccines.  One need merely believe one’s own eyes in order to acknowledge that there was a seditious and murderous attack on our Capitol on January 6 undertaken by Mr. Trump’s supporters.  The Enraged are currently intentionally and wantonly choosing to ignore truth easily discerned.

Rather than leading a movement, I would submit that most of those courting Trumplicans are merely surfing the rage.  Some, such as U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz, and U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, are enthusiastically leaning into it (although I concede that these may be sufficiently unbalanced to actually believe what they are spouting).  Some, such as U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are shamelessly attempting to stay atop it to further their own ambition.  Some, such as Fox News, and, ironically, Mr. Trump himself, are attempting to stay sufficiently abreast of it to maintain their relevance.  Still others, such as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are attempting to simply ride it out.

Rather a distressing picture.  That said, a leaderless cult is more easily divided and quieted; if Mr. Trump’s influence is indeed dissipating, as yet no demagogue combining his rage and animal magnetism has appeared to seize his mantle.  We can only hope that enough of the Enraged can be cajoled into accepting truth soon enough for us to maintain a viable democracy.

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