The United States of Anger

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Them!

It feels good to blame “Them”. Those people. The ones over there. It’s their fault. They are the ones that did this to us. If only they weren’t so damn stupid (not us), or ignorant (not us), or misinformed (no, no, not us), we wouldn’t be in this dire situation.

No. We’d be in a different situation with someone else (not us) saying, “Them. Those people. The ones over there. It’s their fault.”

We are staring into a mirror and like someone with a serious case of body dysmorphic disorder we recoil in horror at the image we see within the glass. It mocks us with its reverse gestures. We shout. It shouts. We raise a hand. It raises a hand. We bash on the glass only to discover that like that of the glass ceiling above us it cannot be broken.

So much rage.

I have never known rage to amount to anything but destructive and pointless annihilation. We all know what rage can do to us, and we have all experienced it within our personal spheres. Perhaps it is the rage of a parent, or sibling, or good friend, who tears down the walls of kinship, compassion, and trust. Or perhaps it is our own rage, twisting us in its grip. Have we not all at some point arisen from a moment of abject fury to stare in shock and regret at the destruction we have inflicted on those around us?

It turns out we are all angry. Not just them. Those people. The ones over there. But all of us. Angry at the loss of something we struggle to define. Greatness? Dignity? Decency? Call it what you will, it is something definitively American that we know to have been lost. This week, year, decade? How did we not notice as this integral part of America slipped away?

I am still grappling with what this all means, and what our collective future holds. This country is not what I hoped it was. Most things in life aren’t, and my sadness and disappointment are great. I cannot barricade myself behind my disbelief, however. Any moral high ground I thought I had has evaporated. Instead, I must look this turn of events squarely in the eyes. There is no going back. What is lost is gone forever.

There is a tradition in Judaism after a death. During the mourning period, known as Shiva, the mirrors of a household are covered. This enables those within the home to grieve without having to witness their own reflection, lest they become self-conscious. Such a period of uncensored emotional outpouring is and important first step toward healing.

Perhaps for all our sakes we should keep our mirrors covered for a moment. Those that need to grieve must do so, albeit within reason. Judaism provides one week of unhindered mourning. Seven days and that’s it. Seven days and on you go. Seven days and back to life and all that needs doing.

When we do look in the mirrors again, hopefully we will see that it is merely us peering back, not some maniacal lunatic who wishes us harm. Sure, we’re full of flaws and contradictions, but we are also strong and resilient. We do not let anger get the better of us. We do not succumb to rage. We will recover and find our footing again. And while we can never go back to who we were we can start working towards who we would like to become.

Red, White and Orange

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Smeared across my smart-phone’s news app are multiple and varied images of an angry face, puffy and twisted.  It has a mouth to rival any hemorrhoidal rear end, puckered and tight.  Atop its coral-hued puffy visage rests a swathe of dubious flocculence that reminds me of the gnarled fox/stole that hung in my grandmother’s closet.  I recoil in terror.

You know who I am talking about and maybe appreciate the visual allusions.  Perhaps you even chuckle.  To be fair, I didn’t know what “flocculence” meant either until I discovered it in the thesaurus (“resembling wool especially in loose fluffy organization”).

The feces that erupts from this Orange Pustule’s mouth on a daily basis is nothing short of sickening.  The things he says about women, immigrants, Blue Star families, veterans, the electoral system, African Americans, the physically disabled, tax-payers, the tax system, Muslims, beauty queens and crying babies are nothing short of disturbing. I am appalled, offended, shocked, embarrassed, and queasy.  But I am also deeply, deeply saddened, because I live in a country that has granted such an individual the loftiest of platforms from which to spew his diarrhetic hate-speak.

Given America’s propensity for self-exultation this is hardly surprising.  It is, after all, a country built upon many a myth of its own superiority, irrespective of fact.  American Exceptionalism.  American Bravado.  American Might.  These myths are fed by a constant stream of grandiose gesture and boastful talk:  “The biggest”, “the most”, “the freest”.

We hear it in the political speeches of our politicians but also in the day-to-day speech patterns of our friends and families.  “The greatest country in the world.” “The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.”  America is a country where the superlative expression of its inalienable rights has become an inalienable aspect of its demeanor.  I talk (the loudest), therefore I am (American).

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The Orange Pustule is arguably the epitome of what it means to be American in this day and age: a bloated gas-bag of crass soundbites fighting to maintain a sense of mythical former glory. His double-down tactics of aggressive self-assertion are merely a reflection of Americans who themselves cannot back down from who they imagine themselves to be, getting progressively louder and more insistent that this is what it means to be American.  And enough people love it to put him within striking distance of speaking (yelling, bragging, threatening, attacking, leering, insulting, condemning) for the entire country.

This poisonous smear of a man has commandeered the American sense of self, baptizing it in his narcissistic cesspool of fury. If things are not “the best” then they are undeniably “the worst”, and no amount of Blue-hued politicians emphatically reminding us that things aren’t that bad is going to dissuade us from this apocalyptic view. He has taken the social/economic/security issues that this country contends with (much like any other country) and decried them as nothing short of a disaster. The only answer to such woes is to annihilate anything and everything in our path, with the Orange Pustule leading the way to salvation. It is yet another American myth, that of the lone-wolf standing up to the establishment and all the direst of evils it embodies. How we lap it up.

The truly sad thing is that I’m not sure we know who we are otherwise.

How do we redefine ourselves if the myths we built our lives on have proven to be misguided?  How do we retreat from the brink of insanity (or maybe we’ve passed that brink) and reimagine a different America, one humbled and in check with reality?

Maybe we can’t. Maybe this is the dying gasp of a nation that needed to scream that it was “the greatest” more than it needed to listen and address its needs. Or maybe this is merely a rite of passage, a time when Americans must rage like adolescent children against all the unfairness and disappointments of life only to calm down, apologize for bad behavior, and finally become adults.

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