What is remarkable is that the pandemic of anger — among whites, among African American urban dwellers, etc. — is virtually never tied to President Obama. He’s been in office seven years now but the notion that people could be angry because the economic promises went unfulfilled or because the recovery is pathetically anemic or because Obama constantly impugns his opponents’ motives or because he defies constitutional strictures whenever he does not like the result (on immigration, on environmental regulations and now on guns) is rarely acknowledged or even discussed. Couldn’t some people be angry because the president has misled them (keep your doctor, the Islamic State is contained) and become a world-class underachiever?
The president is never responsible for as much as his critics claim or as little as his defenders insist. But as the head of state and of government surely he bears some responsibility for the mood of the country. It is surely possible that 54 percent of Americans in an Esquire/NBC poll think “The U. S. was once the most powerful country but isn’t anymore” because Obama’s foreign policies have been rotten, resulting in resurgent foes and a less respected America.
The liberal media would have us believe that anger is a phenomenon typical of white, rural Americans — whom Obama described thusly: “[I]t’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them … .” But anger cannot be ascribed only to peevish whites (although some might be angry because elites ridicule them.) And it would be unfair to say that anger is unrelated to external realities, of which the president is a prime mover.
The president himself is angry a great deal of the time. The man who ran on such an optimistic, unifying message now sulks and grumbles that Americans are afraid of terrorism, an irrational response he attributes to cable TV news. He’s peeved with Congress for not doing what he wants, with the press for not covering what he wants, and, well, with just about everyone who does not work for him or lavish praise on him. And he and his secretary of State are downright furious a good deal of the time with our ally Israel who objects to his acquiescence to Iran.
I do not suggest that the president is solely or even mostly responsible for the anger epidemic. Everyone from right-wing talk show hosts to presidential candidates (from Sen. Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump) channel, some would say fan, anger. Lawmakers both inspire anger and magnify it. There are groups (right-wing Beltway money-makers and racial grievance mongers) who literally prosper from inducing others to be angry.
Anger has almost become a fad, a way of signaling that you know what’s going on, you’re sophisticated enough to see you’re being taken advantage of. The bumper-sticker phrase is older than the current anger phase but the attitude seems to be: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Political polarization and geographic separation by ideology arguably contribute to a lack of empathy for others and impatience with those who disagree with one’s views.
And finally, there is social media, a virtual anger-generating machine in which anonymity breeds anger, nastiness and rudeness. I’d be interested to find out how anger levels correlate with time spent on Twitter or commenting on blogs.
It is difficult to determine causation with something as vague as “anger.” It’s even hard to define or quantify it. Are people really “angry” (veins bulging, voices raised, heart racing, break things, resort to violence) or do they use “anger” (since it’s the buzz word of our time) to reference their annoyance, contempt, disappointment and resentment — emotions ordinary people all feel from time to time? It’s hard to say since people, ironically, are sometimes the most unreliable witnesses when it comes to themselves and their own conduct.
In sum, it is only fair to acknowledge people really do have something to be angry about. There are grounds for anger, and some of those stem from the limitations and failures of the president as well as the rest of the political class. Politicians of all stripes capitalize on it and stir the pot; social media magnifies it; and political polarization sharpens it. But all the tut-tutting about anger smacks just a little of blaming the victim. Maybe it’s time to stop wondering what in the world people could be so angry about and start solving problems that affect the lives of so many Americans. Safer, more prosperous and better served Americans will have less to be angry about.