We live in an era of outrage. And frankly I’m tired of it. You might say that I’m outraged by all the outrage. Everyone is pissed off about something all the time, and everyone is constantly telling each other that they should be pissed off, too. Righteous indignation is the new normal. The internet is the perfect medium for spreading outrage. Twitter is tailor-made for angry people with short attention spans with its 140-character outrage nuggets.
In a recent NPR interview the author Salman Rushdie said, “It’s an age in which everyone is upset all the time. All you have to do is look at the Internet. It’s full of people screaming at other people for saying things they don’t like.” Mr. Rushdie knows a thing or two about outrage. His 1988 novel Satanic Verses prompted the issuance of a fatwah by the Ayatollah Khomenei, calling for his execution. But he’s right. The internet is a hotbed of angry people being angry with each other over everything. And it’s incredibly exhausting.
This is an election season in the US. Actually, we are still well over a year away from the next presidential election as I write this, but campaigning begins very early these days. We spend at least 18 months stoking the fires of outrage before a single vote is ever cast. And politics in America has increasingly become a national shouting match. During the primary season the candidates are all trying to out-outrage each other. Ginning up support from their most rabid followers by tapping into their outrage. They attack each other for the opportunity to attack the opposite party. It’s all attack all the time. There is seemingly no such thing as positive politics anymore. It’s all negativity and attacks.
During eight years of the G W Bush presidency, the left was constantly outraged. Whether it was over taking the nation to war under false pretenses or taking away civil liberties in the name of patriotism, everything Bush did was a rallying cry for the left to to take umbrage and take to the internet and the airwaves to voice their discontent. Liberal blogs like the Daily Kos sprang up during this era, rallying the left with daily doses of indignation. MSNBC carved its primetime niche with a liberal lineup of pundits, spoon-feeding a nightly dose of outrage to a hungry audience.
When President Obama was elected, the right took over the march to voice outrage. Fox News became the mouthpiece for the angry half. Cries of socialism, ravings about death panels, the rise of the Tea Party, fear mongering about non-existent gun control, “birtherism,” and other right wing rallying cries stirred up a storm of anger and resentment that had never been seen in modern American politics before. Respect for the office of the presidency plummeted, as famously evidenced by a member of Congress shouting “you lie!” to the president during an address to Congress in 2009. Decorum died a very public death on that day.
In the 1989 Ivan Reitman film Ghostbusters II, New York is threatened by a river of toxic slime that runs under the city. The slime is fueled by negative energy. Anger and outrage feed it, build it, and allow it to grow more and more powerful. It seems to me that this is where the world is heading now. The internet itself has become a river of toxic outrage slime. Whether it’s caused by the death of a lion or the death of a Syrian refugee child; whether caused by a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality or by those using religion to justify bigotry. Whether it is caused by the official renaming of a mountain back to what the first inhabitants of this continent had always known it by; or whether it is young black lives being taken by police acting as judge, jury and executioner, or police being killed simply for wearing their uniforms. Whether it is innocent people going about their daily lives being gunned down in an all too frequent mass shooting, or fear of having your guns taken away by an intrusive government. Whatever the cause, someone somewhere will be pissed off about it and will take to the web to encourage us all to join in and be pissed off too. Because misery loves company.
Not long back I was driving across the country on a long road trip. It was late and I was bored, so I turned on the AM side of the radio and started scanning through the various stations. AM radio has become nothing but hate radio. The lies that were being told by these professional hate mongers were astonishing. But the vitriol was what surprised me the most. Every single program I tuned into featured someone literally yelling at me across the airwaves, telling me how pissed off he was about politics (in the case of AM radio it’s become the exclusive realm of the extreme fascist wing of the right trying to convince us that Obama is the antichrist). I couldn’t listen to it long, my blood pressure began to rise and I found myself yelling back at the invisible hate monger, rebutting his lunatic ravings.
I just can’t deal with the constant anger and negativity. I’ve had enough. I can’t read political blogs or watch cable news channels anymore. I have deliberately purged my Facebook feed to weed out the most egregious offenders, the perpetually pissed off. I can’t stay angry all the time. It’s not healthy. No one can, and no one should, maintain such a high level of outrage all the time.
Wake up, people. Politicians are taking advantage of you. They want you to be pissed off. Because pissed off people go out and vote, but more importantly for those fat-cat politicians, pissed off people write checks and donate to campaigns. Animal rights groups laughed themselves giddy all the way to bank over the death of Cecil, because millions of dollars from pissed off people came flooding into their coffers. They would absolutely love for a Cecil death to come their way every quarter, because their fundraising totals would skyrocket. Donald Trump has ridden the outrage train to the front of the Republican pack by pissing everyone off. Because the more outrage he causes, the more his name appears in the media, which is his only aim. Self promotion at the expense of national ire. He doesn’t care about public service, he is a narcissistic egomaniac who only wants to see his name on the nightly news. And he’s doing so at the expense of your blood pressure.
Americans are not nearly as divided as our politicians and the professional pundits would have us believe. That anger and bile you spew on Facebook and Twitter is often directed at the neighbor you wave to every day, the daycare worker who nurtures your child or the person who pours your mochaccino latte or bags your groceries. As a younger and perhaps more naive Barack Obama once said, we are not a nation of red states and blue states, we are the United States. Just because my political philosophy may differ from yours doesn’t make me your enemy. If I don’t have the same religious faith that you do, don’t declare a fatwa against me, or burn me at the stake. I am your neighbor, your coworker, your son or your uncle. But most of all, I am your fellow American. And we are all in this boat together.
Pick your battles. Save your anger for something useful. Turn off the AM hate radio or the cable news talking heads. Put away the smartphone and don’t read those 140 character outrage nuggets. Stay off of Facebook for a day or two. Don’t listen to the professional hate mongers who depend on your outrage to fill their pockets. Chill the hell out, America. Your blood pressure will thank you.