Updated: Jun 30
The most prevalent feature of American politics as we begin the third decade of the 21st century seems to be anger. There are a multitude of examples, but just to cite one: In early January, in response to the debate over the killing of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, Republican Doug Collins said on Fox News that Democrats “are in love with terrorists. We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families”. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a retired Army lieutenant colonel probably had the best response to this, when she informed Collins that she refused to be lectured by him on this subject given that she left parts of her body in Iraq fighting terrorists. Bluster, demonization of one’s opponents, and exaggeration to the point of lying seem to be the accepted pattern of discourse.
It’s understandable to yield to the temptation that this is all Donald Trump’s fault, but it seems to me that Trump is a symptom of a process that started several decades ago.
I believe the seeds of our current environment began in the 1980’s when a few people, the most well-known early example being Rush Limbaugh, discovered that anger was profitable. Anger could make you rich. Limbaugh has had many imitators since then, and many of them replicated his formula and became rich themselves.
Fast forward a few years. Based on the success of conservative talk radio, and starting with talk radio fans as a base, Newt Gingrich discovered that anger could also win elections. Especially with a generous serving of fear mixed in. We’ve all heard the slogans. The Democrats are going to take away your guns. The Democrats are baby killers. The Democrats will raise your taxes. The Democrats hate America. I could fill this page with all the inflammatory 4-6-word slogans designed to rile up the conservative base.
Some Democrats have noticed the effectiveness of this strategy and attempted to replicate it. However, let’s be honest: How many rich liberal talk radio personalities can you name? There’s a reason Fox News is the highest rated cable news network. Anger and fear just do not work for us; it’s incompatible with our message. How do you sow anger and fear over ideas like inclusion, compassion, respect for God’s creation and a passionate desire to help those who didn’t win the birth lottery to share in the American dream? Michelle Obama is right, when they go low, we need to go high – both because it’s the right thing to do, and because going low just doesn’t work for us.
Utahns should be able to see through the charade, especially my fellow Latter-day Saints. In his near-canonical book Standing for Something, President Gordon B. Hinckley included civility as one of the ten key virtues. He included the following quote in his book. “In recent years the media have raised boorishness to an art form….. Bad manners, apparently, make a saleable commodity…. Talk show hosts become rich and famous by snarling at callers and belittling guests. All of this speaks of anything but refinement. It speaks of anything but courtesy. It speaks of anything but civility and tolerance. Rather, it speaks of rudeness and crudeness and an utter insensitivity to the feelings and rights of others.” Next time you happen to tune in to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or their many imitators, ask yourself if they meet President Hinckley’s standard.
The above history helped me to finally understand a strange scripture reference in the Book of Mormon. In the story of the last battle of the Jaredites that resulted in their self-inflicted extinction, Ether observes the following: “And when the night came, they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine…” (Ether 15:22). Is anger addictive? You bet it is. And like other addictions, it robs us of our agency and happiness.
Is anger ever appropriate? How can you tell it’s time to put on your Abinadi hat and denounce a modern-day King Noah? We should never succumb to hatred and always strive for civility, but righteous anger might be justified towards someone who is themselves fomenting anger and hatred.
An almost incomprehensible recent survey indicated that a majority of registered Republicans believe Donald Trump is a greater president than Abraham Lincoln. It would be wise for the current leaders of our nation to reflect on one specific aspect of Lincoln’s character. Historians have noted that Lincoln never used insults or invective against his adversaries, even against the leaders of the Confederacy. When he became angry, he was known to write passionate letters against his attackers, and then let them sit in his desk overnight before destroying them. It would be difficult to enumerate all the ways in which Trump is the opposite of Lincoln, but this would certainly be at the top of the list.
It is crystal clear which man’s character is most in line with our Utah values.