The place of anger in politics

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

Everyone seems to be angry this primary election season.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into the widespread anger in American society.  People on the right are angry.  Folks on the left are "mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore."  Poor Hillary tries to express emotion but she's just too controlled to pull it off.  So is Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

Many commentators say that Trump and Sanders are giving voice to how a lot of us are feeling right now, but they add that Hillary, Jeb and John would be better at the art of governing.

David Brooks put it this way: "Campaigning is about poetry.  Governing is about prose."  In other words, campaigning seeks to tap into where people are in their gut, but governing requires leaders to lead with their brains.

Ephesians 4:26 echoes Psalm 4:4 when it says, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."

So, what is the place of anger in politics?

Let me begin with a few black folks I know.  Jason Curry replied to my question about angry black men by saying, "I think that we could easily possess that anger. I personally have tried to take that anger and turn it into some kind of fuel that drives you.  Every time you hear someone say you're not good enough, you want to show them that they're wrong."

Agreeing with Curry's outlook were several students in Ms. Williams' third hour eighth grade social studies class last week during an interview I did with them regarding the state of race relations.  Every young person who spoke said that while they are treated as equals in the Forest Park Middle School, when they get out into "the world," often they'll have to gain twelve yards to get a first down.  It wasn't exactly a chip on their shoulders which I sensed but rather a steel willed determination that they were going to show all those skeptics and bigoted people out there how wrong they are.

What is the place of anger in politics?

Be angry but don't sin.

Or, to paraphrase Jason Curry, use anger as a motivator to get your butt out the door and at least vote, but preferably to get informed and then get active.  But when it comes to discussing politics with those who differ from you, and especially when making decisions in whatever position of power you have—parent, condo board, coach, teacher, governor, speaker of the house, or president of the United States—leave that anger which motivated you get out the door back inside the door and operate from your head.  Hot tempers motivate folks to action but they are usually quite self-centered and undermine clear headed negotiations in which the other person's point of view is taken into account.  The good of the whole—be at the family or the country—requires a decision making process in which the "opposition" is seen as collaborators and not as enemies to be defeated. 

So, go ahead.  Rant and rave during the campaign along with the candidates who are giving voice to how you really feel or in opposition to candidates whose language triggers your unresolved or maybe even righteous anger.  But when you step in the voting booth on March 15, leave your anger at home and use your head.


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