Vail Daily column: Tired of being mired in ire?
Rage acts like anger gone berserk. A powder keg ready to explode.
What feels like unguided fury motivates the Freedom Caucus, a group of 40-plus ultra-conservatives in the House of Representatives. Capitalizing on grassroots frustration with the GOP establishment, this angry splinter group has achieved some victories. They took over the House, got their candidates placed in strategic state government seats and gained a Senate majority.
Former Sen. John Danforth describes what happens when a political group is consumed by rage. “Today’s Republican hard-liners are angry, loud and insistent on getting their way,” observes Danforth. “They are not conservatives—they are revolutionaries who all but say as much while they rail against what they call the (GOP) establishment.”
Now holding a powerful majority in the House and Senate, these tea party extremists can’t get much done. Mired in controversy, they grimace because repeal of the 2010 health care plan hasn’t moved forward. Despite temper tantrums over the nuclear deal with Iran, it got the votes. Even the Freedom Caucus’ campaign to defund Planned Parenthood has simmers on the legislative burner.
“Many in the GOP have gotten more and more angry during the Obama years, and the conservative media environment has gotten more shrill and less reasonable,” observes Matthew Dowd, a ranking strategist in George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
House and Senate conservatives sulk and stew when their legislative agenda stalls. Former GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott feels the heat of the Freedom Caucus’ temper. “I had to deal with some rambunctious members on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol,” said a chagrined Lott, “but I never had to deal with a group like this ‘Hell No’ caucus that demands purity.” Tea party legislators’ rage blows sky-high.
Rage explains why Donald Trump makes an impact in the presidential race. His anger unleashes the ire of those fed up with Washington. His unscripted, mean attacks on immigrants, women and Washington bureaucrats stoke anger in riled supporters.
“It’s a concern that there’s a candidate out there who is appealing to this anger and frustration among voters that, I think, is real and legitimate, but he’s (Trump) doing it in a way that brings out the worst part of public sentiment rather than offering a real solution,” admits David McIntosh, a former Republican congressman who’s now president of the Club for Growth, an anti-tax coalition. “It’s the worst part of politics, where you are playing to fear and hatred.”
Angry citizens would benefit from Gen. George Washington’s counsel. He fired up patriots’ ardor, but had to curb their excessive anger toward King George III. When the British trampled the rights of ordinary patriots, they responded with ire and “inflamed passions.” They enlisted in local militias but were suspicious and irritated with Washington’s campaign to raise a national Continental Army. That smacked too much of a military establishment.
Washington performed an amazing feat. He formed a national army truly continental by refocusing patriotic ardor. Too often local citizens chafed when their town militia competed for funding and recruits against militias from other hamlets.
Washington faced a huge challenge. Most colonials liked local control and distrusted sharing power. This “deepest problem of organization and drive arose from American society itself,” writes historian Robert Middlekauf. “The Americans, even after two years of war, were a divided people. Only a few delegates to Congress believed that in Philadelphia they had a political center. For most, their provincial capital or the town, parish or county served as the organizing point of governance.”
Washington re-directed colonials’ parochial grievances and aimed them at Britain. “No revolutionary leader surpassed Washington in the attempt to lead Americans to think and act together,” concludes Middlekauf, “nor was any more pleased than he when they did.”
Anger is tricky. It rallies enthusiasm but destroys communal efforts if it burns too hotly.
The Freedom Caucus acts like a soldier who throws grenades at enemies. After pulling the pin on a grenade, if a soldier holds it too long, the grenade blows up. He, along with the enemy, gets wounded. Ultra-conservatives mired in ire forget biblical wisdom: “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner, in his book “Wishful Thinking: a Seeker’s ABC”, describes how anger consumes the bearer of it. “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Freedom Caucus members make angry noises. Their ire devours them. It’s suicidal.
Wise voters cast ballots for leaders who share realistic hopes and a positive national vision not blurred by anger.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries.