Outraged? Get Outrageous!

I was reading a friend’s FB post earlier today.  I respect this person immensely, although I disagreed with him on one point.  Which is good.  He’s the kind of dedicated and genuine intellectual who encourages honest exchanges.

My friend is thoroughly appalled by the American political situation at the moment, as am I.  But he is also not given to public displays of emotion.  And so perhaps it made sense that, with regards to politics, he warned us that,
“the satisfactions of flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right can make it less, rather than more, likely we are going to turn this thing around as soon as it can be turned around.”

This is where I disagreed with him.  I wrote a short response on his page as to why, but I would like to expand upon it here.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there are many things we can do to effectively oppose Trump.  We need a broad palette.  But one important thing we can do, I believe, is engage in occasional public displays of moral outrage.  Even flamboyant ones.

Public displays of moral outrage against the lunacy and mendacity of Donald Trump specifically, against his core of executive cronies, and against the GOP more generally, are actually a good and productive thing right now.  There are several reasons why, but before I list them, let me clarify what I mean by “flamboyantly expressing one’s rage against Trump and the right,” to borrow my friend’s words.

I am not advocating that we join the GOP in its filthy pit of lies and “alternative facts.”  While I’m going to advocate a fight fire with fire approach, I don’t think we should extend that to the Right’s immolation of the factual truth, lest we lose sight of the forest from the trees.   We should not sacrifice core principles of democracy to win the immediate battle.  Indeed, in many ways the fight must be fore those core principles.

So, for example, we should not counter their science denialism; (climate change, evolution) with politically convenient science denialism of our own; for example, let’s not start wooing the anti-vaxer vote by spurring that movement on.  And let’s not sink to the level of fabricating lies to smear Republicans.  For starters, it’s so unnecessary; given their horrible actions and hateful ideology, it’s easy enough to smear them with the plain truth.

Rather,  I am championing the notion that we become morally outraged at Trump’s and the GOP’s fabrications and falsehoods, their lies and lunacy, their brazen assaults on honesty and democracy.  Furthermore, I think we should feel free to publicly display our moral outrage.  Why?  For several reasons.

For starters, it is important to recognize that we are clearly past normal.

George H. Bush?  Didn’t like him, but he was pretty goddamned normal.  Depressingly so, in fact.  Romney?  Normal.  McCain?  Normal.  Indeed, every GOP president or nominee I can think of going back to Gerald Ford was perfectly normal, even if I didn’t agree with their political platforms.

Donald Trump is not normal, nor is his presidency.  It’s not due to his lack of political experience.  I really couldn’t care less about that.  In fact, I think genuine outsider, small party candidates like Ralph Nader and even Ross Perot were perfectly normal, despite the latter being smeared as crazy.  With the exception of Richard Nixon, every major presidential candidate of the last half century, and many of the minor ones, whether I liked them or loathed them, were perfectly normal.

Donal Trump is not normal.

Donald Trump is grossly immature and narcissistic, and quite possibly burdened by undiagnosed mental illness.  I say that not because mental illness is something to be ashamed of, but because it is something to be treated.  His is not, and the result is a feeble grasp on objective reality.  He consistently spins fantastical narratives to support his yawning ego.  Make no mistake: he’s not just trying to convince you that 3-5 million people voted illegally even though there’s zero proof for such a claim.  He’s also trying to convince himself, because his fragile ego can’t cope with the reality of having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

He is, to put it frankly, nuts.

Furthermore, Donald Trump is deep down in his soul, a hateful and petty little man.  His smiles are forced, his laughter is non-existent, and his endless string of grudges are spasmodic, raging against every real or perceived slight, and attempting to bully every critic into a sycophant.   He craves plaudits from absolutely everyone, his thirst for approval is quenchless.  As a friend half-joked, he really wants to be king of the world, not president.  He demands constant praise and will suffer no criticism.  In short, he’s a very, broken person.

And if all that weren’t enough, he might be beholden to Vladimir Putin of all people, for reasons that are as of yet not entirely clear, but which we can smell a mile away.

Note, I haven’t bothered with Trump’s abhorrent political agenda yet.  Why?  Because in assessing why Donald Trump is not normal, that’s the least of it.  For now, let us focus on the bizarre and the inexplicable, the sheer insanity of it all.  Let us acknowledge that we are clearly past normal.  And that it is of dire importance to resist the normalization of Trump.

Public displays of moral outrage can help with that quite a bit.  If properly calibrated, they can serve to remind the public of the current abnormality.  It helps us resist the insidious normalization of Donald Trump.

There are many forces, some scurrilous and some banal, that have contributed to the normalization of Trump.  A journalist friend of mine blames the media first and foremost.  The two party system is also part of the problem; when there are only two “legitimate” choices, then the two people who capture major nominations are automatically legitimized in the eyes of the electorate, whereas in a healthy, multi-party system, Trump would have likely been shunted off to a smaller nationalist party operating at the margins.

No matter.  What’s done is done and now we must fight it.  Donald Trump’s presidency is not normal.  He is a horrible man with a deranged psyche, and his presidency is a looming disaster.  Those of us who recognize this (a majority of Americans, actually), must think about how we are going to fight the good fight.

Protest.  Get angry.  Take to the streets.  And do whatever else you must to resist the normalization of Donal Trump.

*

Another reason to support public outrage stems from the long arc of history that brought us to this point.  Contrary to the inspiring axioms one finds on social media, that arc does not always bend towards justice.  Sometimes it warps and curves towards racist populism.  And if it is to get back on track towards justice, we must grab it and bend it ourselves; it will not happen through some inevitable process.

We are currently sidetracked, in part, because the Republicans entered a hyper partisan mode 25-30 years ago.  Under the guidance of then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and other Southern Conservatives, the GOP developed a scorched earth political strategy.  Abandon civility.  Rebuke compromise.  Dismiss convention.  Fuel enmity.  Advocate extremism.  Lie as much as you need to.  These were the new marching orders.

Use Rush Limbaugh and his acolytes to spread the gospel.  Up the ante with FOXNews.

In short, win at any cost and do what you must to get what you want all the time.

By the 21st century, this included not letting the Democrats undercut you with Clintonian triangulations.  Don’t let them steal your thunder with their own versions of conservative agendas like mass incarceration and welfare reform.  When in the minority, be obstructionist.  Sabotage anything Democrats do, or even propose, no matter how far to the right they drift in your extremist wake.  Even disavow your own policies when refashioned by Dems (eg. ObamaCare)

This all out assault on the better angels of our nature has led to Republican victory even as the purge the party of moderates.  And they have won not just at the presidential level, which was only made possible by the backlash to a black president, Trump’s peculiar charisma, and Democratic incompetence.  Rather, this no-holds-barred approach, which of late includes various voter suppression tactics, has helped the GOP gain thorough control of most state governments, which in turn fueled unbridled gerrymandering that has given them a lock on the House of Representatives despite continually receiving a minority off votes across the country.

It would be profoundly naive to think Republicans will not continue following this model towards power.  And so Democrats must respond in kind, at least to some degree.  It will have to get worse before it gets better.  Obamian appeals to reason will get them only so far in the face of such intransigence.  Under current circumstances, a full fledged partisan war is needed if the Democrats are to recoup their losses.  Public outrage is central to that agenda, just as it has been for Republicans.

As an independent who actually has very little affection or even respect for the Democratic Party, this brings me no joy.  But it is the current political reality and I will not shirk from it.  The Republicans have swung so far to the right that an effective counter is desperately needed.  And their tactics are so brazen and ugly that they must be met in kind to some extent.

The stable moderation my friend prefers must always have a place.  But that by itself will not get us anywhere.  Partisan warfare is on the horizon.  At the party level, this will involve all sorts of tactics in the courts, legislatures, and executive mansions.  And if Debbie Wasserman Shcultz taught us only one thing this year, it’s that the Democratic Party is quite capable of being a dirty little caldron of nastiness and dirty tricks.  Now’s the time time, Donkeys.  Turn all your political hacks loose.

But you and I are not politicians or party apparatchiks.  We are just citizens fed up with Republican malfeasance and aghast at the unfolding Trump presidency.  What can we do?

We can fight this regrettable but entirely unavoidable partisan war online, in break rooms, at family gatherings, and even in the streets through organized and peaceful, but hellfire angry (and witty; we’re a lot funnier than them) protests.

Channel your moral outrage and use it as an effective shield and even sword against the Republicans who pioneered this ugly shit

*

With this in mind, it is important to note that during extreme times, extremism has its place.  Recent history shows the way.

Every American schoolchild learns that Martin Luther King, Jr. peacefully led the fight for Civil Rights.  What many of them don’t learn is that during the 1950s, most white Americans, and even some black Americans, viewed him as trouble maker and extremist who was wreaking more damage than good to his cause.

But then something happened.  People started noticing Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.  And Stokely Carmichael and Black Power.  And the baret-wearing, shotgun-toting Black Panthers.

Guess what?  Next to them, MLK suddenly looked a lot more appealing to white America.

A similar story unfolded in the LGBTQ movement, then known simply as the Gay Rights movement.  Moderates pushing for equality during the 1960s got just about nowhere.  It wasn’t until the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City unleashed a much more radical and public strain of LGBTQ activism that real headway was made.

My point is not that radicalism is the exclusive, most effective, or even preferred engine of change.  My point is that radicalism serves an important purpose in achieving change.  Today MLK has a national holiday and gay marriage is legal.  Moderates may have carried those victories across the finish line, but radicals made them possible.  Because while  radicalism alienates some moderates, it can also help them push their more moderate activist agendas, making them appear more appealing to the mainstream by contrast.  This is often how real change comes about in a democracy.

In the end, radicalism promotes a more moderate progressive cause.

*

Finally, we must remember that public displays of moral outrage support the resistance.  They provide a bulwark of approval and encouragement for the millions of people who are unhappy but are not themselves given to public displays of outrage.  It reminds them that they are not alone.  It gives voice to their fears and anger.  It bolsters them for the fight.  It rallies the troops.

This is not to be underestimated.

Yes, 62 million people voted for Donald Trump; as P.T. Barnum once noted, there’s a sucker born every minute.  Some of them family and friends.  Sixty-two million people voted for a charlatan.  They will be conned in the end.  And as with any good con, when it’s over, most of them won’t even realize they’ve been taken for a ride by the failed real estate mogul who transformed himself into a first rate huckster.  Some will get wise, but most of them will just lineup for the next scheme.

Those people, however, aren’t really our concern.  Instead, our focus must be the clear majority of Americans appalled by Trump’s election.  Remember, he received only 46% of the popular vote.  Fifty-four percent realize he’s a howling whack job.   Let us raise a mighty racket on their behalf.  Rise up and make your voices heard.

But as we wave our signs, don our subversive t-shirts, and take to the streets, are we in danger of alienating the quiet majority we seek to support?Part of this issue I dealt with in the prior section, explaining how radicalism can help push the middle in a positive direction.  Beyond that, however, have faith that we will inspire and gain more than we lose.  Because it is vitally important that we come to terms with the coarse brutality of our current political equation:

The middle is falling away.  We are increasingly living in times of extremism, and as such, moderation is losing ground.  Sadly, we are living in times when the loudest, most outrageous voices get the most attention.  Just look at how Donald Trump won the presidency.  It is integral that we recognize this development and do not allow our opposition to become entirely isolated on the narrowing middle ground.

That’s not to say there is no room left for moderation.  Much of this fight will be won from the center.  In the end, to the center is where we will return.  But in order to get back there, we must run to the left and fire back like slingshot.

Thus, I applaud the friend who inspired this post.  I greatly value his insights.  I admire his temperament, which in many ways is quite close to my own.  And I support him on his path of moderate political expression, which in the long run I pray wins the day.

But for now, I must branch off and wander down a more rambunctious road, one fraught with anger and tears; one in which every honest political weapon is brought to bear; one that loudly indicts the hideous immoralities of Donald Trump; one where people demand that we turn away from his horrific shortcomings and brook no compromise with those who support or even justify them.  I must walk the course of public moral outrage.

In other words, Fuck Donald Trump!

3 thoughts on “Outraged? Get Outrageous!

    1. Though we agree on many issues, I have to disagree with your take on the Donald’s mental stability.as means of felling him. Whether or not he is certifiably mad as a hatter- or whether any other individual for that matter is similarly hatterly insane- is legally exceedingly difficult, if not frquently impossible, to “prove,” hanging from chandeliers notwithstanding.

      So perhaps a more effective way to address the parts of the guy’s heart and soul and political maneurvers that make you want to scream would be simply to quote him. And then revisit him on the same issue at a different time and quote him again.

      Here is a paraphrase from today’s NYTimes on his abortion record:

      “Mr. Trump has become an unlikely champion for the [pro life] movement , with abortion opponents saying he is probably their most unflinching White House ally since President Ronald Reagan. Though Mr. Trump spent much of his life as a supporter of abortion rights, he spoke more vividly and forcefully on the issue during the campaign than any recent Republican nominee.”

      A quote (or two or three) is worth a thousand words, and thoughts too! People, no matter how they vote in the heat of the moment, driven by fear, prejudice, self interest or insanity, actually are not always that stupid. Sometimes they need to be reminded of some stuff Saying “crazy” may be less effective than saying the plain ol’ truth of someone’s disparate words, and deeds, and saying it over and over again until it sinks in.

  1. Agreed on all points. Here a historian does what is one of the true callings of the profession — reminding the present of the lessons of the past so that we move toward a better future.
    And the call-to-arms is so important that I want to offer a suggestion. I suppose it’s my impulse to provide “news you can use.”
    Here it is:
    Follow an example that was set above by the Public Professor — never use the words “president” and “Trump” in the same breath.
    A small, even imperceptible protest of omission? Guilty as charged.
    Petty? Of course it is.
    Utterly ineffective? If I thought that, I would not suggest it.
    Reinforcement of legitimacy, or the erosion of same is a drip-drip-drip process. And I suggest that this because it is small easy-to-do-thing, especially if you are not of a mind to take to the barricades for your own good reasons.
    But if you are in opposition to this dangerous regime (and make no mistake, that is what it is) and you are alarmed by this rapidly unfolding attack on the Republic (and make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening), then never, ever combine the words “president” and “Trump”.
    And then go on from there.

Let it Rip