The Politics of Anger

I toured Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, last month. I’ll never pretend to know or understand what it means to sacrifice everything for the future unity and sustainability of this amazing place the way those soldiers did.

And yet, people running for office often overlook history by making a mockery of this place other people paid for.

The Republican frontrunner for the GOP nomination for president has yelled that: Mexico is sending the U.S. drug dealers and rapists, injured war veterans should know better than to get captured, women who are menstruating ask angry and unfair debate questions, women who get beat by men in presidential campaigns have been “schlonged,” Muslims should register with the federal government, thousands of Americans celebrated the World Trade Center crumbling into ashes in 2001, and it’s acceptable to mock physically disabled reporters. Although, he didn’t yell so much as grossly impersonate in the last example.

If it feels good to listen to Donald Trump, think about why you’re mad. I’m not delegitimizing your anger. I simply want primary voters to consider why they’re thinking about driving over the speed limit to their polling places and reveling in their vindication as they vote for a Trump or a Cruz kind of primary candidate who wants to take over the branch we were most hesitant about empowering, and then work with no one.

The politics of anger might get you a nominee you’re excited about, a nominee who’s angry with you. The politics of productivity will get you a nominee who will get things, mostly the things you want, done incrementally. If your politics idolize a presidential system in which Donald Trump could build a Mexico-financed wall to keep out immigrants, you can’t complain when the same Republic produces a progressive executive and a Democratic majority that created and institutionalized the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, et al.

Our party talks often about Constitutional originalism. We walk up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial and dream inaccurately about the days when government was limited. You complain about Congress as if the body took your voting rights away – it didn’t. You memorialize great users of our best but imperfect system as if they were superhuman – they weren’t. Those leaders were simply exceptional in their discernment; they didn’t set fire to things they feared or didn’t like. That’s what’s so great about it all.

Yell about your tax rate in your living room. I do. But if you want things to change, don’t contribute to the nomination of someone who will try to spurn a system you spurn 44 for spurning. Talk about how President Obama would make President Washington roll over in his grave. But don’t you dare try to nominate a man who would seek to make a joke of the system the Founding Fathers, about whom you wax poetic, created to roadblock an arrogant bomb of an “anti”-politician from shredding every bit of its historical and international credibility.

This system, our system, is head and shoulders above all the other ones. It’s been wielded by heroes of history to impel the country forward into unmatched wealth, success, and significance. We need to start nominating (and electing, but baby steps) men and women who appreciate the gravity of what the United States is, to history and the modern world. The creators of the system were well-intentioned and brilliant. The system is good. Check the name of someone who respects it. Check the name of someone who wants to use it, in the purest way possible.

We have to work together turn the boat around. Blowing up the boat won’t make America “great again.”

I grew up in rural Illinois. Abraham Lincoln represented the state in Congress. He’s buried there. Voters today talk about how Washington is too partisan. The Civil War era of our country was defined by a bloody war between families and a once-unified nation split down the middle. People running for high office today offer to fix our less consequential problems with hatred and fear. And yet, that broken and hurting nation struggling to survive 150 years ago was governed by someone who had this to say about malice:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

If history is our teacher and a place full of leaders we admire, and some we don’t, what are voters doing bucking everything we’ve learned? Being President of the United States is about dogged and smart pursuit of political and national unification. Consider this man defined by and proud of his anger who hates the people he seeks to govern through unchecked power derived from an institution designed to check it – he has absolutely no business being president. I don’t know when mutual indignation became a yardstick for primary votes. But the trend could make a distrusted, disrespected stooge of the country so many Republicans claim they intend to see made great again. I like my irony where I like my Donald Trump – on television shows and out of national politics.

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