Republicans, it seems, are mad. Very, very angry. Maybe you’ve heard the famous movie quote “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” It’s from a 1976 movie called Network, which was one of the most prophetic films of all time. See, in the movie, a newscaster named Howard Beale is told that his program is getting canceled, because no one is watching it — so he gets on the air and threatens to kill himself on next week’s show. The ratings go up; everyone is tuned in. So he goes on a rant about the state of the nation and asks everyone to get up, open their windows, and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” And they do. And the ratings go up so much that Mr. Beale gets his own prime-time show and becomes a big celebrity. He’s billed as “the mad prophet of the airwaves.”
That was 40 years ago, and now in the USA live and in-person we’ve got our own mad prophet of the airwaves, and he’s running for president. We’ve written before about the science of why people love Donald Trump: He appears to be telling “the truth,” and is an anti-politician. But we haven’t yet tapped into what has continued to fuel his success, and what lurks beneath his racism and the racism of many of his supporters. What feeds his campaign is made of the same alchemy that helped Bush win in 2004: fear and anger. As highlighted in a recent Salon piece, political correctness has become a dirty word over at the GOP, and hating women, Muslims (especially Muslims), refugees, Latinos, and African-Americans is refreshing. His anger has a Hulk-like effect on the party and its supporters: The more they froth at the mouth, the bigger they get, and the more publicity that follows.
While Republicans are sometimes accused of playing the victim, it’s not hard to see why: A Pew Research poll shows that “large majorities of both conservative Republicans (81 percent) and moderate and liberal Republicans (75 percent) say their political side loses more often than it wins.” Trump masterfully manages to be the everyman — the victim — while still being a megalomaniac billionaire. He’s a Joe Shmo with his name on every building (an ice skating rink) in New York. But people can see themselves in him, in the “mad prophet of the airwaves,” because he’s just as fear-minded as they are, as much a victim to all this madness as he is. Trump’s fears are the everyman’s fears, and he knows better than anyone how to manipulate his followers into a frenzy.
And all this would be a delightful carnival, an hysterical sideshow, were it not for the fact that a man was beaten and choked at a Trump rally in Alabama. It would be entertaining, really, were it not for the fact that we have very intense race problems at the moment, a xenophobia that extends to blacks, Muslims, and Latinos. The problem with anger and fear is that like many emotions, they turn into actions. And every time you make a public comment that aligns yourself with a behavior that promotes ignorance and violence, you are a part of this ever-growing problem.
How do we combat anger, fear, and hatred? It’s not by being equal in our outrage. It’s by finding a candidate we can believe in (of any party), that doesn’t resort to the tactics of Trump et al, voting for them, and proving that sometimes, peace, love, and understanding can win.
PHOTO CREDIT: David Becker/Getty Images