Laurie and Debbie say:
It’s been 48 hours or so since the Capitol Building was cleared of domestic terrorists. Thanks to curfews and other factors, we have been spared much of the immediate violent fallout that could have occurred: Black churches and synagogues in DC and other cities suffered no serious harm, and no violent street protests appear to have made much headway.
The voices of our political “leaders” and our self-appointed pundits are loud and constant. All of them are prepared to tell us what the right punishment is for Donald Trump, what the DC police did or didn’t do that they should or shouldn’t have done, who should suffer consequences (and what consequences), etc. Most important, they all want to tell us what’s going to happen next–something no one knows.
We’d rather look at what did happen and offer some thoughts about why.
Even though many women participated in the rampage, and even though the Proud Boys are uncommonly diverse (and uncommonly proud of it) for an all-male far-right neofascist organization, this was basically an explosion of enraged white men. The Proud Boys were by no means the only instigators of Wednesday’s violence.
What are they angry about?
At base, they are angry because they are losing the privilege they believe is their birthright. In the last forty years, they and their fathers have lost a lot of power over women. In the last sixty years, they and their fathers and grandfathers had the opportunity to see what might happen if Black people actually made gains in education, employment, and affluence. They have always been told that they are the only people who deserve status, of wealth, and of power.
Watching what you have been told is your unquestioned birthright slip away from you will make you angry. This anger, by definition, has to be unexamined, because examining it can make it disappear: examined loss of privilege can result in a greater understanding of what you have that other people don’t, and what might be productively shared.
Add the election of Donald Trump to that pile of kindling, and you get a rage bonfire. Trump is a perfect example of the man born with everything and is constantly enraged because he doesn’t believe he has ever had enough, and — say what you like about his intelligence in other contexts — he is uncannily good at speaking to the unexamined rage, inflaming it, and directing it. This explains much about the last four years in the United States.
So he becomes not just a leader and an instigator, but a father and almost a deity to people who feel that he understands them when no one else does. He takes an entrenched American habit of expressing our anger outside our borders and brings it home to lay at the feet of his admirers. Then he loses an election. And, true to form for people whose ascendancy is unchallengeable, he refuses to admit that he lost. He marshals all his incendiary skills to inflame the only people who could conceivably save him …
… and they storm the U.S. Capitol. This is historically unprecedented, and happens in our very visual, news-in-your-eyeballs world. The people who hate, despise, and fear Trump react as if this mob of terrorists, armed with AK-47s, Molotov cocktails, and pipe bombs, has stormed our own houses. And we respond with two emotions: fear and our own rage.
Fear makes it harder to examine rage. Rage, by its nature, resists examination. If it cannot be expressed, it strives to be denied. Nonetheless, quieting our fear and examining our rage is what we must do. Anger denied is powerless; anger expressed without examination is purely destructive. We need only to look to real leaders like Stacey Abrams and Rev. William Barber to see what happens when anger is acknowledged, contained, and directed. Examined anger is effective. And effectiveness, above all else, is what we need right now.
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