“I’m as Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore!”
The famous cry from the 1976 film Network was prescient. If you don’t remember or know this classic, check out its most famous scene here: Beale’s rant. When you watch it, you’ll see that in 40 years, a lot hasn’t changed. Geniuses Paddy Chayefsky (writer) and Sidney Lumet (director) even imagined elements of reality television, YouTube videos, and sensationalist journalism 20 or more years before their time.
Can you relate to Howard Beale’s speech? Millions can. It may in part explain the quandaries political analysts find themselves in this young presidential campaign season. Perhaps unrest among the electorate is the crucial factor in the surprising-to-many polling numbers. There is, after all, more than a little Beale in the air.
The question is – was Beale right? Is getting mad the first step towards productive solutions?
History suggests both yes and no. Revolutions of all kinds are fueled by passions. Anger can be a powerful spur to action. Opposites of indifference, both love and hate move people to take risks and make sacrifices to change the status quo. The same ball these emotions may be, they have different spins. Each leads to very different ends.
The “love spin” can, at least in part, be applied to the American Revolution, for it was a revolution intended to historically elevate the individual. Through a combination of circumstances, wisdom, and many believe divine intervention, it was not a plea for the destruction of the system, but for independence and opportunity. Amid cries of “No taxation without representation,” it led directly to the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the longest lasting, most successful representative republic in human history. It ushered in the modern age.
A few years after the original Tea Partiers threw British Tetley’s into Boston Harbor, on the other side of the Atlantic, raged the French Revolution. Its rallying cry was “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” While calling for democracy, it was, in essence, a class war that led directly to blood soaked streets at the base of the guillotine (during its height, called the Reign of Terror, an estimated 16,000+ were guillotined, another 15,000 – 25,000 less fortunate were executed with whatever means available at the time) and later the despotism and Imperialism of Napoleon. The string of resulting events set the stage for not only the Napoleonic Wars but both World Wars more than a century later.
Today, as then, people are angry. They have cause. Here are the big ones:
- Our government will not defend our borders or enforce immigration policy; illegal immigrants (in concert with enabling employers and officials) use resources, commit crimes, and do not pay taxes to offset the financial and social strain.
- The Obama Administration continues to dismantle and degrade our military, gutting it of its best commanders and most effective weapons systems while doing little or nothing about the deplorable levels of VA system medical care for veterans returning from America’s longest war.
- Urban populations see opportunity for improving their conditions slip further and further away; schooling effectiveness declines while the system resists innovation such as school choice and vouchers.
- The Obama Administration left a power vacuum in Iraq and has since allowed ISIS to gain wealth, territory, and influence; it is now the first terrorist group with a caliphate of its own. The group is now operating in America, with over 70 arrests in the last two years (a couple in NJ was just arrested this week in the attempt to organize a small ISIS fighting force.)
- The Obama Administration seems to be more sympathetic to the Mullahs than our allies in Israel and elsewhere, as reflected in the latest negotiated agreement with Iran.
- China and Russia, among others, continually conduct cyberattacks against private and public American institutions with seeming impunity.
- Our government continues to systematically decimate our currency through overspending, the Fed’s quantitative easing, and relaxed regulations that allow the top five banks to engage in perilous leveraged activity. These practices have robbed American wage earners and our progeny of the over $150 trillion, over half the wealth in the entire world. The 2008 housing bubble bailout alone cost every American household $108,000.
- Money continues to flow into the hands of the wealthiest, the middle class’s real wages fall, while a poor-without-prospects “dependence class” grows.
- Civility and decency continue a long decline and there is a dearth of voices who even want to reverse the trend, much less offer effective solutions.
All of this contributes to a feeling of unrest, even impending doom. These are problems long in the making. Our government’s mishandling of health care, the EPA’s spilling of toxic material in Colorado, seemingly constant scandals such as Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails, Fast and Furious, IRS bullying, FCC and EPA over-reach, and countless other corruptions and failures of governance erodes faith that the system is even capable of fixing itself. People look to the upcoming election as an opportunity for an outsider, somebody who will not necessarily “play ball,” to shake the status quo and enact policy initiatives that will address the critical issues before it is too late.
All of the above described have reason and cause. We struggle with two incompatible visions of the American future. Those on the left side of the scale see more and better governance as the path to a better society. Nancy Pelosi passionately expressed this vision when she opined that it was good for people to not have to work in jobs they don’t want to do, that they could be free to pursue relationships and pastimes that are not what we think of as productive in a traditional way. She was selling the merits of a permanent, dependent, underclass.
Those on the right side of the political scale see injustice in systematically taking from those who are productive in order support those who are not. They also believe that you do a person no favor when you keep them dependent. They believe that this stunts a person’s personal and spiritual growth. Therefore they favor the reeling in of government function.
This fight between the left and right is an old one. It is coming to a head, as the system is straining under its enormous size, the additional weight of debt, and external pressures from around the globe. The situation is exacerbated by those in control who systematically sap it of its remaining lifeblood – money.
Americans are very aware of this dynamic. It has clearly affected the normal political calculus. In previous election seasons been-around-the-block candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders expressed interest in potential runs. Neither was taken seriously. Today, they are front runners in the first Primary states Iowa and New Hampshire.
A week after the first debate, three of the top five polling candidates on the Republican side, Trump, along with Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson, have never held elective office. This is both unprecedented and remarkable. It is also healthy. New voices and perspectives may prove very useful.
But it is also potentially hazardous. Platitudes and rancor lead to dark paths. We are susceptible, because the system protects itself. Real, well-considered discussion is fleeting. We are fed through the media a polluted stream of partial truth and distractions. Political dialogue mostly consists of the exchange of barbs and insults.
What leads to better results, in our national politics as well as our organizations and even our neighborhoods and families, is respect and shared values. This is what we need to talk more about. We need not so much Megyn Kelly’s gotcha questions as we need to critically and actively listen to each other. We must be willing to learn.
Generally, I place little faith in politicians to effect positive change. Those candidates stuck in old paradigms, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump, are not currently positioned to effect the change they claim to desire.
But I see rays of hope. Specifically, the rhetoric of Dr. Ben Carson seems imbued with a spirit of love and healing. To a lesser extent, I see elements of this in Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and even Mike Huckabee. My hope is that the discussion and resulting policy initiatives move in this direction. If so, it would be historic. It would be potentially productive, possibly restorative. We may be able to grow together past identity politics, the politics of division, to a place where we begin to appreciate that we are in the same boat and we mostly want the same things.
So sure, get mad. Go on a rant, if it makes you feel better. But then settle down in the knowledge that the solutions lie in openness, cooperation, honest learning, and caring about one another. It may even be possible to break the machine that is marching us to ruin and tyranny, and do so without bloodshed.
It will require love and courage. This I pray for all.