I’ve been thinking about the anger of the 2016 election, both in terms of the campaigns themselves, and the end result.
The Trump campaign was based on emotion. It was not based on logic or reason. It was not based on the candidate’s credentials or good will, or even – to a great extent – on experience. After the 2008 economic downturn, the first Obama presidential win, and his subsequent re-election, many who were unhappy with how things transpired in the United States had plenty of time to re-charge and re-direct its anger.
We might forget the anger that was present in Republican circles when Obama won his first term. It might not be the same anger some of us are feeling today, but anger is the emotion. We might have even ignored or missed the anger that was felt by some after Obama was re-elected. And it wasn’t “some” that felt this. That “some” was likely more than the first time around, but just not enough to tip the scales.
As Obama entered the end of his second term, there was plenty of time for that anger to grow into something that just needed a vessel. While I don’t agree with it, I suspect that the same forces that opposed an African American president also probably had a hard time with a female president. How could the angry white male establishment let that happen? Policy and emails aside, I was really not surprised by this.
So putting their faith into Trump – whatever his shortcomings – was a clear, but predictable, action. In hindsight, we aren’t very surprised. Why? One reason is that we all underestimated the power of anger.
I still remember a talk given in the early 2000s by Gen Kelsang Norden – a Buddhist teacher. The talk was about anger, and it’s many facets. A key aspect of the discussion was how anger has no positive qualities. It sometimes appears that anger gives us strength or energy to perform some task. Ultimately, this is a deception. Powering ourselves with anger only means we’re driven by negativity. We think we can control anger, and manage the outcome that ripples outward from our anger. Something that we do in anger – even to ends we think are noble – is still an act performed in a negative frame of mind. This is a delusion.
So I think we need to be careful harnessing anger as we move forward – on both sides – and as we look ahead to 2020. The pendulum has swung in the other direction now. The joy of the Obama victories is perhaps pale (or orange) compared to the anger and negativity many of us feel now. But we have to remember that there is a large portion of the country who harnessed their anger for what they thought were noble ends to get Trump elected. And the vessel for that anger was a candidate who craftily manipulated every form of media and performed every blunder to keep his name alive, drawing even the reluctant voters out to vent their anger.