Why I’m Giving Up Outrage

Did you hear what Trump did today? Did you hear what he said? Can you believe it?!?

So begins, middles, and ends every day these days. And if it’s not Cadet Bone Spurs himself, it’s some other mouth-breathing movement conservative saying that God’s a white supremacist or that women’s bodies have a way of shutting down conception in cases of ‘legitimate rape’ or that liberals want MS-13 to cross the border in force so they can overrun every two-bit empty-Main Street town in the heartland that just hasn’t been the same since the plant/mine/factory shut down and moved operations to somewhere the labor laws aren’t so job-killing as they are in ‘Merica.

It’s exhausting.

Worse, I’m more and more convinced that it is, if not pointless, then at least counterproductive. Let me explain.

We’ll start with the ‘rage’ part. After all, you can’t spell ‘outrage’ without ‘rage.’ And while outrage is a righteous anger, it is still anger. And anger is, well, problematic. It makes things black and white, crystal clear in the moment. But the thing is, when you’re angry, you don’t think clearly. You don’t think long-term, you don’t make smart decisions. Anger hijacks your higher brain functions and focuses them on itself, on the thing that’s making you angry. It fills your brain, crowds out other factors and considerations. It makes you do and say foolish things, things you will regret once you’ve cooled down. And while there’s a kind of power in anger, it’s a wholly destructive power. It wants to lash out, hit back. It mistakes vengeance for justice. I’m not saying it’s never useful or justified. Sometimes it’s both of those things. But rage and anger almost never get past the tactical to the strategic. They are essentially reactive instead of proactive.

Which segueways nicely to my second point. Outrage is by its nature reactive. Something outrageous happens, and we react. Which means we’ve lost (or never took) the initiative. We aren’t setting the terms of the debate, or its subject. We’re reacting, we’re contesting on ground of the opposition’s choosing. We’re talking about what they want to talk about. Not what we want to talk about. And we’re at a disadvantage because, as I mentioned above, we’re not only contesting on ground of the opposition’s choosing, we’re doing it while pissed off, which means we’re not thinking clearly when we do. It’s a recipe for failure and loss.

It’s exhausting. Worse, being outraged and reacting feel like they accomplish something, but for the most part, they don’t. They use up energy, they gratify because they feel like an affirmation of who we are. But they don’t change much. At least not the left-of-wingnut version. Sure, they can motivate people — the right’s shown us that — but look what they’ve motivated people to do and support on the right. We ask over and over how poor working white folks can vote over and over for plutocrats and the party that serves them most fervently. But we already know the answer. The plutocrats and their mouthpieces stoke anger, resentment, and outrage, and then point it at targets other than themselves. It’s worked so well that our outrage actually feeds them and makes them stronger, which is another good reason to let go of it.

And at this point I have to wonder how we manage to keep being outraged by things conservatives say or do, especially Donald Trump. I mean, he’s already shown himself to be venal, corrupt, dishonest, hypocritical, racist, sexist, xenophobic, abusive, and willing to say or do whatever it takes to get what he wants in the moment, consequences, truth, and reality be damned. At this point, the only truly outrageous thing he could do is not be those things.

Now, before you begin castigating, let me be clear. I am not advocating resignation, nor surrender. We are in a fight for our lives and our future here (hello, climate change). The stakes are as high as they could possibly be. Which is why outrage is, to be blunt, a luxury. A vice we abused for too long, and which made us lose sight of what the stakes were. Which is why we are where are now, with Republicans and conservatives in complete charge of our government, and on the verge of locking down the Supreme Court for a generation or more. And that’s not even the worst of it. We’re also — if we haven’t passed it already — careening past the point where we’re going to be able to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change.

So no, I’m not advocating resignation. What I advocate is resolve. Cold, calculating, clear-eyed resolve. To resist, yes. But also to insist. To grab hold of the initiative, articulate clear goals, and to persist in moving toward them. To formulate positive, proactive policies and programs that will not only see the fruits of human civilization’s accomplishments more fairly and evenly distributed, but will preserve and protect them and the planet we live on for generations to come.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that seems like a much more useful practice than reading the news and getting pissed off everyday.

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