What have we become? America the furious? The land of the irate and the home of the enraged?
Our country urgently needs a full slate of anger management courses.
That’s one of the things we learned at the circus that surrounded the confirmation of Brett Michael Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
At first blush, one might think that everything the American people endured over the last several weeks was about an alleged sexual assault more than 30 years ago and the passionate manner in which the accused defended himself against the charge.
But 90 percent of what we’ve seen, heard, and been through during this public fiasco had nothing to do with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or Judge Kavanaugh.
Consider the ugly confrontations of Republican senators by angry pro-Democrat, anti-Kavanaugh protestors. Just when lawmakers thought it was safe to go back in the Senate elevator.
First, a pair of Democratic activists who claimed to be sexual assault victims got into the personal space of Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. They yelled and screamed and harangued the poor guy on his way to take his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And naturally, they videotaped and distributed the whole spectacle. After all, if you speak truth to power, you had better have your phone handy to record it.
Flake was polite but quiet, hanging his head as if he had done something wrong and trying not to look directly at the protestors. “Look at me!” one of the women repeatedly screamed at him, proving that she knew more about social justice than social skills. When the Republican made his way back to the committee room, he was visibly shaken and ready to cut a deal with Democrats that would allow for what turned out to be a speedy FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh.
Once the investigation was over, and senators got ready to cast their votes for the judge’s nomination, there was yet another confrontation with yet another Republican lawmaker at yet another Senate elevator. This time, the target was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah who was verbally attacked by anti-Kavanaugh protesters who were itching for a fight. When Hatch waved his hand, one woman took offense and shouted back: “You don’t wave your hand at me! I wave my hand at you!” Then she yelled at the senator: “Why aren’t you brave enough to talk to us?”
Unlike Flake, Hatch pushed back, albeit with dismissiveness and condescension. He told the woman: “When you grow up, I’d be glad to.” That made her even angrier, and she yelled back: “How dare you talk to women that way?!”
The whole exchange was videotaped and circulated widely on the Internet, which is the real goal of these confrontations. No one is trying to convince anyone. The idea is to embarrass them.
Anyone still think that public tantrums like these are about Kavanaugh or Ford? These hearings, and the allegations against a Supreme Court nominee, were the spark for this eruption of public anger. But the kindling was already there.
When political observers try to pinpoint when the well of judicial nominations got poisoned by such intense acrimony, many cite the bitter confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who was rejected by the Senate in October 1987.
But I think the public anger, which often spills out way beyond politics, had a different birthdate. I think it started with the Bill Clinton administration, and how furious — and frustrated — conservatives got with a public figure, who they saw as morally flawed and yet impossible to defeat at the ballot box. Add two terms of George W. Bush, who Democrats found just as flawed and just as tough to beat. And follow that with two terms of Barack Obama, who — well, you get the idea.
In the absence of being able to come up with a viable political alternative to keep some of these races competitive, anger became the national default position for conservatives and liberals alike. And over time, this anger was compounded.
So here we are. Half the country is in the face of the other half. We don’t think anymore; we just yell the loudest. We’re not guided by reason; we’re driven by emotion. We’re spending so much of our lives racked by pain, anger, and hurt feelings that some are missing out on life. We carry around us our traumas and victimization, and we wait for someone or something to come along that we can dump it all on.
Someone like Brett Kavanaugh, who was made to pay for the sins of every man who ever acted improperly toward a woman. That is a long list.
If Americans are fired up and want to get angry over something, they should get angry over that.
Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”
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