Liberal outrage has become a sacred duty. Fueled by the fear that Trump’s racist, misogynist and bellicose worldview will become “normalized”, outrage has become the unquestioned tactic of the left. They believe that vociferous opposition gives evidence that this stuff is not normal and never should be. But the opposite is actually true: Outrage normalizes the very thing it opposes. If liberals want to take up arms against Trump’s worst outbursts, the best tactic would be to heed the Queenly advice to calm down and carry on.
I am against tactical outrage not because I want to undermine the liberal cause. On the contrary, I don’t want Trump’s style to become the new normal for U.S. presidents. It’s chilling to contemplate what would happen if his attitudes on race, gender, and nationalism become the new normal for all our politicians, elected officials, diplomats, and business leaders. But despite my sympathies for the goals, my rejection of outrage as a tactic is based on the reality of human behavior and a little dose of common sense.
Outrage is the New Normal
First the common sense. What makes anyone think Trump or his followers will respond to feedback from a source that is openly angry and disgusted and proud of it? No human being I know accepts advice from such a source or takes their critiques seriously. The natural reaction is to be suspicious and defensive. To expect anything else from anyone whom you are aggressively criticizing and personally attacking is the height of hypocrisy.
And what is normal anyway? “Normal” means part of our everyday lives, something that we do regularly and routinely. Unintentionally, venting our feelings about Trump-speak has become as dependable, necessary and normal as a morning cup of coffee. Paradoxically, it is not the tweets or public remarks themselves that are normalizing rudeness, racism, and reactionary thinking – it’s the regular, predictable responses coming from the left. Outrage has become the new normal and it is as tainted by shallow thinking, snap judgments, gross oversimplification, and hate as the behavior it purports to abhor.
Outraged or Envious?
Now for the reality of human behavior. Opposition actually increases the behavior it is intended to defeat. Tell someone “No” and you are likely to get a finger in the eye in return. Your own experience tells you that what is forbidden is always the most desirable thing of all. Because by forbidding it, by keeping it for ourselves we loudly proclaim just how desirable it is. Which only increases desire for it in others. Think of something that you have that you keep on a high shelf or locked away or refuse to let others near. Isn’t that your most prized possession? By fencing it off with a big “NO!” you openly declare its value. Doesn’t your “no” arouse interest? And aren’t you pleased when it does? Showing off your possession, inciting envy for it while keeping it exclusively to yourself is one of life’s great pleasures.
Presidential Tweets are Trump’s prized possession, something he could not share with anyone even if he wanted to because there is only one president and only one @RealDonaldTrump. Trump no doubt sees the liberal display of temper for what it is – envy and resentment. Though it may pain you to hear it, Trump is right when he says that Hillary supporters cannot accept the plain reality that he won the election. Who is really the one obsessed with Hillary Clinton, an accusation the left repeatedly hurls at Trump? Trump may indeed be fixated on keeping around an opponent who unified his supporters, but the left is equally unable to let go of Hillary! One side hates her and one side pines for her lost presidency, but both sides have yet been unable to imagine life without her.
Trump and his opponents are also united by a shared desire to be the one who sets the standard for presidential behavior. Like a reflection in a mirror, we are opposing but identical images. The belief that we are different is an illusion we cling to out of pride. Any suggestion that we are the mirror image of our opponent is shameful to us because of the way in which we demean and disparage each other. Who wants to admit to being anything like the paragon of evil we claim our opponents to be? But we are carbon copies of Trump’s desire and he of ours. He tweets “Fake News!” and the left yells “Liar!”. Any substantive difference between those two taunts is an illusion.
There is no real difference between a tweet and a retweet, between Trump’s original utterance and quoting it in print or on the air. You might believe that adding outrage somehow makes them different, but as I have said, all outrage does is magnify and normalize the original utterance. If Trump’s offensive remarks failed to get retweeted, cited in news accounts or ridiculed on comedy shows, their impact would be greatly minimized. They would not become normal but rather inconsequential, which is, I think, what those disgusted by Trump-speak are really after. And holding one’s rage in check would go a long way to transforming the opposition from a mirror image of Trump into one that models a different mode of political rhetoric.
A Better Way
If you truly want to ensure that Trump’s tweets do not normalize his presidential standards, then the best thing you can do is ignore them. That’s right. Ignore the tweets. What should you do instead? Deal with what is actually happening! Don’t react to what Trump says, focus on what Trump and his administration are actually doing. By focusing on the Tweets and the mindless jabber you are paying too much attention to the side show and not enough to the main attraction. Which, can I say this emphatically enough, is what is actually happening! Don’t diminish the credibility of your objections to policy by situating them within a play yard brawl complete with bullying and name calling.
If you want substantive conversations about what matters to American domestic and foreign policy, then start participating in them and ignore the rest. You can’t end his Tweets by opposing them, but you can at least give your fellow Americans a break and let us have a cup of coffee in the morning without the side of outrage.
Are you interested in discussing this topic more? Join Suzanne Ross and Adam Ericksen for a live Facebook chat tomorrow, January 25, on the Raven Foundation Facebook page at 2:00 Central!