Mad About Politics

Categories: Activism
04/22/2018
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I’ve always had a strange relationship with anger. Although like most people, I’m prone to bouts of frustration and can get upset when provoked, it’s rare for me to lose my temper. As a naturally mild-mannered person who dislikes conflict, I try to approach life’s daily annoyances with a calm disposition and positive attitude. But maintaining these habits has become increasingly difficult in the Trump Era because there’s so much for to be angry about—the incompetence, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the blatant disregard for marginalized communities, the list goes on and on.

In addition to these political aggravations, the Trump Administration has created a political environment, through the president’s actions and ideology, that’s saturated in rage. Citizens need only take a cursory glance at President Trump’s Twitter account to receive a small sampling of the madness that occupies our highest office in the land. From this platform, the president aims his vitriol at a wide breadth of subjects, ranging from his assault allegations (“FAKE NEWS!”), to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem (“Weak and out of control!”), to the court system (“slow and political!”), to Ronda Rousey (“not a nice person!”)

But such wrath extends far beyond the digital world, as some of the most consequential political decisions throughout the Trump presidency have been motivated not by measured policy analysis, but by unchecked anger. For example, according to White House officials, Trump’s decision to engage in a trade war against China by raising aluminum tariffs was the direct result of the president feeling “angry and gunning for a fight” following Hope Hicks’ testimony about Russian interference in the 2016 election and Chief of Staff John Kelly’s efforts to reduce Jared Kushner’s role in the White House.

Yet, President Trump’s seemingly endless reserve of anger should come as no surprise to the American voter. After all, anger was one of the greatest motivators for Trump supporters during the 2016 Election and served as a key catalyst within the Make America Great Again Movement. For many, Donald Trump offered an outlet for the millions of Americans— who felt unheard by Washington D.C., who felt denied the necessary economic opportunities, who felt ridiculed by the elites in both the Democratic and Republican Parties—to release decades of pent-up frustration. And release they did. Social commentators have long noted the palpable aggression that seems to permeate throughout Trump rallies and the prototypical “angry white man” who comprises much of the MAGA base.

“For us to be anything other than happy requires us to interrogate the root causes of our discontent and identify the injustices that spark our rage.”

In short, one can easily summarize the entirety of the Trump Administration as a case study in the dangers of unchecked anger. But if such is the case, then why am I still so angry? And importantly, is it really such a horrible thing that I’m still so angry? As women, we’re socially conditioned from an early age to avoid anger. Whereas when men react in anger they’re perceived as “dominant,” “powerful,” and “passionate,” when women react in anger, we’re perceived as “bitchy,” “erratic,” and “on their periods.” Why? Because when we aren’t happy, we’re no longer passive or compliant, but active individuals seeking validation. Because for us to be anything other than happy requires us to interrogate the root causes of our discontent and identify the injustices that spark our rage. Because anger is predicated upon the idea that we deserve better. Because anger can be more than just an uncontrollable emotion, but can function as a tool of empowerment.

In her famous essay, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Audre Lorde suggests that women have been conditioned to fear anger not because of the inevitable confrontation that anger creates, but the change that can result from such confrontations. For, as Lorde notes,

 “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in all those assumptions underlining our lives.”

Through our anger, we, as women, have the potential to make the change that we seek.

Anger provides oppressed individuals with a powerful source of energy and knowledge that facilitates progress. Rather than perpetuate the status quo, anger mobilizes and motivates those who have been oppressed, and challenges that status quo by forcing those with privilege to confront the opinions of those who have been oppressed.

Yet, as we seek to disrupt the status quo, we must examine the oppression that exists both inside and outside of our movement. Within any political coalition, there’s always an inherent tension amongst that various organizing activists in terms of both identity and ideals. Historically, one consistent source of conflict within the Women’s Movement has been the aspect of race—particularly as it relates to dynamics between Black and White organizers. Far too often, Black women within the movement have had legitimate concerns dismissed by their White colleagues because their anger has been wrongfully perceived as the stereotypical ramblings of “mad Black women” and met with a dogged defensiveness. These are fatal mistakes we cannot afford to repeat in the future.

“We must encourage a dialogue that not only welcomes anger, but allows us to listen to anger for a greater understanding of ourselves and of our sisters.”

The anger of women of color is justified from centuries of intersectional oppression, and to oversimplify this anger through trite stereotypes is a cheap attempt at invalidating their experiences. We, as women, must learn to not only to fearlessly embrace our own anger, but embrace the anger of other women when tempers flare. We must meet other women’s anger with acceptance rather than argument. For, if we respond with a combative discourse, we rob ourselves of the ability to openly communicate with each other and grow as a community. We must encourage a dialogue that not only welcomes anger, but allows us to listen to anger for a greater understanding of ourselves and of our sisters, so that in the process of overthrowing oppression, we do not become oppressors within our own right.

We’ve already seen the effects of the anger that’s resulted from the Trump Administration reflected in the growth of the Women’s Movement and the historical number of female candidates who have filed to run for office in the midterm elections. Women are no longer fearing their anger, but embracing it as, Lorde suggests, “a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” President Trump’s anger may be a source of destruction, but we shall use our anger as a source of construction—to construct more inclusive policies, communities, and values. Anger may have sent President Trump to the White House, but, if used appropriately by women, it will also evict him.

 

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Emily Wasek recently graduated from the College of William & Mary with a major in Government and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. While in college, Emily served as president of Women’s Initiative in Leadership, an organization dedicated to cultivating the next generation of female leaders. Much of Emily’s previous work has focused on the intersection of women and political progress. Her honors thesis, “A Women’s Place in the State House: Exploring Backlash Effects of Women’s Increased Descriptive Representation” examined whether women’s increased elected presence resulted in a legislative backlash that could increase policies counterproductive to women’s interests. As a research fellow for the Project on International Peace and Security, her white paper “Mobilizing Change in Central America: Fostering Women’s Networks to Combat Gang Violence” analyzed how women’s coalitions could be used to enhance anti-gang policies in Central America.