Thirty-five years ago, in the movie Network, Peter Finch urged members of his fictional TV audience to fling open their windows, stick out their heads and scream to the world, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” In 1976, we treated the movie as satire. Little did we know that, sadly, it was prophecy.
We all knew there was a dark underbelly to America. Hate groups got their occasional coverage on the news. Racism still held sway in large parts of the country. Labor and management had their tiffs. The generation gap was real. We’d seen a presidential assassination. Not too many years later, a civil rights leader was slain, and then the dead president’s brother fell victim to yet another assassin.
Despite all that, however, we held on to the belief that the majority of us were rational enough, and smart enough, and wise enough, and decent enough, to talk things through. Plenty of us were as mad as hell about a lot of things, but we tried our best to sublimate our anger and find ways to work productively together. If anger grew intense, we found leaders to help us channel it and look for new directions. Anger over the Nixon-Ford years led to Carter’s being elected. Anger over Carter’s seeming ineffectiveness led to Reagan’s being elected. Anger over Clinton’s difficult first term led to the Republican revolution of 1993. Anger over George W. Bush led to Obama’s election. And anger over Obama’s policies led to the Tea Party revolution of 2010.
Obviously, anger is one of our more constant national moods, but I’m afraid the country’s latest round is different. When I look at the Tea Party, I see anger without direction, emotion without thought, an anti-incumbent spirit without a platform.
On the plus side, I see people who have been energized to get involved. Now I hope they will start to turn their anger into more productive attitudes, like humility and a willingness to work together to dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve created. If we’re going to make it as a country, the time for screaming at one another has to be over. The time to work together has to begin.
I’m thinking about this because of the assassination attempt this weekend on a congresswoman from my state, Gabrielle Giffords. It remains to be seen exactly what drove her accused assailant, Jared Lee Loughner, to his shooting spree in Tucson. I’m sure we’ll learn that it was a multitude of factors, but I agree with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik that the fever-pitched, mad-as-hell rhetoric spewing forth from so many media platforms almost certainly played a role.
I’m not for banning the “mad as hell” crowd from the airwaves; I’m too much of a First Amendment supporter to favor that. I’m hoping for something more difficult to achieve. I’m hoping that as a nation, we’ll turn our backs toward those who feed the anger habit so we can see their audiences dwindle. Instead, let’s talk to each other, find some patience and look together for strategies to build a better future for ourselves. And let’s work with leaders who want to do the same instead of looking only to build party dominance and personal power.
If you’re mad as hell, don’t channel that anger toward others. Instead, look in the mirror and ask what you can do to help. In this government of the people, by the people and for the people, that’s what each of us has to do.
Too Pollyannaish? Well then, you tell me what other sane course is available to us.