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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


The Power and Peril of Rage

For a moment, I think I understood where Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump are coming from.

October 25, 2017


I got really really pissed-off yesterday. The reasons why aren’t important, and have been resolved, but I only reach this degree of pique a couple of times a year.

What a high! Whoooooooo!

Mid rage, I went out and ran my fastest 10k in 18 months after initially planning to run only 5k. Only trouble was I couldn’t keep the earbuds in because of the steam coming out my ears. I was like a cartoon character, churning the pavement behind me into a little pile.

As I huffed and puffed through the neighborhood I nursed my anger, imagining the worst of motives for those who I believed sinned against me. Sworn enemies for life, blood feud. Oh, what terrible revenge I could wreak upon them with the force of my words and this blog!

I conjured responses, imagined bold actions that would effectively register the severity of my wounding. Most of them involved some form of self-immolating martyrdom, but nevermind! The degree to which I harmed myself would only reinforce how severely I’d been wronged!

My anger gave me a fresh understanding of President Trump, who seems to live in a state of perpetual rage, often seeking out what he sees as rage-worthy topics – such as the NFL players kneeling for the anthem – to get a quick high.

And it is a high. It was kind of thrilling, feeling all that self-righteousness and anger. If I hadn’t gone for that run, who knows what kind of damage I could’ve done. As is, I still offered plenty of intemperance before things settled down and were resolved.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders defends President Trump’s rages as strength, but I think they are the opposite. In the midst of being pissed-off, I felt an actual physical charge, but I was simultaneously hating myself, not as much as the people I was pissed at, but still, I was well aware of how I’d lost control of my anger and in that state I was a danger to myself and others.

Thankfully, this kind of response doesn’t happen often. I’m a Midwesterner; we’re not supposed to act this way. We’re generally not supposed to have visible feelings at all. Still, we all have buttons and mine got pushed. The aftermath is a feeling of shame. It’s not that I think I was wrong on the merits, but I wonder what went haywire to get so exercised over it.

This is the sense of weakness, of vulnerability.

I’m wondering if people like President Trump and Bill O’Reilly are something like rage “addicts.” In his recent interview with The New York Times podcast The Daily, O’Reilly’s rage is palpable on the audio throughout, and just barely contained at the end of the interview when he gets most exercised. 

While in my own rage, I understood this on an elemental level. O’Reilly has convinced himself he is being wronged and nothing will change this. How a man who paid tens of millions of dollars in harassment settlements gets to turn himself into the aggrieved party is mystifying, but the allure of rage made all too much sense to me. It is as though he is using his rage as fuel to keep going.

Judging from this clip when he hosted Inside Edition in the 1990s, O’Reilly has been using rage as fuel for quite some time.

Me, I found it exhausting, and not just because I’d run far, fast (by my standards, anyway). By 11:30 a.m. I was nursing a headache. After lunch I needed a nap. Even now, in the afternoon, I can feel a kind of hangover. My emotions are close to the surface, and not in a good way. The thought of stoking this kind of emotion on a daily basis sounds like a kind of hell.

Hopefully this will all dissipate by the time my wife gets home. One of the realities of rage is its tendency to harm those in the pissed-off person’s radius. In speaking to the Daily, O’Reilly’s anger caused him to invoke the death of a former Fox News colleague’s son as an ostensible play for sympathy from the reporters. The former colleague did not appreciate this.

And I can’t help but see our entire country as captive to our president’s near daily rages. At this point they are so frequent that I, personally, have become numb.

In his speech on the Senate floor following the announcement that he would not be seeking re-election, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake[1] said this, directly referring to President Trump’s tendency to pick fights: 

“The reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is just the way things are now.”

That ship has sailed, senator. Welcome to the U.S.S. Rage. We’re all on board, whether we like it or not.

[1] To illustrate how odd things have become, several times yesterday I heard Flake described as a “moderate.” Politically, he is virtually a libertarian, and almost as far right as Rand Paul. He’s described as “moderate” because he doesn’t have the stomach to be the 24/7 rage monster it would take to win his party’s primary.


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