Pundits keep telling us that Donald Trump has succeeded thus far by tapping into a deep-seated anger within the electorate. A CBS poll seems to bear this out: Mr. Trump enjoys a double-digit lead among voters who self-identify as angry. No wonder America’s 2016 choice for president has been dubbed “the anger election.”
And Trump isn’t alone. Many of the candidates are either truly angry or are feigning anger for the sake of political expediency. Carla Seaquist says, “The essence of 2016 [is] clear: This election is about anger.” Jennifer Boylan calls this “the Year of the Angry Voter.”
Anger has its uses. It is profoundly motivational. It gets us up and moving. It energizes us so that we can combat wrong and injustice. That’s what anger is good at. What it is not good at is thinking, reasoning, and figuring things out. Anger is much better at putting a stop to injustice than it is at fostering justice.
If an angry candidate is elected, who’s to say he or she will stop being angry and start governing wisely? It will depend on whether his or her anger is simply a façade to attract angry voters, is genuinely directed at injustice, or is the governing principle of the politician’s own life. If the latter, we are in for trouble.
The Bible presents a nuanced view of anger. We read that God gets angry (or, to be more precise, that God is angry) with sin, evil and injustice. Jesus got angry, and the biblical writers did not try to cover it up. St. Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin,” which seems to be a reference to an ancient Psalm. But when Paul writes it into Greek he says literally, “Be angry and sin not.” Clearly anger is sometimes appropriate.
But anger can share living space with malice, the desire to hurt another person, and that is always forbidden. When a person acts out of anger, yells and swears or withdraws and avoids, he is trying to hurt someone. He may say that he’s not, but he’s just fooling himself.
I have heard men who push and slap and beat their wives swear that they never meant to hurt them. Nonsense. It is a pure, unadulterated lie. Malice lives in anger’s shadow, and it hurts both the soul of the angry person and the soul of the person who is the object of anger.
This is why Christian writers have been so guarded about anger and so opposed to malice. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” says the apostle. “…rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
These are but a few examples; the Bible is full of them. Anger is dangerous and must be carefully controlled, while malice is toxic and must be categorically rejected. Anger has a place and a time; malice does not. Anger is necessary, like a starter in a car is necessary, but if it doesn’t shut off when its job is done, something’s going to break.
To the biblical warnings about anger people often say, “But I have a reason to be angry.” Well who doesn’t? You can’t walk down the street without tripping over one. We don’t need another reason to be angry, however convincing it is. We need a reason to put away anger.
The biblical writers give us many: anger does not bring about the good life God desires; anger gets in the way; hurts the soul; leads to evil. Anger opens the door for malice to enter one’s home and relationships; it leaves a person subject to God’s judgment.
If “the year of the angry voter” transitions into the administration of an angry president, our nation is in for trouble. The ancient proverb warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” Wouldn’t that also go for electing one?
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 2/27/2016