Patricia A. Nugent: One Nation, Under Rage, Divisible￼
“It’s getting kinda scary,” she lamented. “There are random acts of violence happening all over the city. Pedestrians are being pushed onto subway tracks, getting knocked over on sidewalks – by strangers! It’s like a rage tsunami.”
“Peg, you gotta get out of the city. It’s not going to get any better. Please consider relocating.”
“Do you really think it’s happening only in New York City?” she rhetorically responded.
In truth, I did. I’ve been living in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in a rural setting with low population density and few commercial establishments. There I do see written expressions of rage in signs and banners such as “Fuck Biden” or “This is NRA Country” or the most terrifying “Trump 2024.” And, of course, Confederate flags. But I didn’t realize how endemic the rage in this country is until I ventured out to the suburbs to run some errands after Peg returned to “the most dangerous city in America.”
While standing in line for the women’s room at a restaurant, a man brushed against me. When he came back, he did the same thing. “Excuse me,” I said in an annoyed but quiet tone. He loudly lashed out: “You expect me to say ‘excuse me’ to you, bitch. You were standing right in my way, and you want ME to say excuse me.”
Guess I shouldn’t have been in his way. Nor should the car at the stoplight have been in the way when the driver behind her wanted to turn right on red. Although the lane signage indicated it was okay to go straight or turn right from that lane, the male driver behind her laid on his horn and didn’t let up. The Asian woman drove straight through the red light to get away from the rageful blast.
Hmmmm….so rage isn’t confined to urban areas; it’s spread to the suburbs. Glad I live here, I thought. Until…I took my new rescue dog for a walk along the road. He’s a nice dog on his way to being good, but not the greatest side-by-side leash walker yet; in fact, he tends to weave in front of me. So, when I spotted a pick-up truck hauling a large boat on a trailer, which itself was weaving, I motioned for it to slow down as it rounded a curve toward us. The driver’s response was to step on the accelerator, causing me to push my dog into a ditch to get us both out of harm’s way.
Looking back, it now seems significant that boaters on my Adirondack lake have stopped waving to each other. That used to be standard practice, navigational etiquette. You passed another boat, you waved. That quaint custom declined before COVID forced us to retreat socially; it correlated with Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy, institutionalizing the concept of “the other.” Boaters now declare their allegiance to him via banners.
Psychologists tell us that unmet expectations are at the root of all anger: If we have no expectations, we can’t be disappointed. Disappointment leads to anger, which is often a manifestation of depression as well. My father was a rageful man; as the son of Italian immigrants who faced discrimination, he suffered a lot of disappointment. I’d always been deeply affected by his rage – even when not directed at me. So, this current unraveling of our social fabric is unsettling to me. More so than not feeling physically safe, I feel emotionally vulnerable. And my own rage bubbles up more now, primarily directed toward inanimate objects. Is that fear, which can also manifest as aggression?
Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teaches in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames that we’re all born with anger, instilled by the traumatic birthing process. Rage causes us to suffer unless we find ways to civilly communicate with the source of our anger.
I wonder if rage is contagious, the flames fanned by those who normalize acting out, making it acceptable to outwardly rage against others. Certain elected officials and television personalities are profiting from channeling rage into more rage. Those for whom this democratic experiment is not working seem to be the most rageful, yet are the most ardent flag-wavers, seemingly unaware that they’re pawns, doing the bidding of the one-percenters fearful of losing their privileged status. The United States flag has been appropriated by those rageful at our government, who tried to overthrow it, willing to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House at the behest of a rageful megalomaniac.
Maybe the blood spilled on American soil from massacring the natives, fighting the Revolutionary War and Civil War, and torturing slaves has altered the American DNA, causing us to act out the violence our policies have fomented over the centuries. Maybe all the wars we’ve fought overseas have altered our collective psyche because so many soldiers don’t return or return incapacitated. Maybe we really are John-Wayne yahoo-cowboys looking for a fight, which is how other nations view our imperialism. But we’ve now turned our imperialism inward, wanting our fellow citizens to be just like us, demanding that others subscribe to our views, vote like us (or not at all). Programming them to no longer care about civility but instead care about winning the war at home. A war for white supremacy, for male dominance, for privilege.
“It’s getting kinda scary,” Peggy had said. She’s right. Anger can cause us to neglect gratitude, kindness, and integrity. As we mature as individuals and a nation, it’s our responsibility to redirect anger in ways that lift us and others up, to channel the energy into a higher vibration. To channel the passion of rage into love. Quoting a twelfth-century Chartre Cathedral principle, Kathleen McGowan, author of The Source of Miracles, writes, “There is no problem for which the instruction to love more is not the solution.”
More love. It’s harder than it sounds – but worth a try. Because what we’re doing is not working.
Patricia A. Nugent writes to give voice to those who might otherwise be silenced. She’s the author of They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad, and editor of the anthology Before They Were Our Mothers: Voices of Women Born Before Rosie Started Riveting. Her latest book is Healing with Dolly Lama: Finding God in Dog about an unwanted puppy that became a muse for her personal transformation.