|See "Anger and Aggression," APA.|
Anger's in the news right now. For Americans, anger's in the very air we breathe at present. Read articles analyzing the spectacular rise of strongman-cum-carnival barker Donald Trump to the top of the GOP primary, and you'll encounter the word anger over. And over. Again.
Anger sometimes feels good. I'm angry because I'm right. (And if I'm right, you're wrong.)
I'm angry because I have a right to be angry. You've taken my country away from me. You're sponging off my hard work through your entitlement programs. A president with dark skin has spent the last eight years doling out lavish handouts to you dark-skinned people. I'm mad as hell and I don't intend to take it any more.
Anger and self-righteousness go hand in hand like wood and termites. We nurse our anger — we take pride in it — because it demonstrates to us and others that we're overflowing with righteousness. At times in which the best lack conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and they're not uncommonly puffed up in those times with passionate intensity demonstrated by passionate anger, which in turn exhibits their claim to a righteousness surpassing your righteousness and mine.
Survivors of abuse at the hands of Catholic religious authority figures are angry at what has been done to them. Sympathetic people, people of good will, who follow the story of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church are also angry — at the abuse of good, innocent fellow human beings, at the betrayal of trust by and downright cruelty of pastoral leaders, at the lies, sham, dissimulation.
Not a few of us have walked away from the church in disgust as we've watched this show unfold. We've had enough. The cup of our anger has overflowed.
Both survivors and those who stand with survivors have a right to be angry. No one should belittle the anger of people who have been cruelly abused or of people whose trust has been betrayed.
Living with constantly churning burning anger takes a toll, however. Living with the illusion that we're more righteous than others and that our constantly churning burning anger is an outward sign of the inward grace of our righteousness takes a big toll, too.
It's possible, I'd propose, that the sense of self-righteouness (I'm right and you're not right; you're to blame for the downfalls I've suffered) fueling the rise of strongman-cum-carnival barker Donald Trump to the top of our political process is illusory. It's possible that we white Americans do not have the right to feel so aggrieved, to blame someone else for our troubles at this point in history.
It's possible that our belief in our own righteousness, no matter how satisfying it feels to cling to it, is an edifice built on sand, whose foundations are eroding as historical forces that deserve to strip us of self-righteousness affect our lives through the emergence into our all too white and privileged public square of people with brown and black faces, of women, of poor people, of LGBT people.
It's possible, in fact, that we're blaming entirely the wrong people for our misery, when we place blame for our woes on those people who are, after all, seeking the same rights we claim as our own birthright. It's possible that, in turning to strongman-cum-carnival barker Donald Trump as our savior, we're throwing ourselves into the arms of the very sector of our society that has produced the misery we now want to blame brown people, black people, poor people, women, and LGBT people for.
I'd like to propose that there's a lesson here for those of us following the Catholic abuse crisis, and wanting to see effective, meaningful change in the Catholic church (and all other institutions, religious and secular) in the area of its propagation and cover-up of sexual abuse of minors. As one of the unimaginably courageous people who have worked to call the Catholic church to accountability in this area for several decades now, Father Thomas Doyle tells us yesterday what it was like for him to watch the Oscar ceremonies and see "Spotlight" win the best picture award: he has spent over 32 years learning to be skeptical that any change is possible, learning that most statements from Catholic officials about the abuse crisis are so much hot air and insubstantial p-r.
And then the award came:
I have been overjoyed and grateful that "Spotlight" has been receiving accolades since it came out and was even more so when it was nominated for best picture but I admit that my skepticism got the best of me and I was preparing to be disappointed right up to the moment Morgan Freeman opened the envelope. Then…Whammo! When the "stun" wore off and I realized what had just happened I knew that this crusade so many people have been involved with for over a quarter of a century had just been raised to a whole new level.
Overjoyed. Grateful. Raised to a whole new level. These words are coming from a man who should be angry, who should be filled with righteous indignation that Catholic officials have done so little (beyond obstructing and lying) to confront their abuse crisis for over 30 years now.
If anyone has a right to such righteous anger, in the circles of the Catholic abuse survivors' movement, it's Tom Doyle. And yet, having heard the news that "Spotlight" won the best picture award, his insinct was not to shrug his shoulders and say, "This will change nothing. The Catholic institution is beyond change. It's corrupt to the core."
His instinct was not to give such a victory to those running the Catholic show, but to celebrate, to move beyond his well-earned anger and cynicism, to recognize that a "crusade so many people have been involved with for over a quarter of a center had just been raised to a whole new level." Anger, you see, separates us from everyone else in the world who does not share our particular anger at a particular injustice at a particular moment. The sense of righteous entitlement anger generates in us causes us to band together only with others who share that anger.
White Americans who are seething with righteous indignation at this point in American history, who want to blame brown and black others, poor others, female others, LGBT others for their cultural misery, have bonded together in a sense of angry self-righteousness that is us-vs.-them self-righteousness: it's us against the rest of the planet, which is a virtual sea of those threatening others surrounding us on our little angry, self-righteous island.
This is not a recipe for survival in a complex world full of complex people. It's a recipe for self-destruction and for the destruction of everything, insofar as that angry little island of entitled, self-righteous white folks holds the reins of power for the whole world, has more weapons than anyone else in the whole world. To plot strategies for effective change, for real social transformation, we have to get beyond the us-vs.-them way of thinking and start building something to effect change — even if that something is merely a crackbrained crusade of a few courageous people unwilling to shut up when a powerful institution tells them to shut up.
And unwilling to wallow in their anger, or their self-righteousness, when it feels so much more soothing to wallow than to do something constructive.
When it feels so much easier to wallow and stew in anger than to listen to each other, to collaborate, to build together, to recognize that you may have righteousness, too, and that your righteousness is not a threat to my righteousness, but, added together, our righteous anger transformed into collaboration might just change something. Even in a wily ancient institution whose non-transparent, non-accountable leaders seem totally impervious to appeals to change.
P.S. The anger that many anti-Catholic people, including those justifiably angry at the abuse of minors by Catholic religious authority figures, are expressing relentlessly in the American public square today, with claims that the Catholic church is the sole locus of evil in the world, is uncannily similar to the anger of the supporters of Donald Trump, which is directed to the wrong forces entirely, as it vents the social discontent of white working-class Americans. To be specific: it is eerily similar to the strong nativist anti-Catholicism that is part and parcel of Donald Trump's own familial upbringing, with his father's ties to the Ku Klux Klan and the KKK's attempt to blame problems in 19th and early 20th-century America on the Catholic church and Catholic immigrants.
There has to be some better way, I propose, to deal with both the abuse crisis in the Catholic church and with the social problems now being faced by Americans than by colluding with the KKK and Donald Trump in calling the Catholic church and the pope the whore of Babylon.