09/23/2005 04:19 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

An End to Rage

Psychologically, anger is considered a destructive emotion when it is either repressed or acted out excessively. I was reminded of this recently when several mainstream media outlets, including the Washington Post, revised their appraisal of Pres. Bush. As if peeling away the veil, it was revealed that rather than being an affable, easy-going man who led with staunch conviction and determined values, Bush is petulant, willful, snappish with subordinates, and intolerant of any differences in opinion with the ones he holds.

In part the old view was consistent with the media's self-interest, which is to cling to the outskirts of power. Before he was powerful, all these newly revealed traits were common knowledge about Mr. Bush. He frequently used anger as his primary emotional tool (hence his role as the tough enforcer in his father's campaign organization), and there is a chance that he might be an enraged personality, if a fairly repressed one--his early reputation for lashing out has been well documented. History may record the entire "war on terrorism" as the knee-jerk reaction of an angry man who has no other response he can call upon and who holds peaceful means in contempt, as he patently held the arms inspectors and the U.N. in contempt before he needed them--and then only briefly.

But electorates get the leaders they deserve, and America is proud of being an angry country, especially when confronted with an outside enemy. We cling to anger as stubbornly as Mr. Bush himself--witness the pallid efforts to end the horrendous murder rate in this country. Anger is acted out in the rampant rates of domestic violence and street crime.

Internationally, the image of America as a peaceful country, which is cherished in our national identity, is only half of a split identity, since our record of starting wars, participating in wars, and sending covert operations into other countries offers abundant proof of America as an angry country where perpetual violence is accepted, if not condoned, as just how things are.

The end of rage is the beginning of healing, for individuals and for societies. Black rage was powerful in the civil rights era, but its continuance as an endemic aspect of black life has been highly self-destructive. America's military rage, although appropriate in the face of Fascism, has become a malignant institution in the armaments industry (a recent news item revealed that arms sales hit a record last year and the leading country in the sale of arms was the U.S.--but this has been true for a very long time).

Therapists will often say that beneath the level of rage in a patient there is unfaced anxiety, and that fear is the driving force behind anger. In the black community there is anxiety over violence itself, over social neglect, over being rejected by the white majority and forced to live as a lower caste. So black anger has to be seen in the context of complex fears and expectations.

As a country, America's anger masks a simpler anxiety: fear of enemies.
Pres. Bush and his right-wing supporters have successfully manipulated fear by preaching that anger is the answer. If we hate the terrorists enough we don't have to be afraid of them. This is a common tactic among enraged people, who use a facade of angry bravado to "solve" a fearful situation. It is also common among enraged people to exaggerate the threats being faced, for the bigger the threat, the more justified one's anger is. And it is common among enraged people to be blind to alternative responses other than anger.

An end to America's anger would be a huge step toward a genuine peace movement. It would equally be a huge step toward ending social injustice, since both sides of the racial divide view each other with angry suspicion. If we could gain some perspective on the actual threats we face, we might even take steps to dismantle the enormous buildup and sale of arms that the U.S. is responsible for.

Seeing Pres. Bush for what he is, a mirror to America's current stance of anger, distrust, bullying military force, suspicion of foreigners, and pride in being dominant over weaker peoples, is the healthiest response to this presidency that I can imagine.