07/31/2015 02:36 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2016

In the Era of the Angry Nut

If you express an opinion in any public forum these days on any subject whatsoever you will soon encounter the Angry Nut. The Angry Nut is angry. Very angry. At you. He is deeply, personally, and extremely offended by what you say and expresses his ire in the form of vehement, often scurrilous, generally ungrammatical, and very personal attacks (Note: the Angry Nut is quite often a woman, but I will use the masculine pronoun since it appears to me that the angriest and nuttiest are more often male.).

As I say, the subject of your opinion does not matter. There is no topic so innocuous that your opinion will not offend the Angry Nut. You could say on the snack cake blog site (there has to be one) that you prefer Twinkies to Ding Dongs. You risk getting a response like this: "BLEEP you‼! Who the BLEEP do you think you are, you self-important, self-righteous dipBLEEP!?!? You can take your bland, cream-filled sponge cakes and stick them up your BLEEP‼!" Watch out if you express your opinion on something more controversial, like, say, the best live rock album ever (It's The Who, Live at Leeds. Deal with it.). If you express your thoughts on something truly hot-button, say politics or (God help you) religion, then the anger of the Angry Nuts will be thermonuclear, and their tantrums will be Shakespearean (except that nothing that inarticulate should be called "Shakespearean.").

Why do we live in the Era of the Angry Nut? I imagine that many would expatiate at length, decrying the decay of good manners and civility in our public interactions. There may be something to this. Those of us of a certain age seem to remember a time when people in public spaces comported themselves with a modicum of dignity and restraint in their interactions with strangers. Of course, we are looking back through a warm haze of nostalgia, but the impression remains.

Others will say that our public behavior has been corrupted by the coarseness of public entertainment. There is surely some truth in this. When sufficiently provoked I sometimes express myself in good old earthy Anglo-Saxon expletives, but even I find it grating when a movie character has to use the F-word in every line. Others would point to the grotesque decay of what passes for political discourse in our society. Thirty years ago, the standard for conservative punditry was set by William F. Buckley's polysyllabic and pompous but eminently civilized and intelligent commentary. By contrast, the foaming tirade is the standard idiom of today's right-wing AM radio shock-jocks.

Actually, I think that the Angry Nut is probably not much more prevalent today than in the past; he is just so much more visible. It is a great time to be an Angry Nut. It used to be that cranks literally had to stand on soapboxes and harangue passersby. Occasionally, like Father Coughlin in the '30s and Billy James Hargis in the '50s, they got on the radio. However, the Internet has been the greatest boon to Angry Nuts. Now they can vituperate to their heart's content and regale an audience from Bangor to Bangkok. Even if labeled a troll and banned from a site they can come back under a different guise or just go somewhere else.

Angry Nuts are found across the political spectrum, but the ones on the right are more numerous, or maybe just louder. They are also better organized. Right-wing Angry Nuts got together to form the Tea Party, and now they wield considerable political power. In recent decades the Republican Party went from a conservative party to an extremely conservative party. Now, due to Tea Party influence, it has now gone from an extremely conservative party to a party that ranges from glaring lunacy (Michelle Bachmann) to loudmouthed idiocy (Donald Trump). Any Republican politician retaining a trace of moderation, reasonableness, or even sanity will find himself the target of the Angry Nut voting bloc in the next primary election. Hence, a Republican primary race now consists of a contest to see which candidate can be angriest and nuttiest. Each tries to outshout the other and posture as more pro-gun, more anti-immigrant, more anti-poor, and more anti-that Kenyan Arab Muslim communist in the White House.

What is the best way to deal with the Angry Nut? Rational argument will not help. On the contrary, attempting to reason with an Angry Nut only gives him more occasions to fulminate. Should you respond to the Angry Nut by fulminating back? But that would be like wrestling a pig. You get filthy and the pig enjoys it. It is generally effective to ignore angry nuts, since they like to provoke a reaction, and will usually slink away if ignored. However, when Angry Nuts like the Tea-Partiers get political power and can foist their nuttiness on the rest of us, then you cannot afford to ignore them. They have to be opposed.

But how? Since Angry Nuts are a minority, even in Texas, you would think that it would be easy to outvote them. Not so. Angry Nuts turn out to vote, and gerrymandering and voter-suppression have marginalized non-nutty voters. Until the non-nuts vote in great enough numbers to matter, we will continue to live in the Era of the Angry Nut.