We are currently experiencing some of the most divisive times in America’s recent history. With the 2016 presidential election, changing demographics and expanded use of social media, the pressure to choose a side is more intense than ever. As this polarization continues to increase, more people are adopting the “us versus them” mentality. There is, however, one trend both sides have in common: they are angry—very angry. In fact, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy concluded from a recent “Mood of the Nation Poll” that 95% of Americans found something in the news that made them angry.
Not only are people angry, but they are getting angrier. An Esquire and NBC poll from 2016 determined that 49 percent of Americans found themselves feeling angrier than they felt a year prior. This anger is everywhere. It’s in classrooms, on the steps of capitol buildings, inside town meetings and on social media. It has manifested across every facet of our daily lives. This isn’t just politics anymore, it’s defining who we are as individuals. A judgement made about someone’s political affiliation is in turn a judgement about someone’s identity.
Both sides feel strongly about their reasons for being so enraged, making it nearly impossible to reason with one another. Republicans are angry about the last eight years under the Obama Administration—with policies such as Obamacare, the Paris Climate agreement and fear of gun control. Democrats are angry at the election of Donald Trump—with his harsh stance on immigration, lack of organization and promised reversal of many Obama-era policies. There’s this unhealthy level of certitude in each side’s ideologies—this idea that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Instead of the the right and left side, it’s the right and wrong side in people’s eyes.
This anger has festered and is now making itself visible through horrifying events, such as Charlottesville, Virginia. The white supremacists that marched through Charlottesville are the epitome of anger and hatred. They exemplify what happens when you allow anger and hatred to continue growing. This anger and hatred is coming from everyone. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Charlottesville, we have the violent Antifa group at UC Berkeley. They also embody clear anger and hatred for fascism and white supremacy. This anger creates more division, spreads more hate and prevents progress.
So if not be angry, then what do we do? We channel that anger. We don’t hide behind our keyboards and scream at each other online. We do something worthwhile. We advocate. Advocacy can take on many forms. Advocacy is ensuring that not only is everyone’s voice heard, but it’s received in a way that changes can be made. Advocacy is well-thought out actions that have the potential to make a difference. It involves working with all sides to find the best way to make the majority happy.
There certainly have been times in our history where anger has led to important revolutions to help shape our country for the better. However, the type of anger we’re experiencing now is not the healthy kind. Many people are holding onto that anger, and allowing it to turn into hatred. Hatred does nothing to bring us toward compromise, peace and prosperity.
Neuroscience tells us how much anger can impact our logical thinking. When you see or hear something that makes you angry, your limbic system starts firing. This is in charge of your fight or flight response, and turns off the left part of your brain—which controls the logical side of thought processes.
This research proves how much allowing anger to overcome our thoughts can negatively impact our judgement. This is why we see angry exchanges often turn sour; our brain is unable to fully process the situation so that we can react in a constructive manner.
We have to start pushing aside this anger, and look at positive ways of making change. Change is needed in our current environment. There is no future with the anger and division in this political climate, and there is certainly no true peace and prosperity. That’s why we fight. We don’t fight the way the white supremacists in Charlottesville fight, or the Antifa protesters at UC Berkeley. We fight not with anger—but with logic, strength and love. Only then can true progress be achieved.