America is addicted to outrage

America is addicted to outrage
Pixabay Images

Log in with Twitter, or Facebook, and almost immediately you will be confronted by a barrage of outrage. Whether it is the latest outrage from President Trump, or some poster being outraged about his neighbor’s grass clippings, anger and abuse have become American hobbies. We are a nation that has become addicted to outrage.

This national outrage has been growing since the first seeds of outrage were planted by President Johnson in 1964. “What, 1964? That’s outrageous to blame LBJ!” I am sure someone is reading and is thinking those exact words.

In the 1964 Presidential Campaign, the GOP ran Senator Barry Goldwater and President Johnson ran for reelection on the Democratic ticket. Senator Goldwater was prone to colorful and hawkish rhetoric. Goldwater had run on the standard GOP platform, cut social spending, and be aggressive with the military.

Hawkishness often has a populist appeal. Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach (DDB) created a commercial that changed political advertising forever. As the ad agency for the Johnson Campaign, the firm wrote the famous “Daisy” commercial below. It only aired once. I recall seeing the ad and at age 14 it terrified me.

It terrified the nation as well. It also painted Senator Goldwater as a madman, hell-bent on starting a nuclear holocaust. The nation was outraged at Barry Goldwater and the GOP. Johnson won in a landslide, and political advertising turned mean.

The seed planted by LBJ and DDB has grown and multiplied. Politicians learned outrage sells and sells big. There have been dirty tricks in campaigns since the first campaign. In 1964 those dirty tricks went to a mass audience and turned nasty.

In 1972, we had Tom Eagleton’s fall from grace thanks to smears from the Nixon Campaign. Senator Eagleton was from Missouri. He was a Harvard Law School Graduate, educated at Amherst, and was a US Senator from Missouri. For 18 days, he was the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee for Senator George McGovern.

The Nixon campaign made short work of Senator Eagleton. The man had seen a psychiatrist at one point in his life. The Nixon campaign found out and leaked it to the press. The nation was outraged that McGovern would choose someone unstable as Vice President. After all, who would want a kook as VP?

Isn’t that ironic in light of who occupies the White House today?

National outrage was now selling and selling well. In 1976, Watergate was the national outrage. In 1980 it was Iran. In 1984, the numerous scandals of the Reagan Administration took center stage only the nation didn’t care. In 1988, Willy Horton was the object of fear and loathing. In 1992, reverence for the Office of The President fell victim. “It’s the economy, Stupid,” became the theme of a successful Presidential Campaign. America’s addiction with negative images was complete.

We’ve become a nation of anti-(fill-in-the-blank). We no longer talk about what we’re for. Anti-Trump, anti-white nationalism, anti-capitalism, anti-flag, anti-National Anthem, anti-Hillary. You get the point.

This last July, I joined the Democratic Party. I joined because if you want to be an agent of social change in America, you must belong to one of the two major political parties. The system is rigged for the two major parties.

If you asked me what the two parties stand for, what they really stand for and not the common buzz words, I doubt anybody could tell you. I’m sure there are thousands of opinions and common themes around words like “fairness” or “equality.” Those words are nice words, but they tell us nothing specific. If you asked me what the two parties are against, I could rattle off at least a dozen things both parties stand for.

We now define our political lives by what we are against and not what we are for. The effect is it makes for a cynical population. I despise cynicism. I despise it because it strangles creative and new ideas. It scours through our society and turns good people away from our duties as citizens. It creates hopelessness.

That is why Barack Obama’s message of hope and change was wildly successful.

Americans want hope. We want our positive nation back. Washington is not creating the environment for people to have hope. They are throwing a wet towel on our national optimism. Both parties are at fault. Neither party articulates a clear and positive path for America.

Maybe they aren’t because of all of us? We are taking the bait and not forcing creative thought from our politicians and our political parties. The problem may not be Washington. The problem may be us.
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