Jim Elliott

I watch people driving down the highways in $80,000 pickups towing $200,000 campers (which are bigger than a lot of people’s homes, but then, so are some of the pickups) and then a boat is being towed behind the camper and not to forget the miscellaneous means of propulsion strapped here and there.

And attached to this caravan of maybe a half-a-million bucks of toys is a license plate that reads “Don’t Tread On Me.” Which I like as a statement but from all appearances these folks don’t seem very severely trodden upon. But they are angry.

Are they angry just for the sake of anger or is it anger against a specific danger to humanity? Or are people just afraid of losing what they have or think they deserve? I think of Marlon Brando’s line in “The Wild One” when a demure waitress in Bleeker’s Cafe asks biker gang leader Brando what he’s rebelling against, and Brando says, “Whaddaya got?”

There is indeed a lot to worry about, but you can’t just enter into one big cloud of worry, it needs to be about specific things. It has to have a target. It has to be focused, and there seems to be an entire industry that has been created just to focus all that free-range anger. People like Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson can bring a person’s anger into focus on loss of masculinity, police beatings, immigrants, black people, white people, or America going to hell in a handbasket (that one’s ambidextrous—fits either right or left).

But there is a purpose greater than just angering people and it is to divert people from what can actually be fixed by working together towards what can be destroyed by working against each other. There is also the economic aspect of anger such as increasing a show’s TV ratings and market share, not to mention increasing the salaries of individual anger merchants.

Looking at it that way, is anger a commodity like wheat or potatoes or coal? Is there a futures market for anger, like there is for other commodities? Is anger the Bitcoin of politics? Anger as a commodity has a real value to those who use it because they make real money by using it. It is to the anger-merchant’s advantage to keep people angry, and, like the snake-oil salesmen of old, they are playing Americans for suckers.

Anger as a political tool is not new, but the current speed at which anger can be spread and misinformation manufactured without corresponding explanation or refutation is. I don’t pretend to understand the how of it, but while methods of communication have changed dramatically, human nature hasn’t. There is still greed, vanity, jealousy, and pride, all served by anger. But there remains also loyalty, dedication to duty, selflessness, honesty, and integrity. However, like the newspaper editors’ adage; “dog bites man” is not news but “man bites dog” is, the latter virtues do not sell as well as the former vices.

If someone tells us we need to be angry about something we need to think, “why”. What is their motivation to persuade other to be angry with a third party. What’s in it for them? In the case of MSNBC or Fox, it is money. If the purpose of anger is to tear down something we don’t like, what are the plans to replace it with something better, or even anything?

In the 1970s the Chicago school of economists led by Milton Friedman believed that if an economic system is destroyed, a new, perfect, ideal system will magically replace it. They tried that in Chile after the assassination of the Chile’s first democratically elected president, Miguel Allende and the result was mass misery.

Well, perfect is in the eye of the beholder, and to destroy an economy or any other system doesn’t take into account the human suffering that will occur. Idealists are not very good at that, anyway. The anger merchants of today are no better at proposing solutions to replace what they want destroyed than were the radical students of the 1960s and 1970s. Get rid of what we don’t like and something better will occur? Good luck!

Montana Viewpoint has appeared in weekly and online newspapers across Montana for over 25 years. Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.