Passion and anger are not the same thing. Passion is constructive. Passion is the driver of progress. Anger is a destructive force. Unchecked, it consumes individuals and turns them into mosters. In large groups, it forms mobs. And on the national stage, unchecked rage creates despotism.
That raw anger is what is fueling - and more importantly, being fueled by - the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders may not be offering to pay the legal bills of his supporters who punch protesters (perhaps that has something to do with his massive credit card debt), but he's stoking the fire of anger just the same. Media types like to describe this as "tapping into the anger" of people mad at "the system" for various reasons, but this has gone far beyond tapping and turned into inflaming. Rather than channeling a destructive emotion like anger and channeling it to constructive change, both Trump and Sanders have been telling their supporters that if anything, they should be even angrier (and thus, more destructive).
Rage-peddling has consequences. Just yesterday, Trump's supporters clashed with protesters in skirmishes that left some injured at a Donald Trump event in Chicago - which The Donald ended up canceling. On Friday, a Trump supporter punched a peaceful protester in face as the protester was leaving. And now Bernie Sanders' supporters are sharing the following on social media, while having a good laugh.
This isn't something a few bad apples on the Bernie cart threw together. The cartoonist, Nick Anderson, is a famous syndicated cartoonist, and the above image was first published on January 20, 2016. Not a peep from Bernie. There has been no condemnation of either the cartoon or its permeation in the pro-Bernie social media sphere by the candidate.
The image and its place as a chuckle-generator for the Bernie crowd shouldn't be a surprise. Bernie Sanders had warnings. Three months before the Iowa caucuses, one of his supporters in New Jersey organized a debate watch party at a local pizza restaurant. The title of the event? "Bern the Witch."
Before the Sanders campaign could delete the event from their official campaign page, 22 people had RSVP'ed for a venue capacity of 26.
The target of this intense hatred by some Sanders supporters reaches well beyond Hillary Clinton herself. It reaches to her supporters. With Clinton devastating Sanders among African American voters in the South, this photo has been going around as a bludgeon to anyone who dares support her.
Where are these vitriolic, violently angry reactions to not just Hillary Clinton but even her voters coming from?
The vitriol and violence of Trump supporters comes following months of incendiary language from Trump himself. The incendiary language, though, is not merely about Trump's open bragging that he'd like to physically hurt protesters on multiple occasions. In fact, I'd argue that those direct appeals to violence - while the tipping point - are only effective because of a mindset that has been ginned up.
That mindset is something like the following: choose enemies, not opponents. Project your description of all things wrong with America onto that persons or groups. Send the message that your enemies not only embody the root for your - and your supporters' - anger, but that they are themselves the cause.
For Donald Trump and Republicans, this enemy is President Barack Obama (and to a lesser extent, government itself). Obama represents the powerlessness of racist whites, which Trump promises to restore. Power in its crassest form is physical violence, and it is to be used to put anyone who doesn't support this savior, Donald Trump, in his or her place.
For Bernie Sanders and the Pitchfork Left, this enemy is, in short, banks and Hillary Clinton. Sanders has spent months on the campaign trail honing the message that banks are evil and that anyone who can be connected to them by a even a spurious connection of money going to an organization she does not control is also similarly evil. Heck, he's honed the message that if it weren't people like Hillary Clinton, banks couldn't be so evil, which makes her the prime villain and banks only a secondary accomplice.
Consistently, Sanders has ignored the reality of the financial bailout package known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program which kept the entire US and global financial system from collapsing and that under President Obama's regulatory reforms, big banks can no longer get to failure without risking being broken up. He has relentlessly pretended that the economy could not have been any worse should we have had to also deal with a run on the banks, complete annihilation of all retirement savings (held in stocks and bonds) and a complete crash of the currency. Consistently, Sanders has excused punishing the innocent (auto workers, etc.) in order to punish his villains.
This constant drumbeat of revenge and retribution, combined with longing for a "better time" is the bulwark of conservative right wing political messaging. For Republicans, this is retribution against the president, anyone they see as "takers", and longing for "better days" before movements for equality - whether it is for women, non-whites, immigrants or gays - gianed traction. For Sanders longing for a time in the 1960s and 1930s (often touting FDR) as he completely ignores the evils of racism, sexism and homophobia that flew through in those days because, you know, white men had enough income to not need the women to work.
In my judgment, it's this appeal to seething anger based on retribution and a loss of a warped view of "better times" that has lead Trump's supporters to take up his call for violence. It is the same theme that has led Bernie Sanders' supporters to celebrate images of Hillary Clinton being burned ("roasted", some would say, because her being a woman has nothing to do with the imagery, apparently) and create events on Sanders' campaign website titled "Bern the Witch."
Sanders supporters have not yet engaged in reported physical violence, and as noted before, Bernie Sanders' rhetoric is limited to the villainization of his opponent without crossing the line to call for physical violence. But the violence of emotions that Sanders is stirring brings them to the edge. As a party, as a nation, as a people, we must dial back the anger.