December 11, 2019

Anger and Euphoria: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib canvasses a neighborhood before Election Day in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

In his regular column in the Detroit Free Press, the eminent author Mitch Albom wrote that his New Year’s resolution this year is to “stay away from angry politics.”

However, after hearing the newly minted Rep. Rashida Tlaib  (D-MI) announce, referring to President Donald Trump, that “We’re going to impeach the mother***er,” Albom quickly gave up on his resolution. “So long, New Year’s,” he wrote.

Albom called Tlaib’s vulgarity “a new low in a cesspool of human relations we call politics,” adding that “to not acknowledge that is to indirectly condone it, especially since Tlaib is from our backyard, Detroit.”

Albom was certainly right to castigate Tlaib for using a word considered “one of the worst profanities in our language,” and for doubling down on her action instead of apologizing.

But is Albom correct that the profanity was rooted in anger? That is the conventional wisdom: We’ve become so angry at our dysfunctional politics that we violate basic rules of civility. Anger is blinding, as they say.

I’d like to suggest another emotion that also is blinding: Euphoria.

It wasn’t anger, but euphoria that dominated the mood at the public event at which Tlaib let loose with her vulgarity. The crowd was ecstatic that their party would now control the House of Representatives and that Tlaib would represent them. Tlaib and her fans were partying and celebrating. They were yelling in joy, not anger.

Ever since advertising began its domination of American culture, euphoria has become a hugely popular and lucrative emotion. Euphoria is how advertisers seduce us with their over-promises. In sports, the celebration of a great play or victory is the “money shot.” On television, the tears of joy that follow a winning performance on “Dancing with the Stars” is the exclamation point viewers crave. Countless Hollywood movies end with some kind of euphoric resolution.

Euphoria is the ultimate emotion behind the ultimate American value: Winning. As long as winning stays popular, so will euphoria.

The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to think straight when we’re in a state of ecstasy, just as it’s hard to think straight when we’re in a state of rage. Intense emotions, whether positive or negative, blind us to serene values like civility. That is what happened with Rashida Tlaib: She was so euphoric after her victory that she used a profanity that came back to haunt her, putting the focus on her vulgarity rather than on her target.

Maybe Larry David was onto something when he told us to “curb” our enthusiasm. We can all relate to that. Our best decisions come when we think with a calm, measured mind. Our worst decisions, verbal or otherwise, come when our passions dominate our minds. Euphoric Democrats who are itching to stick it to their political rivals would be wise to remember that.

For now, Mitch Albom’s resolution is still holding, by a thread.