October 22, 2019

We’re Overdosing on Emotions

When I get into a debate or an argument, my No. 1 objective is not to lose my cool. The minute I do, I lose. I can be passionate, but I can never get angry. Getting angry changes the topic. It becomes the issue.

But how do we control our emotions when things drive us completely batty?

Consider the case of 30-year-old Kino Jimenez of San Antonio, a man who obviously despises President Donald Trump. He despises him so much that, apparently, he can’t stand to look at anyone who voted for him.

So, last week, when he saw a Texas teen at a Whataburger restaurant wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, he ripped it off, hurled a drink at the teen’s face and uttered obscenities. The episode was captured on video and went viral.

Regardless of how I feel about Trump, the minute I saw Jimenez act like a self-righteous bully, he lost me. Jimenez’s behavior made me think only of Jimenez: How dare you assault a law-abiding person on the basis of political beliefs? Have you ever given any thought to why 63 million Americans would vote for a man you so despise? Has it occurred to you that Trump voters may have genuine grievances, and that they also have a right to vote? 

America has become a nation of angry bashers, from the left and the right. This may make us feel good, but all it does is arouse more anger.

Bullying is not dissent. It’s rejection. It’s nullification. It’s allowing our emotions to get the better of us.

Emotions can rouse our souls, but taken too far, they can poison it. When hatred and anger take over, we lose the ability to think straight. Many Trump-hating Democrats are so angry that they’re not in power they can’t see their way to regaining it. Instead of planning and strategizing, they’re yelling and demonizing.

“I’m not a fan of Trump’s policies, his vulgarity, his exaggerations and his outright falsehoods when he speaks,” Clarence Page wrote in the Chicago Tribune to his Democratic brethren. But what does Page suggest for going forward? “Don’t get mad,” he writes, “get smart.”

Trump haters are better at getting mad than getting smart. As Frank Bruni of The New York Times reminded Democratic voters: “Simply bashing Trump — bashable though he may be — didn’t do the trick for Hillary Clinton.”

Simply bashing rarely does the trick. America has become a nation of angry bashers, from the left and the right. This may make us feel good, but all it does is arouse more anger. And anger doesn’t build — it destroys.

“What is dangerous about anger,” Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “is that it causes us to lose control. It activates the most primitive part of the human brain. … While in its grip we lose the ability to step back and judge the possible consequences of our actions. The result is that in a moment of irascibility we can do or say things we may regret for the rest of our lives.”

For that reason, adds Sacks, “Maimonides rules there is no middle way when it comes to anger. Instead we must avoid it under any circumstances. We must go to the opposite extreme. Even when anger is justified, we must avoid it. There may be times when it is necessary to look as if we are angry. That is what Moses did when he saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf, and broke the tablets of stone. Yet even then, says Maimonides, inwardly you should be calm.”

The smart Democrats are the ones who are staying cool and plotting their comeba

I know, if you’re a Trump hater, it’s not easy to stay calm. You have a million reasons to get angry. After eight years of President Barack Obama, it’s unthinkable that a man like Donald Trump could run your country. It’s not just unthinkable. It’s unacceptable. Your single-minded mission is to resist, to undo, to not accept. This is high-anxiety living. It’s living in a state of constant outrage, constant anger.

The smart Democrats are the ones who are staying cool and plotting their comeback. They are the ones who are doing the hard work of getting out the vote for the midterm elections in November. Yes, they can march and rally, but inside, they are calm. They know that acting unhinged runs the risk of sending more voters into the rival camp.

In the Jewish community, we like to justify everything we do — even acting in anger — by claiming  Jewish values. One of our favorite values is caring for the stranger.

But let’s remember that resisting anger is also a Jewish value, and that strangers come in all shapes and colors. Some strangers even wear Trump hats.

Follow David Suissa on Twitter: @suissatweets