Conservative talk-radio host Glenn Beck has a new book out, "Addicted to Outrage." At this particular moment, it's instructive.
Beck, using his own experience as a recovering alcoholic as a guide, posits that many of us have become literal anger addicts. Believing our political beliefs are infallible, Beck argues, we receive some sick satisfaction — an actual physical high — from slapping down those who disagree with us, usually from the safe harbor of social media. "Outrage Addiction is destroying our nation," Beck writes, partly because it includes the "enabling element that makes it almost impossible to overcome: It is viewed as a virtue and as proof of our social value ... it is seen as a demonstration of our moral, cultural, and intellectual awareness."
This corrosive belief may be spreading beyond politics, however, as the folks at Eli Towing in Davenport, Florida, can understand.
Last week, John Morrow, Eli Towing's manager, told WFLA, a Tampa-based radio station, that the company was besieged by a couple of hundred ruthless phone calls, featuring plenty of foul language and damaging reviews on Facebook.
Well, it seems a driver for Eli Towing was gouging people on the cost of sandbags, WFLA reported.
Yet the alleged culprit was Eli Towing — in South Carolina.
Amid Hurricane Florence, an Eli Towing driver in South Carolina had picked up bags from a high school, and instead of distributing them for free, as appeared to be the purpose, he was actually charging people $6 to $10 a bag.
Local police are investigating.
Yet in the meantime, Morrow and the Eli Towing staff in Florida's Polk County bore the brunt of misguided outrage and now have to do damage control for something they didn't do. They took to social media to clarify the situation.
Morrow and his people, however, offer us a good example of how to rebound.
On Saturday, Eli Towing's crews accepted donations for Florence victims at the Love's Truck Stop in Davenport. They planned to deliver the goods to victims in the Carolinas sometime this week.
"We want to go up there and do the right thing since he couldn't do it," Morrow told WFLA.
That healthy attitude deserves applause. More of us should strive toward that.
But as witnessed on Capitol Hill recently, and routinely for the past couple of years, anger is consuming us. And many of us have become so invested in arguing our political point — and winning — that it's spinning us off into the absurd. On Friday, for example, liberal feminist author Jill Filipovic, angered by GOP support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, tweeted, "Divorce your Republican husbands." It got 2,000 retweets. Was she serious? Many thought so. Or was she being flippant? Perhaps. Does it matter?
Rage over politics has already split up marriages, ended careers, divided workplaces, ruined families. It's now cleaving our country apart. Additionally, we sadly creep ever closer to normalizing violence. In June 2017, a deranged supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, outraged about President Donald Trump, shot a handful of people as Republican lawmakers were practicing baseball. He almost killed Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. That's the extreme case. More routinely, though, we see confrontation and threats of violence or death as a genuine part of our political "discourse." It's stunning that some, according to Beck, derive pleasure from such behavior.
"Somewhere," Beck writes, "we began judging people not by their character or their actions, but by their political affiliation and beliefs. A person who had different opinions than you wasn't just wrong but suddenly became a bad, deplorable person, someone not to be trusted — someone who must be ostracized, isolated, and destroyed. In today's America, we deem that person a 'traitor.'"
That's become common in our politics. Just 21 months ago, a North Carolina man, Edgar Welch, showed up at the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington armed with an AR-15. He fired three shots and threatened patrons, convinced he was breaking up a child sex-trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager. He read about the ridiculous claims on social media.
So, honestly, in these days of rage and self-certitude, how many of us would really have been surprised if someone blinded by a sense of injustice, and not bothering to verify a fact as simple as an address, had visited Eli Towing in Davenport and vandalized the place or worse? Likely not many.
"Anger," Benjamin Franklin once observed, "is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one." On that point, outrage is justified in some circumstances, but if it becomes a default setting, we'll lose more than we can ever hope to gain.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD