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It’s an Asymmetrical Psychodrama

August 29th, 2020 by dk

Republicans seem weirdly willing to say out loud what many Americans consider outrageous. It’s as if they think they can’t be heard by the other side. As commentator David Brooks remarked on the PBS Newshour recently, “It’s often difficult with this administration to separate incompetence from malfeasance.” Let’s assume the latter.

Take something as straightforward as removing Postal Service drop boxes from neighborhoods across America. Mailing a letter just got less convenient for everyone who lives nearby. Maybe they are targeting areas with more Democratic voters, so the pain won’t be evenly felt, but what about their actions to foul the air we breathe?

Loosening methane restrictions will add to pollution and hasten global warming. There will be no partisan divide to the resulting discomforts. This — like the disappearing corner mailboxes — will make people angry. But here’s where the psychodrama becomes asymmetrical. Anger does not have a uniform effect on behavior.

Conservatives and old people vote when they get angry. They call their Congressperson. They write letters to the editor. They stand on their porches and yell about their lawns. 

Angry liberals and young people march together and chant. They sometimes start fires or turn over heavy objects, but one thing they often don’t do is vote.

Anger energizes those on the right. It leaves those on the left dispirited and depressed. If anger intensifies to rage, it fuels enthusiasm for the right and dampens it for the left — electorally speaking. Fighting fire with fire always favors conservatives.

Why might this be? When you strip away all the complexities, it comes down to this. Conservatives want less government and liberals want more. Governing is the hard work that lies ahead, after the election, but for only one side. Tearing down a house is easy and really sort of fun. Building a house takes planning and patience and perseverance.

Show me an angry house builder and I’ll show you a poorly built house. If you live in a lousy house long enough, you’ll eventually feel like calling the demolition experts.

Homophonically speaking, razing is easy and raising is hard.

Collaborative statesmanship has always propelled government’s effectiveness. We’ve built durable solutions by crafting regulations that suit the majority while also addressing concerns of the minority.

That pattern is waning. The tear-it-all-down conservatives often refuse to collaborate. And the “elections have consequences” liberals often refuse to listen to the “losers.” This is a distinction without a difference. Government becomes less effective either way.

What can be done? Former President Obama seems to have given this some thought. He’s calling on young people to volunteer at polling places, getting them involved in the process. And to vote while they’re there.

This might work — especially if it becomes a trending hashtag. Technology could help young people “buddy up” to work at election sites. Then they’ll feel accountable to somebody they know. It will also feel less daunting when they encounter the 70-somethings who will show them the ropes.

If helping America vote becomes a trending topic, watch a tsunami of young energy build that never reached the electoral shore before.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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