Campaign 2016: Some tips on how to handle political anger

As violence erupts at Trump campaign rallies, the issue of political anger management is taking the national stage. 

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Chicago police start to clear the crowd after a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was canceled on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Chicago.

As fists flew at Donald Trump campaign events in Chicago and Fayetteville, N.C., the issue of political anger management is taking the national stage. That's prompting some American voters to look for a path to peace or at least dialogue. 

In the aftermath of recent violence, Twitter is one ready outlet for political frustration.

Tony Fiore, a licensed psychologist with offices in Long Beach, Calif., and Newport Beach, Va., aka The Anger Coach, says in an phone interview, “There’s no simple fix for people with impulse control [issues] who are taking this campaign too personally.”

“It’s a lack of tolerance of other people’s opinions that’s causing the problem, not other people’s opinions,” says Dr. Fiore. “They need a lot of self-talk, it’s a cognitive practice, just tell yourself, ‘Other people have a right to their opinion even though you don’t agree with it. That should be their new mantra.”

Dr. Fiore says that Mr. Trump could play a role in defusing violent incidents by inviting dialogue.

“Trump himself is being intolerant by saying ‘Throw out the protestors’ instead of ‘Let’s hear what they have to say.’ ”

Pan Vera, spokesperson for the Center for Nonviolent Communication says in an interview that Trump's "emotional transmission" of intolerance is contributing to the difficulty some of his supporters are having in managing their anger and intolerance.

"It's Trump's emotional energy," Mr. Vera says. "It's like you can talk to some people and come away all excited and happy. There's neuroscience involved. The last time I saw anything like this was with George Wallace."

Some families adamantly avoid the subject of politics for the sake of peace (or seek solace in the kitten and puppy videos of the Reddit thread “Eye Bleach”). But Chad Marlow, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) advocacy and policy counsel in New York, says that retreating from politics into the world of adorable animals isn’t the way to go.

“No. Because somewhere hidden beneath all of that bile are political arguments that have to be made and vetted because that’s what we do in a free, open, democratic society,” Mr. Marlow says in a phone interview. “The manner in which the arguments are being expressed is disappointing and potentially dangerous.”

Marlow defines the total retreat from campaign news as being like the Ray Bradbury novel "Fahrenheit 451," in which most of the population has giant, wall-sized TVs, “they were basically numbed into not caring what was going on. That’s [Reddit] cat memes in this situation.”

The ACLU is often in the crosshairs of critics for defending controversial positions. 

When asked how he manages the verbal barbs and arrows, Marlow cites the first line of Rudyard Kipling's poem “If”:

If you can keep your head when all about you       Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,    But make allowance for their doubting too;   If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise ...

“I think there is a quiet confidence that comes to people when you know what you are doing is morally and ethically right,” Marlow says. “My father once said to me when I was younger, ‘If you see two people arguing and you want to figure out who’s losing the argument, just listen to who’s shouting the loudest. The person who begins to devolve is the one losing the argument.”

“You come back with insults because you don’t actually have a legitimate strong, smart, counter-response. So you insult, or you belittle....You can’t pat yourself on the back for being a disciplined, moral and ethical advocate for your issues and engage in that sort of behavior. So there’s really no temptation to respond in time because if you do then you become that which you are criticizing,” he says. “At the ACLU we have a reputation for being principled. You can’t get into the mud like that and expect people to see you as principled.”

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