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Is America Getting Angrier? How Anger Affects Our Politics, Psyche And Culture

a little angry man with his head turning red and ears blowing steam
Creative Commons

Rampant school shootings, mail bomb threats and a massacre at a synagogue give the impression that Americans are angry. And a quick flick through the news provides ample examples of leaders spouting angry rhetoric and encouraging violence. So, are Americans getting angrier?

Joining host Frank Stasio to examine the topic is David Schanzer, a professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. Schanzer’s research indicates that the biggest threat of political violence to the U.S. is not radicalized Muslims but anti-government violent extremists. He analyzes the recent acts of domestic terrorism and the role President Donald Trump plays. Fayetteville-based clinical psychologist Thomas Harbin joins the conversation to talk about men and anger. He authored “Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life” (2018/Da Capo Press). In the revised edition of his 2000 guide, he shares some new contributors to male rage: porn and video games. He examines how technology is not only fueling male anger, but social media provides silos in which like-minded men commune.

cover of the book Rage Becomes Her
Credit Simon and Schuster
'We can see in our political anger it's connection to contempt and disgust and disdain and this idea that particularly on the right that women have to be contained. In the call to 'lock her up,' which is now being used globally against women politicians - that's a containment idea.' - Soraya Chemaly

Plus, in line with the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, author Soraya Chemaly says it is time for women to stop repressing their anger. She joins the conversation to talk about her new book “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger” (2018/Simon & Schuster). Chemaly breaks down gendered and racialized stereotypes about anger and explores the physical and emotional impact of repressing one’s rage. Chemaly is the director of the Women’s Media Center Speech project, which aims to curb online abuse and expand women’s freedom of expression.

David Schanzer on anger prompting terrorism:

It’s an extraordinary step for someone to take violent action based on their political views. I mean that is very outside the norm. And even though sometimes we feel that these things come one after another and dominate our society. They are still rare.


Schanzer on the profile of a mass shooter:

There’s no profile of the person who’s going to be the shooter … It could be because of an individual grievance or psychological part of their background. It could be because they get associated with a group of likeminded people who push them to those extreme views and convince them that they need to show they’re a great part of the group … Or it could be part of a mass political mobilization.


I think if you look at the tenor of our dialogue and conversations, you look at what you see on social media, you cannot help but believe that we see a lot more anger. Maybe it was always there just below the surface, and we are just seeing it more because it is more available and accessible to us. - David Schanzer

On the role Trump’s rhetoric may play:

What the President believes in terms of taxes or immigration policy … All those things are the normal parts of political discourse that are perfectly legitimate ... The part of Trumpism that I find so objectionable and dangerous is that he takes these ideas and he weaves them into a narrative of threat, usually of the threat of an insider … It is those things, the idea that your “in” group may be threatened and invaded by outsiders that says: I need to rise up and defend.

picture of the book cover "Beyond Anger."
Credit Da Capo press
Fayetteville-based clinical psychologist Tom Harbin offers an updated and revised version of his guide to help men with their anger.

Harbin on white men’s fear of losing their privilege:

Michael Kimmel talks about the concept of “aggrieved entitlement.” And the idea behind aggrieved entitlement is that group over there has something that is rightfully mine and therefore they’re bad, and I’m justified in being angry with them or dealing with them in physical means.

Harbin on the role of pornography and anger:

The explosion of pornography in the culture since the advent of the internet is just astounding … The sexuality you see in pornography is very often violent, very often violent against women. It seems as though the sexual acts have been divorced from or separated from any kind of affection or positive emotion and really sort of reinforces the notion of the sexual act being one of domination and intimidation. And I think that for a lot of men who feel out of control in many other aspects of their life, they buy into the unrealistic images of pornography, and that’s what their expectations become.


Chemaly on racial stereotypes and anger:

If you’re a black woman, for example, all you have to do to be considered angry, and then to have people have a defensive posture towards you, is show up. That is a silencing mechanism. The same thing with Hispanic women, for example, are considered fiery and sexualized when they’re angry. Those are really ways to shut down anger, but in fact they are ways to shut down the knowledge that comes with the anger.  


We are socialized at a very young age to think of anger particularly in girls and woman as unwelcome and negative and destructive and harmful. - Soraya Chemaly

Chemaly on the profile of a mass shooter:

We may not have an exact profile, but nine of the 10 most egregious mass shootings involved perpetrators with domestic violence histories. We know somewhere between 60-68 percent of mass shooters have records of domestic violence … I think the problem we’re facing is we’re very reluctant to think of misogyny as a type of political anger, as an ideology that functions at the most granular levels of our lives.

Chemaly on the impact of repressed anger on women’s health:

Women tend to be the most likely to have autoimmune disorders, to experience chronic pain, [and] increasingly to have cardiovascular illnesses. We see that anger is implicated. And I don’t want to suggest this is causal, but it is deeply enmeshed … We see that anger is implicated in eating disorders and various forms of depression and self harming behavior.

Note: This program originally aired November 13, 2018. 


Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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