The World Keeps Turning: Reasons to rekindle an exhausted sense of outrage


Published: 06-22-2024 8:16 PM

Languages are marvelously fluid and flexible. Words are created, meanings “morph” to reflect common usages, and some are discarded when they’re no longer relevant.

“Outrage” crossed the English Channel from France around 1300 with a different meaning. It simply meant “anything excessive,” but English speakers mistakenly focused on the last syllable (rage) to associate it with anger.

For me, it’s a fiery word. When I feel outrage, it goes beyond the sedate synonyms (from Rodale’s “Synonym Finder”) such as indignity, insult, ill-use and infringement, and trends toward more visceral meanings like abomination, atrocity, abuse, and assault.

False or exaggerated outrage resembles the proverbial dowager clutching her pearls when offended (e.g., someone uses a crude expression or the wrong fork to eat salad!). Today, the far right has invented the derogatory term “snowflake” to describe people who may be outraged but too weak to put up a fight, melting at the first sign of conflict.

My sense of outrage has been repeatedly provoked by Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. But my responses don’t feel like pearl-clutching and certainly aren’t a snowflake’s choice of “flight” when adrenaline fuels a “fight-or-flight” response.

But Trump and company have so consistently invited strong reactions that I sometimes feel exhausted and incapable of shock. For example, the Trump campaign posts material referring to a “unified Reich,” and sells autographed Bibles to raise money for legal bills, but I shrug it off. There seem to be no limits to their shameless actions.

But I now believe (like many others) that the next election is the most important one in our lives, because it could be the beginning of the end of our beloved democracy. I hope people can rekindle their sense of outrage and reject a candidate who wants to seize power, legally or illegally, and use it to become a king or emperor who is never questioned because of the retribution that will follow.

Many leaders I admire have shown a profound anger toward unfair institutions and social systems: Gandhi opposed the British colonial empire in India, MLK Jr. the Jim Crow system in the U.S., and Mandela apartheid in South Africa. But their anger at entrenched discrimination was balanced with words and actions promoting justice and equality.

Donald Trump also conveys a deep-seated anger, but it isn’t offset by a vision or practical plans for a harmonious future. His entire business and political career has been a race to the bottom where our worst qualities are celebrated (vengeance, personal greed, and xenophobic fear of foreigners) and disrespect walks hand-in-hand with threats and violence.

Every politician (and human being) has failings. Each of the following character tests might be countered by “What about (fill in a politician)?” But only Trump (and MAGA) can lay claim to all of them. Here’s a short list of recent targets of his disrespect:

■Soldiers and their families: denigrating six-year POW Sen. John McCain, referring to enlisted men and women as “suckers” and “losers.”

■Women and basic family values: three times married, twice divorced, at least 25 accusations of sexual misconduct.

■Immigrants: labeling people at the border as “rapists” in 2015 and “animals” in 2024.

■The truth: during four years in office, he lied or misrepresented facts over 30,000 times, averaging over 20 times a day.

■The judicial and election system: pushing charges against opponents but claiming all charges against him are “rigged”; continuing “The Big Lie” about the 2020 election when friends and foes can find no proof whatsoever.

■Political opponents: ridiculing their appearance and disabilities, deriding them with malevolent nicknames.

These are just a few lowlights, not an exhaustive list. My reaction is outrage, a healthy response to a man who has done everything in his power to divide America, to stoke the primal fears that live in all of us, and bring our social and political life into an era where compassion is construed as weakness, religious and moral ethics are irrelevant or nonexistent, and “truth” can be willfully created if the facts are inconvenient.

It is a time for outrage and anger. We need to be consistent in our opposition to the attacks, large and small, on our social, political, and religious systems, even if our sense of outrage is nearly exhausted. We don’t have the luxury of getting tired, of looking inward or the other way. I believe, wholeheartedly and with a full measure of anger, that our democracy, our America, is in danger from a homegrown con man who appeals to our lowest impulses.

Allen Woods is a freelance writer, author of the Revolutionary-era historical fiction novel “The Sword and Scabbard,” and Greenfield resident. His column appears regularly on Saturdays. Comments are welcome here or at