Why ‘Rage’ Is the Word of the Year
The word—and the feeling—became ubiquitous in 2018
If you were to ask me what were the five biggest stories of this year, I would look at you with glazed-over eyes, paralyzed with stupor. I don’t remember. My amnesia is not because I made a conscious decision to look away from the news. It was impossible to do. For one, my work would not allow it. I’m on the Internet, particularly Twitter, several hours a day, and even when I’m not, my phone will notify me of the nation’s biggest scoops — a ping that I do not recall ever enabling.
I had no choice but to watch Dr. Christine Blasey Ford risk her life and her family’s lives to testify on an alleged sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, who still became the nation’s newest Supreme Court Judge.
I had to watch President Trump say, “Maybe he didn’t, maybe he didn’t,” when asked by a Washington Post journalist whether Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
I had to watch Central American refugees get tear-gassed at the U.S.-Mexico border; First Lady Melania Trump wear an “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket when visiting immigrant children; I saw voter suppression in Georgia; watched the unfolding of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal; read about the Trump administration working to remove transgender people from legal existence, and about climate change. And let’s not forget the sites of senseless shootings that happened: Parkland High School, Santa Fe High School, L’Simcha Synagogue, Thousand Oaks.
I underestimated the depths of collective exhaustion until this year. I have been blinded by rage from the moment Trump took office, and I’m afraid that it’s reached such immeasurable heights that if I do not keep it active, there’s no place else for my senses to go but to be dulled to numbness.
In Rebecca Traister’s latest acclaimed book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, she writes that “anger is often an exuberant expression. It is the force that injects energy, intensity, and urgency into battles that must be intense and urgent if they are to be won. More broadly, we must come to recognize our own rage as valid, as rational, and as not what we are told it is: ugly, hysterical, marginal, laughable.”
Books like hers are a boon to women who have often been conditioned to suppress their rage to maintain the peace and comfort of whoever is around. In this particular context, Traister is speaking to the women whose anger changed the course of history. Rage is good. Rage is the impetus for movements. Movements transform the world.
But I often wonder, what happens when the flame does not stop flickering? What happens when it burns and burns until whatever remains is scorched? I do believe rage is useful, and yet I do not want to be comfortable with this feeling, because to do so is to accept things as they are.
Being based in New York City only heightens the pressure cooker. I am an author and journalist. Many of my colleagues work in media just like I do, and we speak very often about how we miss the days where a llama chase across town or the murky colors of a dress was the biggest story in the news. We mourn the times when we could spend days dissecting a controversial profile whereas now, because there is so much happening all at once, we may only be able to spend 12 hours — if that — before having to move on. Then we guilt-trip ourselves for promoting our books or divulging any good news because there’s this anxiety that recognizing the goodness in our lives is a form of social impropriety, exposing our privilege to be able to think about anything other than the horrific news.
The worst part is: none of us knows when any of this going to end. The events that have unfolded this year are going to have repercussions for decades to come.
Rage is more severe than anger. Anger can be mild. Rage is a wildfire. It is uncontrollable, and to quell it would require a massive effort. But it is also cathartic. As someone who navigates this world as a woman, I find rage to be freeing. But I’m also afraid. When a feeling becomes immoderate, you are in an imbalanced state, and then what? How do we protect ourselves so that we can channel the rage and not worry that it will swallow us whole?
As 2018 comes to a close, I do not have an answer for this. I will do what I can to level off the stress of living in this current political landscape. But I will never stop questioning the long-term effects of this rage on our collective psyche, no matter how in ubiquitous the word—and the feeling—becomes.