All editors have pet peeves. One of mine: when writers use the phrase, “I have no words to describe it.” It’s a cliché and just another way of saying I’m too lazy to try.
Yet, I admit that’s the first thing I told my wife when I returned home Monday night after covering President Trump’s rally.
Videos, much less words, can’t capture the chemistry between the president and the crowd – the way they each fed off the other. The focus is too narrow. You get pieces but not the whole thing. In person, it’s loud and guttural. It hits the amygdala in the emotional center of the brain. It’s not like any political event I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere is closer to a raucous sporting event.
The roads outside of the El Paso County Coliseum were lined with venders selling merchandise. There was a border wall mascot – somebody in a homemade, anthropomorphic wall costume. Turns out it was planted by “The Daily Show” to troll Trump supporters.
Friends took selfies together. Protestors and Trump supporters occasionally yelled at each other, shouted profanities and mocked each other. Reporters with cameras darted around.
Meanwhile online, social media was awash in outrage. Bystanders had their phones cocked and ready to film the next viral video. During it all, I couldn’t help but think how outrage has become America’s favorite pastime.
Some are outraged by how the “fake news” media portray Trump, his supporters and the rallies. (During Trump’s speech, a man walked by me and other reporters in the media area and then attacked a BBC photographer. The crowd chanted “Let him go!” as the attacker was dragged off the riser.)
Others are outraged by the crude things Trump says and his false claims. (In his speech, the president took a veiled shot at El Paso’s Republican mayor, saying he was “full of crap” for contradicting Trump’s border barrier claims.)
Social media fans the flames. Reactions to Facebook posts are expressed in feelings – love, laugh, angry emojis. A surefire way to get a post to perform well is to provoke an emotional response, especially outrage. Can you believe this! Click. Share.
I’ve heard it called “outrage porn.”
Outrage scratches a primal itch, especially when it affirms membership in a particular tribe – “Lock her up!” or “Impeach him!” It feels good to indulge in self-righteousness – the feeling that I know the truth that all the so-called sheeple don’t.
Of course, there is a place for real outrage and plenty these days to be outraged about. But when outrage is not reserved for special occasions, it loses its power.
In the end, the outrage machine swept through El Paso as quickly as a March dust storm.
And I think the Sun City came out of it all looking good overall. The national media was not without words to describe the city. I’ve never seen so many news stories put the words El Paso, vibrant and safe in the same sentence. And that is nothing to be outraged about.