Hank Rishel
4 min readJan 26, 2023

Here is a problem: Roughly forty of the two hundred and twenty two Republicans in the current House owe their election to people motivated primarily by anger. Although that anger is interpreted as political, in the real world in real individuals, it is difficult to know what that anger is really about.

I have suggested in the past that each of us, as we develop through childhood, constantly attempt to reduce internal conflict. That internal conflict will be experienced as anxiety. We all need to keep anxiety at a level low enough to allow us to function and hopefully to keep it suppressed enough to allow us to feel free and happy.

If we grow up in a home where people are awash in anger and/or a world where we are forced to live in constant discomfort and fear, it may well be impossible to keep our anxieties at a comfortable level. Anxiety ridden in that kind of unforgiving world, people can quickly learn to aim their love and/or their anger at things outside their limited personal world.

They will find symbols out there to love and to hate. And, they are symbols. If we “love” Donald Trump because he cares about us and talks like us and we believe that he will clean out those evil liberals in Washington then Donald Trump is a love symbol. It’s true that he is a real person but we don’t actually know him. For us, Donald Trump is symbol which exists almost entirely in our heads.

If we are told that Nancy Pelosi is an evil California leftist who has made a career out of doing things that hurt this country then she is a symbol too. We may find though that it is a lot easier to be angry with Nancy Pelosi than with our hot headed father who will not take criticism and will attack or just withdraw.

So our love and our anger about things political may be real but the motivation for that anger may not be political at all. We may, for example, still feel anger about the way we were treated in high school. Or, we may be stuck in some low paying miserable job that no one has any reason to respect. But the anger that we project on to those terrible liberals may reduce our anxiety enough so that we continue to function.

It also may mean that if all those liberals and leftists are causing our problems then we don’t have to blame ourselves for landing where we have and for staying there. It also gives us something to talk about with those immediately around us. People do tend to adopt the same symbols as the dominant personalities in their own world. Not to do that would cause too much anxiety. Families are often angry together.

It should not be a surprise that many of the most angry come from rural areas that seem to have gone backward as the brightest young people have left to make successful careers elsewhere. Many have been drawn to major cities or their suburbs. The small towns and the ever-larger corporate farms seem to, year by year, create less meaningful employment for those left behind.

With that in mind, think about the current endless dilemmas being experienced by the Republicans in the House of Representatives. We saw a few weeks ago, after the 2022 midterm elections, the difficulties faced by the Republicans in choosing a Speaker.

Being Speaker of the House is an important office (If the President and Vice President were to fall off the White House balcony together and both were to succumb, the Speaker would become the president.). The Speaker has to be voted for by all 435 members of the House and the Democrats and the Republicans were almost tied. The Republicans had a plurality of only five so they needed to stick together. And, they couldn’t.

They couldn’t because the Freedom Caucus, a group of about forty House members, almost all from rural districts, refused to go along and vote for Kevin McCarthy who had been acting as Republican leader before the midterms. He was the only serious Republican candidate (They could have slipped up and allowed the Democrats to elect their leader Hakeem Jeffries to preside over the Republican majority.).

The voting went through fifteen ballots while the members of the Freedom Caucus tried to blackmail McCarthy into giving their extreme, angry members a disproportionate number of seats on important committees. Seats that in the normal course of events they would clearly have been unqualified for. McCarthy caved! The newly appointed Caucus members are on those committees only to cause trouble.

Without knowing any more, observers might say that what they did was a little unfair but their followers in all those dying small towns need help. This may give them the power to really help. But that isn’t it! Nothing that the Caucus members talk about shows any interest in their voters (If Republicans had been willing to help in the past those people would not be so poorly off right now.).

What the Freedom Caucus people do is to retain those voters by hyping the same anger symbols the voters have already adopted. They have no real plans for legislation that would help those small towns even in theory. They want to investigate Democrats, some of whom, like Hunter Biden the president’s son, aren’t even in the government. Those angry voters will get no help from their legislators at all.

But that anger is the key! So long as those voters are provided things to be angry with, they will continue to vote for the same people because many, if not most of them, are not interested in the actual political world at all. The more moderate traditional Republicans understand what is going on, but they desperately need those voters. It is as Donald Trump would say, sad!

H.J. Rishel 2/26/2023



Hank Rishel

Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all