The Only Thing We Have To Fear…

This column appeared in the Northern Express on April 8, 2017


Since my last column in the Northern Express, I have had the opportunity to think a lot about how people are handling the Trump presidency.  I went back and looked at things people were saying before the election, as well as the things they said once the incredible became reality.  People who sensed Trump to be the disaster he has in fact become are still largely in a state of shock.  It is really difficult to come to grips with the thought process that would put a man so insanely incompetent in charge of a country so dearly loved. Thankfully, many people have become involved in the political process for the first time in their lives.  Marches, letters, phone calls, contact (or attempted contact) with Representatives, and just plain good old-fashioned resistance have cropped up all over our wonderful country.

For supporters of Trump, there’s been the rude awakening they could have avoided by simply looking at the evidence that was right in front of them before November 8th.  Trump’s approval ratings continue to nosedive across the country, with even the most Trump-friendly polls showing ratings below 40%.  The people who crowed at me on November 9th say nothing now and I suspect until they can start a sentence with “Gee, I’m really sorry…” I suspect I have little interest in what they have to say anyway.

I have, however, continued to try to understand why people voted for Trump in the first place, and what they are thinking now that the Orange Cloud of Doom has descended upon our nation.  I have tried to put myself in their position by thinking back to 2008 when they were likely wondering how the country could possibly have voted for Barack Obama.  I remember frustrated people squawking about guns and welfare and socialism and communism and birth certificates and Islam and whatever else their hysteria would allow them to articulate.

Aren’t the Trump opponents acting exactly in the same way?  Weren’t supporters of Mr. Obama asking his detractors to just give him a chance?  So how is it different this time around?

All my analysis leads to one word.  Fear. We know, of course, that none of the things that people feared about the Obama Presidency became reality.  No guns were seized.  Mr. Obama was born in the United States.  No one ever captured a photo of him facing Mecca.  The economy is the most capitalist-friendly it has been since the Great Depression.  But Mr. Obama’s detractors were seemingly genuinely afraid that his presidency would produce a country that they could no longer love.  Fear.  Baseless fear as it turns out.

And it was fear that drove them to vote for Trump in 2016.  Fear that the gradual darkening of our society will take us places that are not so great.  Fear that non-existent hordes of Mexicans would continue to swarm over our southern border.  Fear that health care for everyone is going to ruin the country.  Fear that denying guns to the mentally ill will somehow lead to a less safe society.  Fear.  Baseless fear as it turns out.

On the other hand, nearly all the things Trump’s opponents feared prior to November 8, 2016, are well on their way to fruition.  Corruption, lying, attempts to deny health care to millions, twitter hysteria, attacks on climate science, attacks on public education, attacks on our allies, attacks on our environment, incompetence never seen are all now the new normal.  Who is actually surprised when Trump spouts another doozie?

So the difference between a person agonizing over the election of Mr. Obama in 2008 and the person agonizing over a Trump win in 2016 is clear.  It’s all about the fear.  Somewhere along the way, a large group of Americans were encouraged to fear before thinking…and they somehow fell for it.  They ceded their responsibility to think things out and question things before they marked their ballot.  The rest of us, on the other hand, became afraid when the evidence around us suggested it was truly time to duck and cover.

Fear, sadly, is a powerful motivator.  It leads people who should know better to make decisions that have dreadful consequences not for just themselves, but for their community and their country.  Fear shuts down our ability to think critically.  It activates the fight or flight instincts in our brains, and neither of those two options are likely to lead to a desired result.  Fear promotes blustery claims of self-righteousness and intimidation, or it promotes cowering in the face of the unknown.  Fear is a roadblock to understanding and progress because it shuts off the paths to genuine self-examination and reconciliation.  Fear is what tyrants rely upon to mold a pliant constituency.

As the resistance to Trump’s dismantling of the American Dream continues to grow, it represents a welcome affront to fear.  The activities to replace the corrupt Tom Price in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District with political newcomer Jon Ossoff are a beacon of hope to those who are getting no sense of hope out of Washington.  If Mr. Ossoff can truly win the special election in Georgia it should empower many more people to refuse to be part of that pliant constituency so important to Trump’s agenda.

I’m afraid I can’t wait.

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