Living here in New Jersey, I was prepared for the worst yesterday. During my commute the snow was coming down really hard, and the train was so full that all the seats were filled and I stood in the aisle packed cheek to jowl with my fellow commuters. The only other time I experienced this was in the aftermath of Sandy, when trains ran infrequently. My wife didn't want to venture out with the kids in the snow, so I ended up walking about two miles home from the train station. The snow wasn't fearsome, but I thought that if it was just the beginning, the night would be horrible.
It turns out that I had already experienced the worst of it. It all ended up being a heavy snow, pretty nasty and inconvenient, but hardly the "historic blizzard" we'd been led to expect. Despite that fact, all mass transit had been shut down and states of emergency declared. You could say that this overreaction resulted from the storm changing its path, or a bad weather prediction, but I don't. The stringent, top-down measures are also rooted in our country's mentality after 9/11.
When I was younger I can't remember snow storms getting this much pre-game hype, or extensive and drastic measures being taken BEFORE it was apparent what the storm was bringing. Having grown up in Nebraska, I know from blizzards, but they usually didn't close the interstate down in the windswept western areas of the state until it was apparent that the roads were impassable. Yesterday four states declared states of emergency before the storm even hit. While I was on the train ride home yesterday I was told that trains would not running until Thursday, (they're already back now.)
Those actions reflect a tendency today by political leaders in this country to quickly take state action whenever there's a whiff of any kind of threat or crisis. They do it because it enhances their power, and also because the public has been inured to accepting emergency measures. Both come from the "War on Terror." In the case of politicians, they can't fail to have noticed how 9/11 saved George W. Bush's presidency, which started off with questionable legitimacy and responded to an economic downturn with tax cuts for the rich. (Of course, his poor handling of the Katrina disaster showed how not responding to a crisis well can kill a political career.) Chris Christie was paying attention, and he parlayed Sandy into a positive public profile at a time when his popularity in New Jersey was slipping. He used that event to create an image of a tough-talking leader in charge, and one able to reach across the partisan divide to cooperate with a Democratic president. Disasters are great for executive leaders in that they get to look responsible, criticism of them becomes de facto bad, and they can wield much more power than in regular times. When we hear news of drone strikes and NSA spying that should hardly surprise us.
As far as the people are concerned, they have been conditioned to accept greater authoritarian measures. We take our shoes off at the airport, accept NSA spying despite Edward Snowden's revelations, and punish anyone at the polls who dares to challenge the PATRIOT Act for being "soft on terror."As I have written before, we are a society ruled by fear. This fear now apparently extends to the weather, where a snowstorm or blizzard becomes "Snowmageddon" or somesuch thing. Of course the media play a big role in this, mostly because they've realized that the public craves fear, from the bogus "knock out game" to hyping up weather events.
Others may see a bad weather forecast to blame for the overreaction to snow in the New York City area, I see the fear spiral at work once again. At least this time it was fairly harmless, but I'm sure it will be used to gin up more wars, domestic and foreign, in the future.