Sunday, September 18, 2016

Republic Of Fear (Redux)

We are a nation governed by fear. I try to resist it, but I too can get dragged down into its morass. Yesterday I was out and about with my family, and we decided to stop into a mall to kill some time before an event we were attending was starting. Why a mall? Because of the indoor play area, which is a perfect place to take toddlers if you want them to run around while getting out of the sun. There was a boy with a toy gun there who kept shooting it at other kids, something I would barely have noticed in my childhood, but which filled my with almost unbearable anxiety and dread. All the news of mass shootings had clearly had an effect on me.

Soon after that I heard reports of a pipe bomb that had been planted near the finish line of a run in New Jersey, which was thankfully discovered before it exploded. Later that day came the explosion in Chelsea. Soon on my social media feed the massive reservoir of fearful magma beneath America came bursting forth in the hot lava. And, of course, before hardly anything was known, Trump was trying to exploit it.

Fear has historically been a powerful force in American political history, but since 9/11, it has been given a massive steroid injection. Historically, this fear usually means rights are taken away, and people die. Fear of Native Americans led to the Trail of Tears, fear of white supremacy being compromised contributing to lynchings, fear of communism destroyed the lives of those targeted, fear of poor young people of color resulted in mass incarceration. The list goes on. The fear spiral in our case has lasted so long because politicians have failed so spectacularly to deliver a better world, and so must instead base their legitimacy on "protecting" the public from violence. (That's the thesis of the BBC's amazing The Power of Nightmares, which I consider to be the most important documentary of the post-9/11 world.)

Donald Trump has been so successful because he is the fear candidate. He has perfectly channeled the fears of white middle America, from a fear of Muslims to fears of African Americans, to fears of immigration, and to fears of national decline. He appeals to the white people who live in suburbs founded and based in fear, from their segregated housing to the local police forces who pull over any black people who dare surpass its borders. He certainly must have remembered how back in 2003 Dubya managed to use that fear to get broad public support for an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

And in the midst of this orgy of fear, others are given much more to fear. Muslims have to fear being targeted by a growing wave of hate crimes. African Americans have to fear being murdered by the police in the routine course of their daily lives. Immigrants have to fear deportation or having their families ripped apart.

I do not see any horizon for the Republic of Fear. That too fills me with fear, because I am not sure how long a society can function or even exist in a state like this.

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