A week or so ago, right after the San Bernardino shooting, I started to do a post on guns and fear mongering but I kept getting distracted by Trump’s rhetoric escalations. Guns are a big problem in the United States, but I don’t think that guns are our biggest problem, maybe they are a distant third. Not counting Global Climate Change, our biggest problem is the growing toxic environment of fear. Increasingly, we are unable to see reality because our fear induced anger in clouding our vision. While I think the biggest offenders are on the right, it is not just the right that seems to be blind with rage.
In what seems like months ago, I couldn’t imagine how ISIS could be an existential threat to the United States. Now I am starting to think that I was wrong. Roosevelt famously said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, I learned that in school, maybe in some Civics class, maybe in a High School History class, I don’t know, but I do know that I really didn’t understand the moral importance of that quote. I knew what the words meant intellectually, but not the emotional urgency. Now I am beginning to better understand the corrosiveness of fear as I am starting to see it play out in front of me.
For about six months, starting in late 1973, the Symbionese Liberation Army, a left wing terrorist organization, ran wild in California. They said the purpose of the mayhem was to get the police to over react turning the general population against what they saw as corrupt authority. The police did over react, in a way, with 400 police officers shooting about 9,000 bullets into a house where the SLA – as they were known, almost none of us knowing what symbionese meant – was holed up, but the populus never followed suit. To me at the time, getting the population to turn on the government, to, in effect, turn on itself seemed, fortunately, like an impossible goal. In the early seventies, the left was similar to the right of today except, of course, 180° out of sync. The SLA, however, was just too small a lever to move the country in any measurable way. I am worried that in our more polarized nation, a right wing terrorist organization, ISIS, may be a big enough lever.
When Trump says “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” it is not only an idiotic misstating of reality, it is bad for America because it excites fear. People are already afraid, for their jobs, for their kid’s job prospects, and I think, in the back of everybody’s mind is the spectre of Climate Change, so fanning that fear, finding and blaming scapegoats, as a way to get votes smacks of being ungentlemanly at the very least.
While it may seem unAmerican, in that way Trump is not any different than classic American fascists like the proNazi Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s. The problem is that hate mongering breeds conviction and self-righteousness, not only in the gullible listener but the cynical liars become believers, believing their own vile bullshit, stoking their own fire. When somebody of Trump’s stature and fame says bigotry is OK, that it moves the bar of acceptable behavior, Jeb! seems benign when he suggests almost the same thing in a more acceptable way.
But when Trump says he wants “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and when a governor, like Bobby Jindal or John Kasich issues an unenforceable executive order preventing Syrian refugees from coming to their state, it is worse than unAmerican, it is antiAmerican. It is aiding and abetting the enemy and I don’t say that lightly. Trump et al are are smart enough to know that what they say they want, would create the same segregated and isolated conditions that are causing Europe so much trouble. What we do better than anybody, is assimilate our immigrants – although it is a low bar – and it is in our best interest to keep doing so. What Trump et al say they want are more the conditions that make jihadis in the first place. That hurts more than our liberal sensibilities, it makes our world more dangerous.