Anyone who lived through the Great Depression, World War II or was educated in the decades after the war is familiar with Roosevelt’s famous words: “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” I always thought this meant we must not be afraid to act, paralyzed because we are afraid to do anything. That we must understand that it is acceptable to be afraid, but not simply of fear. I believe this is the spirit in which it was said, designed to inspire us to live up to our own ideals, our best selves. The speech, which I hadn’t previously heard or read in its entirety, continues: “…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
Unfortunately, I believe our ideals, those expressed in our founding and beyond, freedom, equality, caring, compassion and other lofty precepts upon which the United States was founded have been twisted into an insidious form of fear. Now, we don’t care for the other, we fear the other. Equality is only for us, but us is ill-defined, though we know it represents white Christian families. Our problems are caused by foreigners and lazy people who drain the system and economy through their own, willful choice. If we can only get rid of these bad, dark elements, everything will be all right. This is exactly what Roosevelt meant by “…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” This fear is something to be afraid of, absolutely terror-fied.
There are immoral and amoral people and atrocious things happen in the world, both natural and aided or caused by us. I understand this, but the key word in previous sentence is world. We are not alone in suffering attacks and tragedies. We are not alone in falling prey to intolerance, bigotry and zealotry. We are not alone in believing our ideology is the best and that everyone should do as we do. We are not alone in espousing the parental trope: do as I say, not as I do. We are not even alone in believing white, so-called Christians should run everything without challenge. Bottom line, we are not alone. Building walls, deporting, demonizing and pushing people to the margins will not change this basic fact.
Despite all the wonderful things about the United States, including a level of personal freedom, which few places in the world meet or exceed, we have developed propaganda outlets masquerading as patriotic, purveyors of truth, justice and the American way. The Limbaughs, and O’Reillys, so called pundits, and their ilk spread fear, hate and lies through bombast and rhetoric designed to support their conclusions without regard to facts or truth. Vocabulary.com says this about the pundit: “Beware the pundit, a supposed expert who imparts deep knowledge to us more ignorant folks. Pundits are often blowhards, mere hacks, and you might well want to take what they say with a pinch of salt. Why not call them simply experts? Because pundit is a lovely word that has a slightly mocking sense to it. Classic examples of the pundit are talk radio show hosts and professional sports commentators, all brilliant dispensers of hot air amongst the odd insight and statistic. Our modern day pundit is a far cry from the original meaning of the word, a “learned man, master, or teacher,” from the ancient Hindi word payndit.” Oh no, the word we use to describe them comes from one of the group they believe inferior to themselves.
We have both elected and hopeful Republicans who espouse Christian beliefs and principles, yet do not do as they themselves say. Maybe because it is near the bottom of the 10 commandments, Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbors, seems to carry no weight with this group and their followers. This a group, the GOP, who are so afraid they cannot win on their own merits, they’ve rampantly gerrymandered voting districts, (practiced at times, by both sides of the aisle) to skew the numbers in their favor. The Editorial Board of the New York Times, April 4, 2016 wrote: It’s become an accepted truth of modern politics that Republican electoral prospects go up as the number of voters goes down. Conservatives have known this for a long time, which helps explain their intensifying efforts to make it harder to vote, or to eliminate large numbers of people from political representation entirely. They concluded by saying: Voting is a fundamental constitutional right, and politicians should be fighting to protect and expand it no matter their political affiliation. In an op-ed column in The Times last week, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a 19-term Republican, made the case against more barriers to voting. “Ensuring that every eligible voter can cast a ballot without fear, deterrence and prejudice is a basic American right,” he wrote. “I would rather lose my job than suppress votes to keep it.” It’s a shame, but not a surprise, that more of Mr. Sensenbrenner’s colleagues don’t agree.
While being so afraid they cannot win an election on their own merits, Republicans act so sure of their own values that they are, among other actions, placing every obstacle possible between women and their right to have free choice about their body and health. This is up to and beyond the right to a safe and legal abortion, despite the law of the land. I find it sadly telling that they find it heinous to kill a fetus before its first breath, but justifiable to kill a doctor or others performing or assisting legal abortion, while ignoring myriad health benefits such organizations as Planned Parenthood supply. January 1, 2016, Amanda Marcotte on Salon.com in an article entitled: Women’s rights at stake: How the Supreme Court and abortion laws will shape the 2016 election said, “It doesn’t seem like it now, but come primary season, abortion might be the No. 1 issue for many GOP voters.”
These same GOP politicians bow down to the gun lobby and those who scream that our government is trying to take away our (their) guns. The number of people killed by automatic weapons using extended ammunition magazines do not filter into their arguments. This is because everything is about them and their constituents. They blame foreigners and the disenfranchised for every problem in the country. It’s the Hispanics and Middle-Easterners, because they are all terrorists, rapists, drug dealers, criminals. This is a variation on Roosevelt’s “…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Now they have named their unjustified terror. More insidious is that they are dark-skinned, swarthy, bearded and not their kind of people. Perhaps not people at all.
Hate mongering is nothing new. It’s used for many reasons. During times of war, it’s used to vilify the other, the heinous, barbaric and inhuman. This allows the people of any nation to accept, even condone rape, pillage and murder on a staggering scale. This allows soldiers to kill other people despite any prior personal, moral, or religious objections. Further, it persuades these same soldiers to put themselves in harm’s way. It may justify any action up to and including, invasion, occupation and outright conquest of sovereign nations.
We live in a competitive society whose basic metric is money and the power which comes with it. Regardless of this, there is simply no reason to crush all competition out of existence. And, there’s no reason to use any method fair or foul to accomplish this. Staggering amounts of money are required to be able to achieve high political office in the United States these days. Despite the advantage of wealth, some cheat because they do not believe they can win in an honest way. More telling, they cheat because they believe they have only correct ideas and ideals. This belief is belied by the fact they had to cheat to gain or maintain power to impose their will on others. Rule of law, which some may believe is what I just described, is when we as a society or through our elected or chosen leaders reach a consensus on how we should all behave. What I have been describing is a totalitarian system, where people impose their ideas, rules, prejudices and fears upon all, not because they can, but because we let them. This is where we are heading if we don’t come to our senses and why I say be afraid, be very afraid.