A Needless First Fear

Most Saturdays I eat dinner with my grandmother. She recently turned 92 years-old. Suffices to say, that’s enough time on this Earth to have seen a few things. She lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and September 11th –not to mention her decades spent as a sharecropper in Southwest Arkansas. She has seen some hard times. 

She has weathered the existence of many devils. She has watched terrible men do horrible things. Some were minor villains – the landowner who systematically oppressed her family and anyone else caught in his economic yoke. Some were major – Hitler, Stalin and bin Laden hardly require much elaboration. In short, she has borne witness to the evil in men’s hearts. 

At a recent dinner, she made a statement that succinctly frames our current age. She said that for the first time in her life, she was afraid for our country. Let that sink deeply into your bones. Undaunted by dictators, mad men, flood, fire and famine, she’s scared now. 

While her politics and mine are a little different, I’m willing to bet we could agree on a few of the core causes of our shared fear. I don’t know if any of the following falls into the “consensus” category, but maybe so.

To start, we have a Congress that is wholly corrupted by the money of special interests, robber barons and industry. We can thank the decision in Citizens United and a cohort of self-interested politicians for that. Second, we have a judiciary that enables the undue influence of extremists and plutocrats. Third, we have allowed a narcissistic, feeble-minded, man-child to occupy the White House. While our dysfunctional Congress and myopic judiciary provide ample intervening causes, it is the arguable sociopath residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who provides the most proximate cause of the current national distress.

Trump and his GOP acolytes have artfully constructed a worldview based in fear. Sometimes they couch it in a false religious narrative, which is ironic given Trump’s whoremongering, demonstrable record of cheating business associates, racism and xenophobia. His personal qualities aside, this reactionary narrative asserts that isolationism, protectionism, submission to corporate prerogatives and rape of the environment are necessary to keep alive the American Dream.

They hope you’ll buy a red hat and fetishize the downfall of people who are no longer in power. They expect you’ll be gullible enough to salute any intolerance as long as its wrapped in a flag.

Without these concessions, foreigners and government regulations will take your jobs, Islam will destroy Christianity, the economy will crumble and Socialists (real hammer and sickle Socialists) will kill our democracy. At least that’s what the GOP would have you believe. They want you to be afraid – very afraid. They know if you stay focused on illegal aliens, Muslims and liberals, you won’t have energy to monitor how corporate lobbyists provide the language of bills, billionaires purchase elections and theocrats promote their own brand of religious hegemony. They hope you won’t care about our nation’s giant wealth chasm, or complain too much about rising healthcare costs, failing schools, crumbling roads and the general decline of civic infrastructure.  

Rather, they hope you’ll feel a kinship to a boorish bully in an ill-fitting suit. They hope you’ll buy a red hat and fetishize the downfall of people who are no longer in power. They expect you’ll be gullible enough to salute any intolerance as long as its wrapped in a flag.

All that aside, I’m pretty sure my grandmother’s misgivings are more fundamental and less partisan. I suspect she chagrins the growing incivility of American culture and the seeming inability of politicians to cooperate on anything. I imagine she is worried about the retreat of empathy and the growth of “just me” living. I know she fears the chaos all this foments. I certainly do. 

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