Friday, August 19, 2016

Dealing in Fear, Dealing in Hope

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can drive people to do many things, and the ability to instill fear into people's hearts is one of the more effective paths to power over those people. It's the calling card of many a movie or comic book villain, from Emperor Palpatine to Sinestro.

Sadly, fear isn't exclusive to the realms of fiction. Fear is a powerful force right now, in this year's presidential election. It's a tool being used by both sides of the conflict, to varying degrees of success.

Perhaps it's because I run in more liberal circles, but the Republicans seem to receive the "fearmonger" label much more than Democrats do. Often, they go even further: to call Republican platforms the result of hate. But while I agree with Yoda that fear and hate are related, I don't think Republican policies are actually rooted in hate.

No, I think fear is plenty strong enough to make things like building a wall along the border to Mexico and banning all Muslims from the country seem reasonable. Not rational, of course, but fear is great at dimming rationality.

However, while those solutions and, I would argue, the objects of those fears don't make sense, I wouldn't say the fears Trump followers feel are unjustified. The Mexican-American border is indeed rife with violence and gang activity thanks to the drug trade, and the influx of immigrants is changing the cultural makeup of our country. Also, there have been several terrorist attacks here and abroad involving people who are or claim to be Muslim. These are challenges we, as a country, are facing.

In short, I disagree with their solutions, but I believe we want the same thing: security, both of the economic and physical sorts.

Republicans, however, use these fears to push an agenda; offering attractive, simple-sounding solutions to these complex problems. And while I don't think these solutions actually solve the problems, they are nonetheless attractive to many people who frankly have more important things to think about; people who think that if they put their hopes into these politicians who sound like they know what they're talking about, then maybe the problems will go away.

That's the flip side of the fear tactic: hope. The fear tactic is useless unless you also have some hope to offer in its place. "Here are all of these bad things," they say. "But don't worry; we can take care of this for you." Fear inspires people to action, to do something about that fear. By giving people hope for a solution, they give direction to that energy.

The Democrats are also dealing in fear this election: fear of Donald Trump and what a Trump presidency could mean for the United States. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," said Franklin Roosevelt, and clearly the Democrats still hold that notion to be true: the greatest threat to our country, according to them, is a man who represents the collective fears of the white, male, working class whose dominance is being challenged, and those who have no faith or interest in countries, races, and cultures outside of their own.

However, the hope they're offering is Hillary Clinton in Trump's place. A tough sell; nearly as tough a sell as border walls and religion-based travel bans.

Which brings me to the primary problem with fear tactics: I said before that fearmongering is useless unless you have some hope to offer in its place. In fact, I would argue that fearmongering is less than useless without that hope, or without sufficient hope. And, I believe, this campaign is offering very little hope for many people, even as it drums up more things for people to fear. The conservatives, frightened of corruption, foreigners, and a bad economy are being asked to accept Donald Trump, a short-tempered businessman with questionable business acumen, no regard for facts, and no respect for dissenters. The liberals, frightened of Donald Trump, are being asked to accept Hillary Clinton, who is commonly believed to be dishonest and corrupt.

For those who find little hope in either option, this leaves them with many fears and no solutions; anxiety, with no relief. And an anxious society is unhealthy; people are less productive and less confident. Ours is an economy based around a currency whose entire value is determined by our collective confidence. As such, confidence in our leadership, our safety, and our potential is vital to our collective health and wealth.

In short, I think fearmongering is a risky move. Powerful, certainly, but too risky for my taste. It's much harder to inspire confidence than to inspire fear, though.

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