The Politics of Fear

donald-trump_3372655eWhy are people voting for Trump?

Fear. More than anything else, the reason is fear.

I listened to NPR interview a couple who were planning on voting for Trump. They kept repeating certain points. They talked about how they didn’t feel right encouraging their children to have children “with the country the way it is.”

They talked about things falling apart. They talked about being afraid to go to the movie theater, or into Atlanta, for fear of being shot. They talked about waves of immigrants, they talked about the flow of immigrants. They mentioned that Donald Trump plans to shut off the flow. They worried about their jobs being taken by immigrants.

They worried about Hillary Clinton. They were preparing to join a militia, worried that they would have to fight a civil war, should she be elected.

Every single thing they worried about, are not actually serious problems in this country. Crime is at historic lows. A citizen is far less likely to be shot now, than in the seventies and eighties.

Illegal immigration has been at a net-zero level for several years. Studies show that legal and illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes per capita than native born citizens. And most jobs taken by undocumented workers are not jobs already occupied by native citizens.

And finally, worries about the despotism of Hillary Clinton sound a lot like the worries about Obama, which never resulted in anything but increased gun sales and lots of paranoia.

These Trump supporters cited things that were all completely untrue about the state of the country. And yet, it’s true for them. They see it, they feel it, they know it’s true. And Trump confirms what the media keeps blasting at them every day. They feed off of it.

This is not to say that the country is running perfectly, either. While the national debt is not quite the boogeyman that people make it out to be, it is growing, and it is something to be resolved at some point. Income and wealth inequality are at their highest levels since the Gilded Age, and there doesn’t seem to be any improvement on the horizon. The economy is shifting, and certain jobs that people relied on are simply disappearing, maybe partly due to trade, but mostly due to changing technology. The American infrastructure is crumbling, and very little money is being devoted toward repairing it. While overall crime is as low as its ever been, Americans still shoot each other far more often than in any other advanced democracy.

I’m not a Pollyanna. I am aware that we face challenges in America, and around the world. But Trump is fueling fear and paranoia on issues that simply aren’t worth the fear.

The Great Recession, increased automation, stagnant wages – these have caused people (like the fearful couple mentioned above) real problems.

It creates a certain effect. People have real problems.

So then, Fox News screams about Obama “letting in the illegals,” and all the news networks pretty much ignore Trump’s constant stream of lies and exaggerations, and people say, “That must be it. I can’t get a factory job anymore because of illegals.”

“There’s a crime surge in Chicago, so I must be in constant danger.”

And so on.

I’ve written before about how the reality of life in 21st century America doesn’t jibe with our perceptions of it. Ask most people on the street, they will likely tell you that crime is rampant, terrorists lurk around every corner, and the government isn’t helping. Well, maybe that last part is true. It hasn’t helped that the party running the national legislature has refused to work with the executive branch on anything, all while saying they are merely representing their constituents interests. And of course, they are telling their constituents that the nation is falling apart, and Obama/liberals/gays/political correctness/immigrants/ACA/etc is to blame. And Trump reinforces it, and the media reports mostly bad news, and then you get a great smokescreen for the obstructionists who aren’t actually interested in governing. And people on the other side of the ideological spectrum see the current executive branch as weak on the issues that matter to them, and basically a traitor to progressivism.

The country chugs along. The real problems continue to exist and fester. People ignore them in favor of imagined calamities, and the blame shifts the wrong way. And a pathologically dishonest, fear-mongering, failed businessman is inexplicably competitive with a cautious, boring bureaucrat with historic levels of knowledge and experience, but an inability to shake (mostly exaggerated) accusations of corruption. The charlatan feeds on fears and triggers emotions. And people who are suffering fall for it. They aren’t suffering from crime or immigration or terror attacks. But when that’s the culprit their shown, what else do they have?

There isn’t one simple reason why Donald Trump has a chance at the White House. However, the underlying emotion might just be fear.

About hbreck

Writer, debater, contrarian, storyteller, occasional troublemaker. I'm mostly just making things up as I go.
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