Joseph Sabino Mistick: Political fear cuts both ways
When newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he was not downplaying the economic crisis that Americans faced. It was 1933, the lowest point in the Great Depression, and he was warning his fellow Americans that “unreasoning, unjustified” fear was enough by itself to destroy the nation.
The current crisis — the longest government shutdown in American history — is no different. It owes its roots to fear, the centerpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign kick-off, when he claimed that violent criminals were streaming across our border with Mexico.
That was an old charlatan’s trick, like convincing folks that they smell bad so you can sell them deodorant. And it worked well enough that Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for a wall along the border followed him into the White House.
There were never any facts to support Trump’s claims, and Mexico has refused to pay for a wall, as any sensible person knew would happen. A wall is a medieval defense that failed even in medieval times. But Trump likes creating chaos over his meaningless wall.
Trump knows that fear can motivate voters and politicians alike. Some members of Congress fear that he will endorse their primary opponent if they cross him. Or he just might tag them with one of his playground nicknames.
And so far, most Republican members of Congress are sticking with Trump or laying low. Suddenly, they like the wall, even though they never funded it when they controlled Congress.
In February 2017, Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, “I don’t think we’re just going to be able to solve border security with a physical barrier because people can come under, around it and through it.” He must have been struck with fear, because now he is for the wall.
And even if a solution passed in the House of Representatives, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not put anything to a vote unless Trump has already approved it. McConnell has plenty to fear, because his wife Elaine Chao is the secretary of Transportation, and Trump is not afraid to say, “You’re fired.”
For too long now, too many average Americans have been waking up in fear, afraid to check the morning news, afraid of their neighbors, afraid of some politically manufactured crisis.
Farmers fear the trade wars, families fear the loss of health care, parents fear the air and water their children breathe, and American dreamers fear deportation based on some technicality.
Fear fatigue is bound to settle in, but we are not there yet. And until we get there, those politicians who play on our fears should remember that fear cuts both ways.
According to the polls, Trump and the GOP are getting most of the blame for the troubles caused by the shutdown. And this comes on the heels of the Democratic sweep of the midterms.
There will soon be a time when the fear-mongers should be more afraid of the voters than they are of their political boss. Fear got us into this mess. Maybe fear is the only thing that can get us out.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.