Stepping Out of the Age of Fear

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin Roosevelt

I wrote those words from memory, because it's a quote that any entry-level hack of a writer can quote from memory, thinking that they were some sort of wartime rallying cry. 

Turns out I was wrong. They were actually spoken during Roosevelt's first inaugural address in 1933. It would be six years and some change before the Nazis invaded Poland. We all know what happened next. War broke out across the world, and millions of soldiers and civilians were killed, including 6 million Jews exterminated for nothing more than their ethnicity. It ended with a maniac's suicide in Berlin and the first and only (as of this writing) nukes dropped on an enemy in Japan.

So, clearly not everyone was listening to Mr. Roosevelt.

I often hesitate when I see the comparisons of our current political climate to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, but I would be a liar if I told you I don't think about it often. The Nazis didn't come to power from so much of a hostile takeover, but from people ceding power to them out of fear. 

Fear of immigrants. Fear of political opponents. Fear of a challenging economy. Fear of those who challenge their worldview. It all seems like the United States of America, circa 2017.

If this seems like an anti-Trump piece, I suppose it is. Anyone who's read what I've written recently (likeherehere, and perhaps my shortest and most favorite here) would be right in making that assumption. 

But it's more than that. It's an anti-state-of-our-society piece. Trump is not so much the cause, but a symptom of, the fear and hate gripping one side of the political spectrum. The other side is not immune.

Fear of the rich. Fear of the police. Fear of a challenging economy. Fear of those who challenge their worldview.

You could say our world is made up of two opposing ideologies reacting out of fear. 

But that hypothesis might be too forgiving. I wonder just how much of the fear is real, and how much of it is simply an excuse to let our worst impulses as humans run wild. The urge to be tribal. The urge to hate. The urge to win and conquer. If it was simple fear, wouldn't we be seeking answers to calm it?

I see it with conservatives who cite murders by illegals as reason for a wall, despite numbers showingimmigrants have lower crime rates and no evidence suggesting undocumented ones have higher. I see it in other wild proclamations that just aren't true. I couldn't help but notice a Facebook post from Lester Holt at NBC News yesterday. Donald Trump stating that murders in Philadelphia are out of control, yet the facts showing they've gone down. Why say it if it isn't true? Does he know it isn't true? Does he care? 

I see it with liberals, too, who use words such as "white privilege" and "micro aggression" as reasons to create safe spaces and dismiss any point of view that doesn't agree with their own. When Michael Brown was gunned down by a cop a two-hour drive and a lifetime away from my house, millions made up their mind that it was a cold-blooded murder by a racist cop before a shred of evidence emerged to back the claim. Nothing the prosecutor would say as he decided against charging Darren Wilson was going to change the minds of those who already made up their mind.

Maybe in the anti-truth era, it's truth that we ultimately fear. That has to change, because confronting and acknowledging uncomfortable truths is the only way out of this awful climate.

I had a guy on the right side of the fence ask me the other night what we needed to do to bring both sides together. I told him it started with intellectual honesty. Trump people calling out Trump when he does wrong and the left calling out their own when they do the same. It really is the only way forward. Tribalism can only end when two sides are listening to each other rather than talking at each other, but you can't listen to another if they lack credibility. 

The great thing about credibility is that to have it, you don't have to be right all of the time. A desire to seek the truth, speak the truth, and admit when you're wrong go a long way.

The truth is we live in an utterly complex society, and our tribal nature offers comfort and protection in a world that we don't entirely understand. What makes us human, though, is our ability to seek truth and show empathy, compassion and understanding despite our nature. 

Maybe Roosevelt was right after all, that what we really do have to fear is fear itself. We can overcome it if we choose to.  We just have to work at it.

Is there a word for pretty-independent, kinda-libertarian, progressiveness ? Well, that's me, and I hope you’ll follow my page below.