Fear of Fear Itself

Posted: March 11, 2016 in Blogosphere, Debate, Idle Nonsense, Politics
Tags: , ,

As ever, I’m late getting to recent analyses about the unstoppable momentum of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. (A lot happens in just a few days, which causes the news cycle to churn feverishly and expires lots of news before it can be fully considered.) Primaries, caucuses, and polls keep telling us that, despite deplorable behavior and a remarkable dearth of policy or solutions to problems (beyond witless sloganeering, anyway), Trump’s reckless bluster continues to dominate what remains of the Republican field. The nominating convention promises to be something other than pointless pageantry this time round, with things shaping up to be a fight for the nomination between the successful winner of delegates (Trump, via the usual electoral processes) and whomever the party decides to back in a desperate bid to avoid the inevitable. The Republican party has already splintered badly; a fight on the convention floor may well send the GOP into the dustbin of history.

Matt Taibbi provides excellent analysis in The Rolling Stone of the beast created unwittingly by the GOP, which has now hijacked the party. I especially like the comparison to the fake fighting, indignation, and bullying of professional wrestlers. Taibbi offers lots of memorable quotes in the course of a fairly long article, which is worth the time to read. Here’s just one.

A thousand ridiculous accidents needed to happen in the unlikeliest of sequences for it to be possible, but absent a dramatic turn of events — an early primary catastrophe, Mike Bloomberg ego-crashing the race, etc. — this boorish, monosyllabic TV tyrant with the attention span of an Xbox-playing 11-year-old really is set to lay waste to the most impenetrable oligarchy the Western world ever devised.

It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go.

The prospect of a Trump presidency is enough to inspire some hideous fear among rational thinkers. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that part of his appeal is that he can be expected to disrupt everything once in office. In that respect, I can see how some are saying that it’s not even Trump so much as Americans who support and vote for him who are the true disruption. The unstated goal is to crash the ineffectual system of government we now have by electing an egregiously ego-maniacal anti-politician, but after that, no clear path forward is evident. Maybe we gotta break some eggs to make the omelet, but in the meantime, lots of mischief will sink us further into strife and discord. Some even predict a civil war, a coup, or a revolution.

In my view, fear of Trump supporters rather than the man himself is an exercise in inversion, missing the point entirely that power structures are extremely hierarchical. Claims of those in power that they derive their power ultimately from the vox populi masks the fact that, except for purposeless mob action that does little but mess things up, the proletariat desperately needs a figurehead around which to rally, even if the rallying point is misaligned with their wants or even arbitrary (e.g., What’s the Matter with Kansas?). Because Trump doesn’t profess to be born again, he doesn’t quite fit the bill for James Howard Kunstler’s oft-repeated prediction of the rise of a cornpone fascist in American politics as an antidote to the dynastic professional political class, but Trump may well set the stage for someone else who does fit the bill.

What sort of fear grips us might be worth consideration. This thoughtful comment at Gin and Tacos (reformatted to two paragraphs) caught my attention:

Talk to a “conservative” long enough and underneath all their bluster and tough talk, you’ll find that they are basically peeing in their pants. This is not an accident. It’s fairly well known that fear and uncertainty are processed in the brain by the amygdala. When the amygdala is overloaded, it overtakes the neocortex, which is responsible for rational thought. The conservative message, from Fox Noise on down, is fear, fear, and more fear. People who watch Fox non-stop, no matter what they tell you, are quaking in their boots and unable to think rationally. This has nothing to do with economic status, race, education, or anything else. Once you can hijack the amygdala, you own the person.

So, the current conservative message is to fear foreigners, fear ISIS, fear Al Qaeda (although they seem to have fallen out of favor as a fear factor), fear “thugs,” fear Mexicans, fear liberals, fear the gays, fear the government (Jade Helm anyone?), fear your neighbor (see something, say something), fear for your guns, fear for your religion. When people are subjected to this message non-stop, they lose all capacity to think rationally. This explains Trump or any other demagogue who says he will eliminate your fear.

We’ve come a long, long way from FDR’s famous quote recommending fortitude in the face of fear.

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