Trump – about that “fear” thing

There’s just so much fallout from the election; I have a couple more blog articles coming. One refrain I heard often during the 2016 Presidential campaign was the claim that a vote for Trump was a vote for fear. And when Trump won, it was a victory for fear.

But who’s really afraid, here?

First, let’s consider all the “phobia” claims that abound about Trump. Xenophobia. Islamophobia. Homophobia. And probably several other “phobias” that have only recently been invented. It is alleged that all of these fears are what drove the voting decision of those who voted for Trump.

The Atlantic has an article, “Trump and the politics of fear” with a sub-line that reads, “Trump’s candidacy relies on the power of fear. It could be the only way for him to win.”

Salon tells us that “In Donald Trump’s America, fear, violence and intimidation are taking over college campuses,” a claim that many who teach on college campuses would likely agree with (e.g. here and here).

CNN explores “How Donald Trump plays the politics of fear.”

The allegation of omniphobia – “fear of everything,” which progressives seem to broadly assume is the motivation fueling those who disagree with them – just doesn’t ring true. I’m a social and fiscal conservative (leaning libertarian) and that claim that I’m scared of all these things is just silly. Disagree with, yes. Disapprove of; sometimes, yes.

But fear? Really no.

I am not scared of gay people, not even slightly. The ones I’ve met are easy enough to get along with. I’m not scared of immigrants; I have a few friends from elsewhere. Being “scared” is not remotely an inherently conservative trait, though I’m certain there are some conservatives who are legitimately scared.

I guess I cannot speak for all conservatives, but I will say that my ideologies are not in the least bit motivated by fear. They are motivated by compassion for others and a grand positive vision for what it means to be human. From the conservatives I’ve spoken with, this seems to be a broadly shared perspective.

I don’t know what Trump said during the campaign, but if he played to people’s fears as the primary source of motivation then we can add that to the long list of ways that he does not accurately represent the essence of conservativism.


But it gets even more interesting when we start to ask who has actually stated, explicitly, that they are scared. That fear is alluded to in this MacLean’s article,

At the heart of the many worried tweets, disbelieving Facebook posts, and anxious conversations that have sprung up over the last two days amongst those who did vote, or would have voted, for Hillary Clinton is this factor…

Worried tweets. Anxious conversations. Sounds kind of scared to me.

During the live coverage on election night I recall one of the panelists looking at the data, as Trump’s electoral college numbers were ascending, saying, “I don’t want to scare anybody, but…” and he would articulate how Trump might just win this thing. Who’s afraid, exactly?

Here’s an interesting article in the National Post entitled how to explain the election, Trump and your fears without panicking your kids. It begins,

As Tuesday night wore on and it became increasingly clear that Donald Trump would become our country’s 45th president, Democratic strategist Van Jones articulated how the half of America who did not vote for the Republican nominee might be feeling at that moment. He called the results a “nightmare.”

A nightmare for those who disagree with Trump. Interesting. The author goes on,

Daniel Griffin, a psychologist in the Washington area – a Democratic stronghold that supported Clinton – said in an interview that many patients were walking into his office “shellshocked.” Griffin, who has been working for more than 30 years in counseling, said many families are reacting as if they had gone through a personal tragedy…

Young children may have already picked up on a parent’s fears that may have translated into their own. For older children, teens or college students, it can help to get others in the community involved as they deal with their feelings.

Shellshocked. Personal tragedy.

Another article in the National Post gives us an insight into the minds of those who opposed Trump,

“I don’t want to live in a country where … my children are going to grow up in a world that’s frightening”

“I have a leader I fear for the first time in my life,”

“It’s not that we’re sore losers,” she said. “It’s that we are genuinely upset, angry, terrified…”

And on it goes.

Those on the left freely admit that they are afraid. Very afraid. This is a nightmare. They are “genuinely terrified.”


Now the most natural question to ask is, “why in the world would they tell us this?” Like everybody, I have some fears in my life, but I don’t go around advertising it to everybody. I’m not a fan of spiders, but somehow I don’t think you care. I do live in a somewhat perpetual state of concern (I’m not sure it warrants being called a “fear”) surrounding my wife’s health, but I don’t go around broadcasting that to others.

There’s a matter of reasonable social boundaries when it comes to sharing that kind of information; for some things you just need to use your inside voice. So do progressives simply lack the appropriate social filters? That may be a partial explanation, but I think there’s a more fundamental explanation.

I suspect the underlying explanation is tied to the social conventions around having these discussion. So many people these days are not accustomed to discussing issues with reference to the facts, they are accustomed to discussing issues with respect to their feelings about the facts. As I’ve described before, the central theme in so many discussions these days is not the data, the analysis and the carefully reasoned examination thereof; the central theme is one’s feelings.

If you are offended by what I say, it doesn’t matter if what I said is true.

If you are scared by what I say, I need to keep my mouth shut, even if I am speaking the truth.

If I have made you angry then I need to apologize, regardless of what I said.

[If you are interested in the rise of this “victim” culture, there’s an interesting sociological paper you can read on the subject. The paper is summarized at this Heterodox Academy article, and there is a link to an ungated version of the paper so you can read it in its entirety for yourself.]

The public debate is not centrally about the facts, but about the feelings. And if that’s the focal point of any such discussion then there is a very obvious reason why so many progressives spend so much of their time talking about how they feel about things; they are still trying to win the debate. Even though Trump won the election, progressives are still trying to sway public opinion by reminding people that this reality causes them emotional distress. If they can spread the news of their emotional distress as far and as wide as they possibly can, then the rest of us have a moral obligation to alter reality until they are no longer experiencing unpleasant emotions. Or so the strategy goes.

So progressives are still striving hard to alter public opinion on these political issues. In short, they are still engaged in politics. And their primary weapon is fear; their own fear. So who, exactly, makes use of the politics of fear? The left is obviously willing – even eager – to parade their own fear as a manipulative tool to sway public opinion, so on what grounds do they look down their noses at the right and accuse us (as if it’s a bad thing) of using the “politics of fear” (assuming that is what we are actually doing; see previous comments)?

Perhaps the new campaign slogan for progressives could be, “your fears don’t count; only mine do.”

My suggestion? Let’s take our emotions out of the whole thing, or at least put them in the back seat, and start acting like rational human beings again.

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