Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

My first up-close glimpse into the enduring power of political fearmongering came through a two-way mirror in 2006.

I was watching a focus group of women in southern Ohio discussing a variety of issues, when the topic turned to terrorism. One young mother shared her fear that foreign terrorists might attack her children’s playground in their small town.

“It could happen,” she said, looking around the table. “We all know it could.”

Several of the other women nodded their heads. My notes from that evening describe one of the women shivering as she pulled her cardigan tighter and said, “Really, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before they find us.”

There was no logical reason for these women to believe that in their remote patch of Ohio, a suicide bomber from the Middle East would fly a plane into their children’s school or blow himself up on their playground. But Republican rhetoric had worked its magic, and these women lived in constant fear for their families’ lives. They also seemed likelier to vote for Republican candidates because, not remotely coincidentally, the Republican Party was vowing to protect them from this nonexistent danger. I marveled at the cynicism of it all, even as I felt utter disgust for the tactic.

Ten years later, the Republicans are still at it, bringing their doom-and-gloom show to Cleveland. In one of the more memorable moments, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who recently called the Black Lives Matter movement “inherently racist,” offered an unhinged screed. Repeatedly jabbing the air with his hands as he screamed, Giuliani declared: “The vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe. They fear for their children. They fear for themselves. They fear for our police officers, who are being targeted with a target on their back.”

The Republican Party’s platform insists that parents of gay children should be allowed to force them into “conversion therapy.” Abuse, in other words.

The platform also includes a prescriptive for Donald Trump’s long-touted war on America’s immigrants: “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”

Because, you know, Mexicans.

The Republican Party of Trump wants us to fear the other.

If we’re straight, we should fear the LGBT community.

If we’re working-class, we should fear the poor.

If we’re white, we should fear African-Americans.

If we speak English, we should fear anyone who speaks with a foreign accent, which is any accent that doesn’t sound like ours.

We should fear Muslims, all of them, always.

In Trump’s world, we should fear anyone who is not like us. What a long, miserable list that would be.

In 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed this fear of the other in a keynote speech to Americans for Democratic Action on Individual Liberty:

“Somehow we must keep ourselves free from fear and suspicion of each other. I sit with people who are representatives of communist countries, and to sit with them is a lesson in what fear can do. Fear can take away from you all the courage to be an individual. You become a mouthpiece for the ideas that you have been told you must give forth.”

Some might argue that Roosevelt spoke for a different time in our country and therefore for a different world.

Fortunately, there is no expiration date for wisdom. As a country, we are as much at risk today of letting fear rob us of the courage to think for ourselves as we were in 1950, when Red-baiting ruined lives.

I understand the seduction of fear. It can feel easier to believe the worst about our world — and rely on someone else to save us — than to take charge of our own lives. If we tell ourselves we are in constant danger beyond our control, we are also more willing to surrender our duties as citizens to those who claim to know better what is best for us. The Republicans count on this.

This fear takes its toll, whittling away at our self-esteem and rendering us timid in a country that needs our strength. It takes courage to accept the truth that though terrorism is surely a threat in the world, most of us Americans are free of danger every day of our lives. Living this truth unleashes our own powers as citizens, emboldening us to elect leaders who reflect the enduring optimism that continues to make this country imperfectly great.

A leader is not someone who reflects the worst within us, leaving us cowering in the shadows.

A leader reminds us who we are — and inspires us to try harder.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her email is con.schultz@yahoo.com.

 

Photo: The delegates of the Republican National Convention pose for a group photo at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.