What Fear Makes of Us

It seems a valid question to ask, on this day of the American election, what it is about the country that has turned this into the gong-show it has been. With even rabidly anti-Democratic commentators like Glenn Beck looking at the situation and the Republican candidate with disgust. A lot of digital ink has been spilled attempting to understand the mentality of the people who believe that Trump can do no wrong, especially since most of the media commentators—even FOX, terrifyingly enough—have some sort of an education, and enough experience to see that the creature they have created is dangerous. And the creature is not only Trump: he could not have come so far as he has without a strong core of people who believe that he will do something they want done. The comparisons with pre-WWII Germany seem particularly apt when one considers that Hitler could not have achieved the position he did, running on a platform of hate and bigotry, had enough people voting not bought in to his rhetoric.

Voltaire warned about this centuries ago: that those who can convince us to believe absurdities can convince us to commit atrocities. Which suggests Hitler was in no way the first to do what he did, though on a twentieth-century scale. Those of us watching now don’t want to see what a twenty-first century scale might look like, but I think we are going to see, if not in America, then in one of the countries closer to the cycle of retaliatory violence going on in Syria and its environs. It is deeply worrying that Turkey’s government is moving to muzzle debate in educational institutions, for example, with its firing of nearly a thousand—more than a thousand?—professors, and its decision to appoint the heads of its universities. And Russia, always Russia, slinking like a jackal around the situation, waiting to take advantage of whatever might happen to present itself. The people of Russia have always been deeply motivated by honour and pride: perhaps they see their treatment over the post-Glasnost decades as something akin to a feral dog, allowed into the house without being trusted to eat at the table.

The situation, I understand, is the kind of thing that might push governments into wanting to sign dubious, sweeping trade agreements. Statistically speaking, trade has been demonstrated to reduce the likelihood of war between nations, so broad-strokes agreements with global participation might seem like the thing to do now, to try to ensure stability in a world that doesn’t seem particularly stable. I can sympathize with that motivation. Still, I don’t agree that something like the trade deals we’ve been subjected to, again and again over the past five years, negotiated in secret, without public input, offering huge concessions not to other nations, but to multi-national corporations, are the way to bring that trade about. A deal that starts off on a shady foot will have dangerous consequences. So, yes, I support global trade, and no, I do not support back-door deals like the TPP. And ramming it through and trying to fix it later is not possible, I don’t think.

But all of these things are playing out on a world stage as well as in smaller dramas in individual nations, and they are being pushed out of the spotlight as the madness of the American election spins out of control. But I wonder—is it really out of control? It’s easy to read conspiracies into what is happening, the way this particular narrative is playing out, but I don’t think that conspiracies are necessary to explain what’s happening here, and I don’t think that they’re the most likely explanation. No conspiracy put Hitler into power: the discontent of the German people did. People faced with a world of complex problems and no easy solution. He offered them easy solutions, gave them a villain that they could do their part to fight, and it worked, for a while.

The story repeats itself: in uncertain times, people of a particular bent want to hunker down and protect themselves and their families; they want to have a clear enemy to fight. How does one fight climate change, when what we are feeling now is the effect of a cause that came to pass a century ago, and the enemy is the life we are each living. Wrapping one’s head around that is not easy, even for people who have been educated to do exactly that. So the people who want Trump as president are people who are scared.

They’re also angry, because that is precisely where fear leads. They are looking for a villain, and he has given them a buffet: Latin-American immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, journalists, women. He is the figurehead, but the people who are supporting him are the ones who are truly a cause for concern: they will commit the violence that he never will. The Republicans have been flirting with these people for decades, failing to keep the impossible promises that they make, and so the demographic is turning to greater and greater absurdities, from revivalist preachers to carnival barkers, in an effort to find someone who is willing to make good on the promise of making this simple, making it better.

But that is all a tragic lie. There is no simple, and better is going to involve a great deal of difficult work. Cooperative work, because that is the only way we can survive the problems that have arisen because of our actions. The high today here in Edmonton is projected to be 18 degrees Celsius. In November. Because of us. Climate change is not a distant possibility, not something that we won’t see until later. It’s been obvious in the Far North for decades, and now it has spilled down to the 55th Parallel. And there is no enemy in the world that we can point to, no demon to exorcise, no demographic to dehumanize and gas to death that will solve what we have already done. The only way forward is to work together to mitigate and prevent further damage. And I hope more Americans see that than think an attention-hungry bigot, a small man given a large stage, will be able to make the problem simple. Because we know how that story ends.

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~ by windigowinter on November 8, 2016.

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