Politics & Policy

Beware the Politics of Fear

President Trump speaks at a rally in Charleston, W.Va., August 21, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
As the midterm campaign season kicks into high gear, you’re about to be bombarded with scaremongering from both right and left. Don’t buy it.

The poets may say that love is the great motivator, but politicians know it is fear that turns out the vote.

With the post–Labor Day start of the campaign season upon us, we can look forward to two months of hearing about all the horrors awaiting us if the other guy is elected. Most of this is just standard negative campaigning. Though “my opponent’s economic plan will turn this country into a barren wasteland” may be hyperbolic, it’s largely unobjectionable — and if you are running against someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it could even be true.

But sometimes negative campaigning can cross a line into something more insidious, something that plays on atavistic emotions and tears at our social fabric. That type of fearmongering needs to be guarded against.

After all, the fact is that we really don’t need to be afraid.

Take terrorism, for example. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are somewhat smaller than your chances of accidentally drowning in the bathtub. The chance of an American perishing in a foreigner-perpetrated terrorist attack on U.S. soil is one in 3.6 million per year.

Or consider the issue of crime. No speech by President Trump would be complete without denouncing his opponents as “soft on crime.” Polls show that Americans increasingly buy into this message. According to Gallup, roughly 70 percent of Americans think that crime has increased over the last year, with a consistent majority of Americans reporting the same belief since 2000.

But there isn’t really a war zone outside our front doors.  In fact, the violent-crime rate has dropped by roughly 75 percent since the early 1990s.  Despite a slight uptick in the last year, violent crime is at its lowest point since the 1970s. Politicians’ apocalyptic rhetoric on crime simply doesn’t match the reality.

What about the scourge of MS-13? President Trump never ceases to warn us that this murderous Salvadoran gang is lying in wait. In reality, however, the gang is both far smaller and commits far fewer murders than homegrown street gangs such as the Bloods or the Crips. Even the immigration hawks at the Center for Immigration (CIS) estimate that MS-13 murders amount to less than 1.5 percent of the Department of Justice’s National Gang Center average yearly estimate for total gang-related homicides. That means that MS-13 averages just one-fifth of 1 percent of all homicides in America.

The Democrats’ version of marauding gangs is marauding guns. But as with crime in general, gun crime is down, despite an increase in firearms owned. Our children may spend their school days practicing active-shooter drills, but school shootings remain infrequent, accounting for just 0.15 percent of murders last year. More students are killed riding their bikes than by school shooters.

Yes, every death is a unique, horrific tragedy, and no one should diminish even one of them. But neither we should be terrifying both our children and ourselves in anticipation of terrors that are overwhelmingly unlikely to occur.

One harm in the way politicians cherry-pick their facts to maximize voter fear is that it confuses the question of how best to deal with these very real tragedies. Given all the fearmongering, the public could easily come away with the misperception that deporting immigrants and keeping children away from schools would be a reliable recipe for reducing the U.S. murder rate. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

Another danger of fear-based politics is not just that it leads to bad policies but that it can change the very nature and character of the country. As we become more and more fearful of “the other,” we become both less tolerant and more willing to accept restrictions on our basic liberties.

Candidates who play on our fears are thus a far bigger threat to our nation’s short- and long-term health than any of the dangers they exaggerate in order to do so.

 

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
Film & TV

A Sublime Christian Masterpiece of a Film

‘There are two ways through life -- the way of nature and the way of grace,” remarks the saintly mother at the outset of The Tree of Life, one of the most awe-inspiring films of the 21st century. She continues: Grace doesn’t try please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked, accepts insults ... Read More