Democratic Underground

The Autumn of Fear
December 13, 2001
by birdman

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Wars, we are told, are fought to preserve freedom. Our enemies, of course, are those who hate the freedoms that Americans enjoy. We must respond with armed might or our freedoms will soon be a distant memory. We don't seek the fight but we pursue it out of principle. We dress up the mass killing of other people in idealistic terms (Enduring Freedom) and portray our enemy as the most deplorable of villains (the er, ah, evildoers).

There's only one thing wrong with this high sounding rhetoric. It's total bullshit. We fight out of fear. And fear has been the dominant factor in our lives and our politics this Autumn.

On September 11 we were afraid. With good reason. Almost all of us go to work in the morning and who among us didn't see those horrifying scenes and imagine their own workplace suddenly becoming a crumbling inferno. Businesses closed even if they were far from New York or D.C. Parents raced to their children's schools to take them out. We wanted to be safe. We would trade anything to be safe.

People are not really motivated by the preservation of freedom. Power grabs by government and the ever increasing power of corporate America over the individual are generally met with a large yawn.

We will trade personal freedom for personal safety. Every time. It's not even a close call. Fear makes us irrational. And it rarely brings out anything but the worst in us.

The demagogue arises from fear. Old faux tail-gunner Joe McCarthy was one the great fear peddlers. In the twisted world of McCarthy the gulag, the jack boot, the knock on the door in the middle of the night was lurking behind the briefcase carrying bureaucrat or the innocent-looking college professor. Sell enough fear and you can get money and power that you never dreamed of. People actually used to send McCarthy money to continue his anti-Communist Crusade. He would pocket the money and fire off a thank you note to the donor suggesting that another contribution on their part would go a long way to helping rid America of the Red menace.

The TV evangelist doesn't sell salvation nearly as much as he sell fear. The people he preaches to are terrified. They fear death; they fear a society that has increasingly marginalized them; the fear those whose sexual tastes differ from theirs. For a price the evangelist promises relief from all three.

So it was that the very real fear that all of us felt on September 11 has bestowed a totally unwarranted power and stature on the most unqualified President since James Buchanan. He's ridden a tidal wave of fear to high approval ratings and unprecedented power. He and his attorney general have held people without trial on flimsy charges, restricted attorney-client privileges and are laying the groundwork for military tribunals. Those who express concern are immediately tarred with the events of September 11 and they shut up if they know what?s good for them because they , in the words of the AG, "only aid terrorists." Questioning his wisdom gives "ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends." In other words speak up but when you do you're no better than the guy from Marin County who was fighting for the Taliban.

The "bloody shirt" of the World Trade Center victims is being used to stifle dissent from the U.S. Senate to the press to your local High School. A student from Charleston W.V. is appealing a suspension she received for wearing a T-shirt that deplored the deaths of Afghan civilians from U.S. bombings. Not since the execrable Mc Carthy was riding high in the fifties has disagreement with the government carried such a stigma.

The administration knows how beneficial fear has been to them and seems to use it to portray itself as the only thing protecting the average citizen from the turban head with the box cutter. Every two weeks or so we are being told that there are "credible threats" of new violence. We're never given details, just warnings. The fear continues even though the new violence, thus far, hasn't materialized.

Autumn is ending but the fear is still with us. We are being told that no matter what happens in Afghanistan the battle will go on. We are hearing of protracted conflict lasting years with only vaguely defined enemies and goals.

That should make us all fearful.