Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Republic of Fear

Opinion |

Tomorrow night is Halloween, when kids (and many adults) dress up as the things that scare us most — ghosts, vampires, witches, skeletons, etc.
(Bet you thought I was going to slip a Trump joke in there, didn’t you? Nah, too easy.) So let’s talk about fear.
Let’s face it — there’s plenty of fear to go around. America seems to have gone from the Home of the Brave to a Republic of Fear. The country whose president once famously proclaimed “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” now seems to be afraid of everything.
To hear some people tell it, fanatical Muslim jihadists are arriving by the tens of thousands, and even their children can’t be trusted not to murder us in our beds. Mexicans are pouring across the border in hordes that would make the Mongols look like a Sunday School outing, hell-bent on raping our women and taking our jobs.
There are so many mad killers out there just waiting to shoot us all down like cattle for whatever reason that some people feel like they need to strap on a shootin’ iron, Wild West style, to go out and get a Happy Meal with the wife and kids. Perverts are dressing up as women to get into women’s bathrooms by claiming they’re transgendered.
Drug cartels! Knockout gamers! Ebola! Zika! Attacks on the power grid! It’s enough to make you want to run into the basement and nail all the doors shut.
The ironic thing is, though, we’ve actually never been safer. While there’s been a slight uptick in crime this year, violent crime has been falling steadily for years.
According to studies done by the Pew Research Center, more Mexican immigrants are leaving than are coming to the U.S., and Border Patrol reports show that fewer and fewer Mexicans are making the attempt. And 78 percent of that “flood of refugees,” according to figures released by the State Department, are women or children, with children making up 58 percent.
The New York Times used data from the “Officer Down Memorial Page,” which “tracks law enforcement officer fatalities in real time” to show that officer deaths from hostile action have been falling steadily for years and are at historic lows.
Ebola’s been knocked back into the jungle. There has never been an epidemic of fake transgender people sneaking into women’s rooms — believe me, if there were, women would have dealt with it by now.
And yet, if you want to see fear turn to frothing rage, try to point any of the above out to some people. Try to tell them the sky’s not falling, and they’ll scream at you that it is and that you’re part of the conspiracy to keep the fall quiet for political gain.
Why? How do people get so wedded to their fear? It’s easy to see where it comes from. And, no, I’m not going to blame Fox News, at least not exclusively. Again, that would be too easy.
Fear-mongering has been a staple of media, and broadcast media in particular, for years. My wife and I used to laugh at a local newscast that was so obsessed with “alerting” viewers to hazards, including venetian blinds, radon and (I swear this is true) apples, that we ended up calling it “Everything In Your House Will Kill You — Film at 11.”
Now, fast-forward 20 years, expand that across multiple national networks, broadcasting 24/7/365, and every one of them dedicated to keeping you terrified and glued to the set. Add into that brew the internet, the technology that finally made literally true the old saying that “a lie travels around the world before the truth gets out of bed.”
Frankly, I have to admire the courage of anyone who’s not actually hiding under the bed after all that.
So what do we do? How do we get our tickets out of the Republic of Fear? Well, we could just turn off all the fear-mongering media and unplug the internet. But we know that’s not going to happen. So I’d recommend a rigorous regimen of skepticism.
You don’t have to be afraid of something just because some TV talking head or Twitterer tells you to. Be rational. Be logical. Demand to see the evidence. And don’t let them make you afraid.
Happy Halloween.

Thanks, Canada!

Opinion |

To hear one of our presidential candidates tell it, America is a crippled, blighted hellscape.
The way this candidate describes this country, its everyday reality makes the post-apocalyptic zombie-haunted world of “The Walking Dead” seem like an episode of “Mayberry R.F.D.” Our military is broken, China is laughing up the sleeves of their Gucci suits at us, and the very election system is rigged worse than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Tired of hearing from the “America Is Awful” crowd? Want to be reminded that America is still great? Well, there are some people out there who want you to know the high esteem in which they hold our great land.
Ironically, those people are Canadians.
It seems that a Canadian marketing company called “The Garden” decided that we here to the south needed a little cheering up.
“As their closest friends and neighbours,” they posted on their blog, “we thought it was important for us to do something to cut through the negativity and help remind them that no matter how bad things might seem, there are a lot of reasons to believe that America is still pretty great.”
To that end, they asked Canadians to submit short video clips to remind us what’s good about us. The results, gathered into a minute-and-a-half of video, are pretty amazing. I know these people have a reputation for being nice, but this takes nice to a whole new level.
“You invented the internet,” one lass reminds us. “Your National Park systems protect some of the most beautiful places on Earth,” one earnest looking young man chimes in. Yet another fellow reminds us of our giving nature: “Over $250 billion a year donated to charity.” And so on. “Warm.” “Open.” “Willing to fight to make things better.” It goes on and on like that. I swear, it made me tear up to watch it.
You know, it shouldn’t have to take Canadians to remind us that, while we do face some serious challenges both at home and abroad, there’s nothing wrong with America, as Bill Clinton once said, that can’t be cured by what’s right with America.
Sure, we’ve got problems: income inequality, pervasive racism (and the stubborn denial of some people to admit it exists), a recovery that’s not reaching all of our population, out-of-control health care costs, and the ever present threat of terrorism, both foreign and domestic. But you know what? We can beat those.
We are a country that never stops getting better. We started our national life with a shameful embrace of slavery. We got better, even though we had to go through five years of half the country trying to kill the other half.
For years we denied basic rights of citizenship to people based on the color of their skin. We got better, this time without a civil war. For years we denied other citizens fundamental rights based upon who they love. We got better, via the rule of law.
Oh, and along the way, we beat Hitler and the Japanese Empire at the same time. We cured polio. We invented communications satellites, air conditioning, cellphones, the personal computer, jazz, bluegrass, hip-hop, and rock ’n’ roll. Dear Lord, people, we went to the freakin’ moon, and now we’re setting our sights on Mars and beyond.
We’ve never stopped thinking, we’ve never stopped innovating, and most of all, we’ve never stopped making our society better, freer, and more humane. That’s because our Founding Fathers set up a system that, for all its sometimes frustrating inefficiency of outright foot-dragging, allows everyone’s voice to be heard and gives them a peaceful way to resolve their grievances — if they’ll just use it and not fall into the cynicism and despair that we see breeding violence and terrorism in other countries.
So, don’t wait for a Canadian to tell you America’s great (but if you see one, thank them and give them a hug). And the next time someone tries to tell you that America’s “crippled” and “broken,” that everything’s terrible and we need to throw out democracy and install some sort of Third World-style strongman to fix it — well, if you won’t listen to the words of President Emeritus Clinton above, listen to Mr. Chuck Berry (who, speaking of good things about America, announced on his 90th birthday that he’s cutting a new record): “I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the USA.”