Thursday, February 4, 2016

This Election Is About More Than Fear

One minute you were sitting quietly in a cafe eating a croissant and enjoying the Kenny G inspired serenity when, out of nowhere, the corner of heaven you found was violated by the repeated firing of a semiautomatic rifle. The silence wasn't the only thing disturbed by the gunshots; bullets ripped through your flesh tearing your vital organs as they passed through your body. You were weeping, gasping for air, and looking for answers when your executioner yelled  ALLAH AKBAR! Milliseconds before being hit by a blast of energy you saw the brightest light you'd ever seen; you wondered if this is the bright light people who've had near death experiences talked about. This was supposed to be an ordinary day. You left the house with a list of goals to accomplish and none of them included dying in a terrorist attack. 

The odds that anyone reading this will meet their demise under such circumstances are astronomically minuscule, yet we have people in our country who've been conditioned by politicians and the media to be more afraid of this kind of subjective violence than the objective and systemic violence that are constitutive parts of our everyday life. The reality is: more Americans will die from the side effects of industrial pollution than terrorism; far more Americans will be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality than die in a hail of bullets; more of us will suffer a prolonged illness that ravages our bodies and assets than face beheading in an American city. We know this, but many of our fellow citizens could care less. As a nation we have more people afraid of abstract statistical anomalies than the concrete realities of our time. This fear is pervasive in the "home of the brave". 

The Conservative call to take back their country is rooted in this fear. I've watched people hem and haw their way through some basic questions associated with the notion of taking the country back. Who are you taking it back from? When did you lose it? How far back are you trying to go? Hiding among the throngs of alpha males who attend militia meetings, gun shows, and Trump rallies are beta males who aren't sure of their place in a rapidly changing America. Most of us know some of these angry Americans; some were Democrats until 2008, some were Libertarians, and others waved Gadsden flags at Tea Party events. Many of them have embraced Donald Trump's mantra of making America great again. They say they're mad, but rarely do they admit their fear. If you push them hard enough they'll say they're afraid of the direction the country is headed, but even that admission comes with a qualifier: they say they're afraid for their children. I don't dismiss the rational fears a parent has for their children, but I question that fear when structurally nothing in our society has changed enough to lessen or intensify it. I can't think of one thing a parent would be afraid of today that they wouldn't have been afraid of ten or fifteen years ago. If someone can help me with this I'll listen, but the threats of terrorism and random acts of violence have been part of our lives since 911. The fear of radical Muslims, Black thugs, and illegal Immigrants has caused too many to lose sight of the systemic economic violence that is at the core of their hardships.

This election (like so many in the past) will be decided by fear, and, depending on what you're afraid of, there's a candidate for you. If you're afraid of subjective violence then vote for one of the hawks in the GOP. Electing Donald Trump or Ted Cruz won't decrease your odds of  being the victim of gang violence or terrorism, but you'll be able to sleep better - even if your chances of dying at the hands of Ahmed, Tyrone, or Juan are statistically the same as they are now. If Ted Cruz's promise to, "find out if sand glows" excites you then cast your vote for him. The fear that's become part of the political rhetoric on the right has allowed people to casually call for genocide. If the Republican strategy is, to in the words of Donald Trump, "bomb the hell out of them" they have two choices; they can take half measures that decimate cities and almost guarantees the rise of a new generation of fighters, or they can do what they say and commit mass genocide throughout the middle east killing everyone in their path. Those are their choices. There's no path to the security they're selling that doesn't involve the mass murder of concrete people or the betrayal of our stated principles, yet this is what passes for a viable foreign policy platform. As progressives we have to make them admit their plans in specific terms. We need to ask them who digs the mass graves for their victims? Will our soldiers have this duty, or will one of the private sector defense contractors get the job? We have to match their rhetoric with questions that have equally brutal answers.

I'm afraid of the threats I face from systemic violence. Too many Americans will lose their homes due to economic factors outside of their control, more people will be pushed into bankruptcy because of medical bills, and too many people will lose their job based on market analysis and shareholder's demands. These are the terrors underlying so much of the fear I see, yet they don't inspire people the way a 1 in 20 million chance of dying at the hands of a terrorist does. This divide is what separates us. I don't know if it can be bridged.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are talking about these issues, but I'm worried about the growing tensions among progressives and centrist Democrats. In hindsight I think it would have been better for the party if Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, or Martin O'Malley had been a more formidable candidate. Having more of the Democratic support split between a larger group early on could've made it less contentious between Bernie and Hillary supporters now. Iowa didn't get us any closer to a nominee. It intensified the growing distrust inside our party. Yes we need robust debate, but we also need to keep in mind that either candidate would be leaps and bounds better than what the Republican party is offering. We should avidly support our candidate, we should vent when our candidate isn't treated fairly, and we should engage in vigorous debates about the issues, but it  become socially acceptable for the left to savage itself. In reality: the far left is responsible for holing on to many of the gains progressives have made over the years, and centrist Democrats at every level of government have won races progressives couldn't have. We've needed each other. Centrist Democrats are the only electable Democrats in many areas of Virginia. If we want to take back the House in 2016 we need to drop our ideological purity test come election time. The systemic violence I'm worried about needs votes to be counteracted; let's not forget why we're here. 

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