But Fear Itself

In a comment in a previous post, I talked about “misperception of risk.”   This is a well-known phenomenon, where the perceived risk is either greater or lesser than the actual risk.  One of the best examples is the “anti-vaxxer” movement, where people refuse vaccines because they fear various side effects.   That the problems they fear are either non-existent (autism), or that the side effects of vaccines are minor and rare compared to having the actual diseases does not matter to them. In looking back over my blog posts over the years relating to Republican voters,  there’s a constant theme:  Fear.  They’re afraid.  They’ve been told  for years that they need to be afraid, and that in order to protect themselves, they need to vote for Republicans to keep them safe.  It’s covered up with various buzzwords and dog whistles, but boiled down to its essence, it’s “you should be afraid of this.” It may be fear of “different,” it might be fear of a loss of status, privileges, or some other fear, but there’s always a fear.  But their fear doesn’t match the reality.

The most recent election saw President Trump holding rallies, tweeting constantly, and doing what he could to get his base riled up.  The big thing he kept ranting about?  The migrant caravan which was going to “invade” the country.  Listening to him (whether you wanted to or not), you’d have thought that there were tens or hundreds of thousands of heavily armed terrorists marching through Mexico on their way to conquer the country.  Thus his mobilization of the military, the border patrol, and other agencies to “stop it.” In reality, the caravan consisted of around four thousand men, women, and children trying to escape their country for their lives, who hoped to get asylum in this country.   For which there is a legal procedure that they were going to follow.  In order to stop this “terrible threat,” he mobilized over three times their number of armed forces and police personnel.  That there really wasn’t a threat didn’t matter.  It served it purpose, in instilling fear into his voters.  The litany of fearmongering about immigrants by this administration has been a constant theme.   We are now in a government shutdown over Trump’s demand to build a wall.   Going through the tweets, rants, and statements from him and others, you’d think there were historically high numbers of Latin Americans coming over the southern border, most of them criminals of some sort.  The reality?  The actual number of people crossing the southern border illegally is at a low point, and it was that way long before Trump took office.   What were all those undocumented people doing?  Mostly things that “Real Americans” won’t do.  Picking crops, working on construction crews, landscaping, and housekeeping.  As a percentage of their population, immigrants as a whole – undocumented or documented – commit crimes at a lower rate than “real Americans.”

It’s not just immigration, though.  Consider the “debate” over gun laws.  What’s been the fear?  “They’re coming to take your guns,”  along a constant theme of “you need to protect yourself.”   If you listened, you’d have come away with the belief that there was rampant crime, Islamic terrorists and Hispanic gangs were lurking in every corner, and  “the government” (read:  the black President) was going to round up gun owners and send them to FEMA camps.  Which led to a massive increase in gun sales,  open and concealed carry laws,  and “stand your ground” laws.  In reality?  The crime rates were at historic lows, two-thirds of the extremist attacks in this country were by right wing Americans, there were no FEMA camps (or even planned), and while reasonable gun laws were being proposed, there was no plan to confiscate all the guns.   Having “more guns” turns out not to make people safer, it makes things more dangerous – for them.

Misperception of risk doesn’t just refer to assigning a higher risk than warranted.  It also refers to minimizing the risk when it isn’t.  People don’t think driving a car is more risky than taking an airline flight, even though it’s far riskier.    I mentioned on in the previous paragraph the actual terrorist attack risks.  I’ve heard any number of people in my area swearing up and down that “any day now” this area was going to get attacked by “Muslim terrorists.”  The reality?  We’re a sparsely populated, rural, mostly white area that gets virtually no attention from the media, even when a disaster strikes.   In short, as a “target,” we’re at the bottom of the list.  However, we do have a number of right-wing people around here who are not too far from snapping and doing something.  But they’re not worried about them.

But that’s just a minor one.  There are other things they are in denial about or minimizing the risks.  The biggest one?  Climate change.  There is no valid scientific disagreement on the subject.  Multiple studies, including by the military, point to it as the biggest threat to our infrastructure, economy, and national security.  Yet if you listen to various Republicans, and their voters, it’s either not happening, not real, and not something to worry about, let alone do something.   There is another big thing they’re not worried about.  A President who has no understanding of the Constitution, how government works, and an absolute disdain for the rule of law.  That they’re in favor of that doesn’t speak well of them.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “But Fear Itself

  1. Linda Medin

    Excellent post!

  2. dbtheonly

    The problem is that there’s not much any of us can do either about the President, for about two more years, or climate change. Trump’s threats are much more personal and immediate.

    I turn off lights. I put solar panels on my house. I don’t have the computers mining bit-coins all day. Beyond that? It’ll take regulations.

    Do you’ve got Trump talking about the rising tide of Colour. Individuals can respond to that threat. Including a(nother) drive by shooting yesterday that killed a 7 (?) year old. Global Warming doesn’t provoke the same immediacy. Now in Vanuatu it’s probably much different. Not in the USA.

    • While climate change’s effects are already being seen, the impetus to do something really starts with the government. People – and businesses – don’t seem to feel something impacts them until it’s too late. Hence, the need for government incentives, penalties, and programs. For example, the fuel mileage standards pushed automobile companies towards not just smaller and more efficient vehicles, there was an incentive for electric vehicles. Which kept a lot of factories open, except that when the Trump administration decided to roll back those requirements, and start a trade war, the incentives went away – and guess what, automobile workers lost their jobs. Which is just a single example. I think as the wealthy start seeing their expensive seaside homes having major storm damage and flooding damage, they might start getting a clue.