FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Fear Party

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The politics of fear led by President Trump attacking undocumented immigrants and religious minorities is pushing our political parties apart. Political divisions in the United States are increased when our two major political parties do not agree on what are the important issues.

Historically, Democratic and Republican parties essentially agreed on the important issues, but differed in the approach to dealing with them. There was still agreement about the top issues after President Obama was elected. In 2009, the electorate of both parties ranked terrorism, economy, and jobs among their top 5 priorities. Indeed, even 5 years ago, in 2014, the economy, jobs and social security were among the top 5 concerns of both parties.

The major separation occurred after President Trump’s election in 2016. Opinion poll data show that in 2019 Republicans prioritized fear issues—terrorism, immigration, and military—while Democrats focused more on institutional support issues such as health care, education, and the environment. These are significant differences, the one signaling concern with protection, safety and security, while the other is more future-oriented and enabling. Party members agree that things have changed recently. In 1987, only 25% of those surveyed said there was a great deal of difference between Republicans and Democrats. But by 2019, 54% gave this view.

This shift is largely due to the President’s weaponizing of fear, especially his rhetoric about murderous illegal immigrants and the pursuit of a multi-billion border wall to keep Americans safe, and keep his supporters fearful. Propaganda and false claims about immigrant criminality contribute to Republican supporters anger, but most anger is based on deep-seated fears, misinformation, and the more than 10,000 false and misleading statements by the President.

A constant discourse of fear—even if false– about pervasive immigrant crime, disease, and terrorism serve to keep Republican supporters on high fear-alert and direct their angst at the most popular threats. President Trump has skillfully directed the news cycle with tweets to keep people frightened and assuring them that he will protect them. Inflammatory tweets are repeated in regular news reports and amplified through social media, even if they are false. This shapes public opinion by emphasizing dangers—both real and imaginary—that his policies purport to fix, and that is the key: President Trump will save the people. Sociologist Barry Glassner, an authority on the culture of fear, states: “His [Trump’s] formula is very clean and uncomplicated: Be very, very afraid. And I am the cure.” According to an Administration official, “The American people are afraid.” “That’s what the President’s reflecting.”

President Trump demonizes immigrants, Muslims, and Middle-Eastern minorities as potential terrorists, while also devaluing—and even insulting—journalists, scientists, progressive policies, allies, and treaties that promote programs, approaches, and values affirming various social service and government actions toward health care, education, human rights, international relations, and scientific consensus. This has made Americans, and especially Republican backers, more afraid, and they focus on different issues than Democrats. And there are indications that many Republican supporters feel righteously entitled to pull further away from common issues. For example, in 2019, most Republicans (58%) wanted their party to move in an even more conservative direction, while 53% of Democratic voters preferred that their party should become more moderate. The differences in partisan world views has been noted by others:

If you think the world is dangerous, safety is always the No. 1 concern. When it comes to physical safety, letting your guard down against adversaries could be disastrous. If you think the world is safe, however, discriminating against groups that have generally been down the racial, gender, or sexual orientation hierarchy is the real sin.

Illuminating the dark rhetoric that separates us is a start to focusing on common issues.

 

More articles by:

Dr. David L. Altheide is Regents’ Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University. A recent book is Media Edge, and a forthcoming book is “The Media Syndrome.”

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail