When fear begets anger

Say you come home after a long day at work. Your husband is at the kitchen table with the bills and you sit down for the monthly “which bill should we pay and which should we ignore?” discussion.

Just then Little Joey runs into the kitchen screaming in pain. He got into a fight in the playground and a lower front tooth is tilted outward and dripping blood. The calculator in your mind ratchets up thousands in dental bills and you wonder how you’ll pay them and still eat.

That’s fear.

Then your husband starts yelling at Little Joey for getting into a fight.

Little Joey starts crying. His tooth drops to the floor and, as you dive for it, your calculator goes into overdrive and you scream at your husband that he’s just condemned the family to mac ’n cheese for the rest of your lives.

That’s fear begetting anger.

Politicians have, since the dawn of time, fanned fear as a way of getting voters to vote – for them. Both sides do it. It’s kind of like pharmaceutical ads that target old folks with stomach problems. “Here’s a protein drink that will keep you healthy AND unclog your intestines!” Old guys in retirement homes think, “Hey! I can add a little vodka, drink my dinner – and…! Hey Martha! Let me buy you dinner!”

Trumpites promote the fear of immigrants, people of color, the EU, China, Iran, North Korea, children with binkies (OK, that’s a joke). Democrats promote fear of the Koch Brothers, the end of Obamacare, police shootings, racism, and QAnon (not a joke. Google it).

Each side gets frightened, then angry. Where we once debated policy, we now exchange eye darts and worse.

You have to go back a long way, but there were some presidents who did the opposite. In the 1930’s Roosevelt actually calmed Depression fears with one line: “What we have to fear is fear itself.” (Wouldn’t that be great to hear today?)

Other countries weren’t so lucky in their leaders.  Germany, riled up by Hitler’s fanning fear of the Jews, started WWII. Lenin, and later, Stalin, used fear to take over Russia. Today, dictatorships are spreading from China to South America, as frightened populations vote for strong authoritarian leaders to protect them.

Fear is more than a vote getter; it’s a great way to take over a country.

Today Latin America has 8 percent of the world’s population, but 33 percent of thehomicides. Of the 20 countries with the highest murder rates, 17 are Latin American.  Guess where the people go to escape? US.

Part of our country welcomes them; part hunts them down. Fear and anger flourish on both sides. And now anger is entering voting booths across the country. Anger, unfocussed, can lead to surprising results.

Let’s go back to Little Joey. The bill for re-rooting one tooth is a couple of thousand, but it seems the rest of his teeth also got slightly repositioned in the fight and he’ll need a series of evolving braces over the next two years. The bill is ten thousand or more and your insurance requires you to pay the first $13,100 of medical expenses.

Within a year the stress of pinching pennies gives you chronic intestinal problems. Fear of bankruptcy stalks the family. One day your husband, in an attempt to lighten the stress, plans a weekend at the Mystic Seaport for your family and your best friends. You’re very excited. But he screws up the dates and the friends can’t go. You flip out, accusing him of screwing up deliberately so he won’t have to do the driving. Mouth agape, he reminds you he loves to drive. You spend the weekend yelling instead of going to Mystic. Eventually your miss-directed anger permeates your whole life.  You lose your job, the family declares bankruptcy, and you divorce. Little Joey is so traumatized he never goes to the dentist again.

Now imagine your town is Congress. There’s a family up the street we’ll call the Congressional Healthcare Committee. One member crashes their only car and they scream at each other all day instead of discussing healthcare insurance. Up the street from them is the Armed Services Committee. They’re flipping out over who gets the chair by the window instead of reviewing a new cyber defense system. Near them, the Finance Committee is fighting over who gets best parking spot. And so on.

That’s our government. Fear elected them and anger motivates them.

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