Fear is a powerful emotion, which means that making fun of someone else’s fears can drive the target of this “humor” to depression or rage.
Speaking only from my life experience as a male, I think this is especially so for men: It is almost the definition of “fightin’ words” for one guy to call another a “snowflake,” or a “fraidy-cat,” or another (unprintable) word with feline connotations.
While President Trump’s base has not grown in size over the past four years, it has grown louder, largely by turning up the temperature through mocking what it says are the fears of everyone outside of the far Right wing.
Rather than discussing the pros and cons of the policy issues, all we’ve heard since 2016 is that “people are too afraid of assault weapons, which don’t kill people” or “climate change is a hoax,” or “deficits don’t matter anymore.” And most recently, with President Trump’s steroid-fueled and apparent recovery from a case of COVID-19, he is now telling us “don’t be afraid of Covid; don’t let it dominate your life.”
Rather than discuss the evidence for why we should worry about gun violence, climate change, or a new disease that millions of Americans have contracted and may never recover fully from, I want to appeal to undecided voters who simply wish to be fearless. I say to them that the Republicans have become the party of baseless fears, and that it’s an act of courage to vote them out of office.
My training and expertise is in estimating the probability and severity of harms from various hazards, and communicating honestly to laypeople about them — but here I’m claiming merely to be someone who values leaders who can calm my fears without lying to me.
As for “the party of the afraid,” if you’ve ever listened to conservative talk radio, you’ll know that almost every advertisement is for some kind of “protection” against an invisible enemy: stop identity theft; buy gold; back up your data in the Cloud; cut harmful belly fat; and the like. So maybe it’s just that one “side” fears things that happen to be less widespread and less damaging to all of society.
But consider these four more serious examples:
— Have you let Republican politicians convince you that immigrants bring violent crime? All the data suggest the opposite; you have nothing to fear from hard-working people seeking a better life here.
— Are you afraid of the government coming to take your guns away? No one is suggesting that; the strongest proposal on the table is that certain weapons of war be used at firing ranges (their only legitimate and effective use anyway), rather than carried through our streets.
— Do you earn less than $400,000 per year? Then you have no need to be hysterical about Mr. Biden’s planned partial repeal of the ruinous Trump-McConnell tax cuts of 2017. My own taxes would likely rise under the Biden plan, and I welcome this fairness and am not cowering in fear like too many of my wealthy friends.
— Do you want to be a soldier in the “war on coal,” on the side of coal? Are you aware that saying “it will cost billions to replace coal with solar and wind power” is exactly like saying “it will cost billions to replace typewriters with personal computers?” These “costs” consider only the losses to the economic losers, and none of the gains to the economic winners. Oh, and typewriters didn’t also kill 13,000 Americans per year from respiratory illnesses and cancers.
The common theme here is that the right wing seems to be very afraid of the solutions to the problems that progressives care about.
Humane immigration policies? — be very afraid. Regulating some guns like we regulate cars? — be very afraid. Progressive tax rates (though far less progressive than under Eisenhower!)? — be very afraid.
Wear a mask to protect yourself and others? Be very afraid (of the “inconvenience,” perhaps the least scary thing I can imagine).
Slow global warming and create hundreds of thousands of jobs? — be very afraid. And in my field of expertise, require a few business owners to spend some of their profits so that fewer workers and residents will die of cancer? Yes, I’m afraid of (possible) early death, while my adversaries are hysterical about (possibly) reduced profits; so which of us is more of a “snowflake”?
On a personal level, Joe Biden has more reasons to fear the capriciousness of fate than almost anyone in public life — while his opponent has known no adversity other than a few failed casinos and some unsold steaks.
But Mr. Biden seems to have found a way to put fear to the side.
In his administration, we won’t be a nation trying to mock each other’s fears, but one that will give everyone good reason to be less afraid.