The Politics of Fear
I’m a sports fan and a fantasy football junkie who also happens to write frequently about the current state of politics and social news stories, so the president’s recent comments directed at Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who have used their stage to protest against the racial injustices of our nation would seem like a natural topic for an installment of TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less. But I’m out on this one. In fact, I hope we are all out on this one. We need that as a nation and as a people: to let go of fear and anger and use this as an opportunity instead to come together and resist those who would stand to prosper from our division.
When Donald Trump went off on NFL players at a political rally in Alabama on Friday night, he knew exactly what he was doing. He’s been doing it his entire life. It was exactly what he did to get himself elected to the highest office in the United States despite being grossly unqualified for the position in terms of both experience and temperament. He sowed the seeds of fear and anger in order to divide us. He took a sore spot of social discord and ripped it wide open so that he could take advantage of the very disharmony that he himself had created. And come Sunday evening, he sat back and applauded as he reaped the harvest of a nation divided on itself, fearful of the direction in which we just might be headed.
If you approve of the NFL players who have used their platform to protest against the social injustices of racial implications, I get it. This country was supposed to be founded on the notion of liberty and justice FOR ALL- not just for all white people. That’s why the statute outside of courts, the keeper of the scales of justice, is blindfolded. It’s not because she is supposed to ignore the crimes committed before her. No, it’s a symbolic representation that true justice does not regard the color of one’s skin. And yet, clearly that is violated each and every day in this country at every level of our government institutions. African-Americans are arrested more often, convicted more frequently, and sentenced more severely than their white counterparts who have committed the same exact crimes. African-Americans are denied employment and paid less for the same work when they are. To protest these conditions of an America that has lost it’s way in guaranteeing the equal rights of each and every citizen is a vital part of the process of making us a better nation. One of the remarkable aspects that makes America the nation it is rests in the notion that it is a protected freedom to speak our minds and to challenge our government when it fails to deliver on the promise of equality and justice. There is nothing more American than using peaceful protest to demand our nation rise to the challenge of promoting equality and justice for all.
Likewise, if you find it disgraceful for athletes to take a knee during the national anthem, I get it. The national anthem is a symbolic tribute to all the men and women who have served defending the liberties this nation purports to represent. Perhaps you have family members who died in the act of duty, and so while you may support the cause of social justice, you may also believe that the national anthem is not the time and place to voice those opinions and concerns because the singing of the anthem is a time for honoring and respecting those who granted you the ability to protest in the first place. The fact of the matter is that I can understand the points of view of folks on both sides of this social debate.
But what troubles me most is the discord this issue has suddenly created. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many of us were hopefully optimistic that we could move forward together as one people, united in the endeavor of American progress while oblivious to the racial undertones that divided us as a nation. But of course with that greater sense of unity, as with all tremendous strides forward towards a more enlightened, progressive society, came an equally tremendous backlash- a retraction of those ideals founded in fear and resentment of what those ideals might just represent. Like Huck’s racist father in Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, many white folks worried that lifting black folks up to a previously unknown state of equality meant doing so at their expense by pushing them down. And it was precisely that fear that Trump saw and exploited, turning that fear into a seething hatred that somehow got him elected.
And it is just that fear that he is using now to try to divide us, to tear us apart so that we will ignore his incompetence and his embroiled scandals and instead turn our attention and angst inwards towards our fellow citizens. But beware of the psychology of fear. Beware of those who utilize fear for their own benefit, manipulating our emotions so that we are distracted from the true sources of our current condition and fail to recognize the truth that we are all in this together.
For despite the differences of opinion this issue has unearthed between us, we truly are in this together. The fact is that both sides of the NFL players debate believe they are championing the ideals this nation is supposed to represent. All of us want this to be a better country than what we see before us now, and we believe that we can make it so. And the truth is that we can do so, but only if we are united together with a shared goal of lifting up everyone, of putting our differences aside and working with each other to hold our nation to the elevated standards it stands for. Doing so, of course, means letting go of the politics of fear and buying in instead to a community founded in brotherhood and unity.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com