By Lawrence Schwirian
Fear is perhaps the most primal of all human instincts…we are, all of us, brought into this world pre-programed to react to perceived threats by fleeing or fighting. Our initial response to a perceived threat might mean the difference between success or failure or even life or death. Fortunately, in this modern-age, many threats are not so immediate that our health and well-being are in instant jeopardy. But that does not mean dangers that are more protracted or abstruse should be regarded as any less menacing. Fortunately or unfortunately, fear itself can be used by those who brandish power to bend the will of their followers for practical benefit or protracted harm.
Consider and contrast the presidencies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Donald J. Trump. In March of 1933, in his first inaugural address, President Roosevelt sought to assure the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This was at a time when the USA was experiencing an unemployment rate of roughly 25% during the heart of the Depression. Over the next seven years, with the help of the New Deal, the unemployment rate would continue to decline until the US entered World War II in December 1941 when unemployment became a non-issue. In contrast, Donald J. Trump, in a campaign event in Texas, recently sought to instill fear into his loyal base by lying to his constituency that there were many middle-easterners, terrorists, MS-13 gang members, drug dealers, and rapists in a migrant caravan now making its way from southern Mexico to the US border. This at a time when the unemployment rate in the United States is at a historic low and migrant workers are needed in many parts of the country.
Clearly, Mr. Trump’s comments were intended to energize his base and not meant to unify the country, by pacifying disparate raging political dialog. The recent bombing attempts of Trump opponents by an ardent Trump supporter as well as the recent mass murders at a Jewish Temple in Pittsburgh are clear examples of how crude, baseless remarks meant to generate “fear and hatred” can result in real-life tragedy. This current president is the antithesis of FDR; his methods and objectives are more in keeping with historical precedents set by unscrupulous demagogues like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
My greatest fear is that our democracy is slipping away…that those who believe in compromise that results in positive change will not be sufficient in number or have the force of will to rise up to confront those who fight to maintain the status quo and who believe that winning is everything…even if it stands for nothing. I, for one, plan to fight and to keep fighting until I am too weak to fight any longer.
Architect Larry Schwirian has been an active BOLLI member for nearly three years–taking a variety of classes, leading architecture courses with his wife Caroline, co-leading the Writers Guild, and serving on BOLLI’s Journal committee.