It’s a famous quote. Everybody’s heard it – FDR’s opening to his First Inaugural Address. Or at least they’ve heard the part about “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” The thing is, the second half of that sentence is just as important. The full sentence reads, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
That “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” part is very important because that’s what’s going on in America right now. Think about it. Everyone is freaking out about Syrian refugees and how they might have terrorists in their midst. Or is it Mexican murderers creeping across the border. Or is it the Blacks. Or maybe it’s the <insert your favorite bigotry here>. Regardless who it is, WE HAVE TO PROTECT OURSELVES FROM THEM!!!!
The GOP candidates are all pushing some flavor of this right now. We have to protect ourselves from X because they might be hiding terrorists or they might creep into our bedrooms and murder us in our sleep or they might take our jobs or they don’t worship the same way we do or they look different or whatever their particular nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror is.
That’s really what it is, you know? Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror. OK, they put a name to it – refugees or Mexicans or blacks or Muslims or whatever. But what all those names boil down to is “Not like us”. What all those candidates are trying to do is separate Us into Us vs. Them. And that is so patently un-American it boggles my mind that anyone is falling for it. Especially people who consider themselves Patriots.
Look at the face of the Great Seal of the United States. What do you see? ‘E pluribus unum‘ – ‘Out of many, one’! That was the de facto motto of this great nation until 1956 when, in response to Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, the motto was changed to ‘In God we trust’. That means that what the Founding Fathers of our country wanted was strength through diversity. Not “One Nation under God” but One Nation out of many different people.
We are a nation built on diversity. And we are a nation descended from refugees. Take a look at your own family tree. Where are your ancestors from? Ireland fleeing the potato famine? Refugees. Italian fleeing the Fascists? Refugees. Jews fleeing the Nazis? Refugees. Some other nationality looking for a safe place to raise their families? Refugees. Are you descended from the original Mayflower families? They were refugees, too – fleeing religious persecution…kinda like the Syrians. Even the Native Americans originally came here from somewhere else. So trying to stop other people from doing exactly what your grandparents and great grandparents did is at best, hypocrisy – at worst, cowardice.
That cowardice – that nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror – is the main message of the GOP these days. Speaking as a Republican, I don’t like that. I refuse to be ruled by my fears or by anyone else’s. I won’t give in to or vote for a bully. Bullies are cowards. They are people who have given in to their fears and are trying to act big and intimidating to hide that fear from everyone else…and from themselves. To quote another wise person, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Hey, take your wisdom where you find it, people.
And Yoda is right. Fear does lead through those steps to end up with suffering. There’s a long history of politicians preying on people’s fears and then taking their countries on a guided tour of Hell. Hitler did it in Germany. Mussolini did it in Italy. Stalin did it in the Soviet Union. Mao did it in China. McCarthy tried to do it in the United States and damn near succeeded. These fear-mongers and bullies, these madmen and murderers, are the ideological fore-fathers of the current GOP candidates. And history tells us what will happen if we follow them.
I’ll tell you what I want in a Presidential Candidate. I want someone who will looks at the real issues today – not the made up ones – and propose rational, realistic solutions for those issues. I want someone who will lead with courage and calm conviction. I want someone who will look at the vast diversity of this country and recognize it for the strength it is. I want someone who will lead with humility. Someone who will listen to the opinions of both their constituents and their political opponents and realize that the best course is often somewhere in between those two opinions. Someone who will work with leaders of other countries for peaceful solutions to problems…but not be afraid of military solutions if that’s what the situation requires.
I do not want someone who tries to bully me so that I’ll do whatever they want. I do not want someone who will try to bully other country’s leaders. I do not want someone who will try to turn neighbor against neighbor. Most of all, I don’t want a coward who tries to make everyone else just as afraid as he is.
John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” That attitude is what I want in a President. Someone who can admit that he – or she – is scared but who is, by God, gonna do their damn job anyway…because that’s what Americans do. We don’t lend credence to our fears. We face them, acknowledge them and conquer them. We don’t force people to follow us by bullying and intimidation. We lead by example. We don’t refuse to help those less fortunate or in need. We act with compassion and mercy and offer help wherever we can.
We do this because we are strong and because our differences make us stronger. We do this because we are courageous, because we have faced our fears, acknowledged them and saddled up anyway. We do this because it’s the right thing to do. Not the easiest thing to do. In fact, it may be the hardest thing to do…but it’s still the right thing to do. We do this because to NOT do it would make us less than we are. To not do it would be to fall short of what it means to be American.