Archive for Monday, February 27, 2017

Opinion: Trump’s message is exceptional fear

February 27, 2017

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Donald Trump’s inaugural speech was a message of fear: Fear Isis, fear China, fear Mexicans, be afraid in both public restrooms and private bedrooms, and be afraid on city streets. Be afraid of now, and be afraid of the future. The reason to be afraid is people who are different from us and want our things; people with different languages, faiths, nationalities and skin colors. Safety comes from threat, war, torture, guns, walls, trade barriers and jails.

American exceptionalism has always been defined as a willingness — from strength — to help others for the sake of a common and greater good. It has always been directed toward a greater global connectedness, toward a shared global consciousness. Read the UN Charter, signed in San Francisco on Oct. 24, 1945. The idea is that America is willing to do what is right solely because it is right, and will not be governed by expedience. We have not always lived up to this exceptional view of ourselves, but it has been a constant vision and aspiration.

The new definition we heard in the inaugural address considers Americans exceptional as a birthright; solely because we are American. We, who are a melting pot of the rest of the world, Mr. Trump reasons, are somehow different and somehow better. But claims of nationalist or racial superiority are not new; they were the justification for anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany just 75 years ago. They were also the justification for Jim Crow segregationists and more recently for the murders Dylann Roof committed. And this vision of America is a vision of a mythic past that excludes many Americans.

Selfish fear is not exceptional. Every family, tribe and nation throughout history has been afraid. Every one of them has thought first of its own welfare. American exceptionalism since Dec. 7, 1941, has not been fearful or essentially selfish. American armies liberated most of North Africa, Europe and much of Asia, and in each instance immediately returned sovereign power to native people. American armies conquered Germany and Japan, at frightful cost, and again, returned sovereignty to the people of those countries and even provided aid to rebuild what the war had destroyed.

Thus, America First is the most common and ordinary of ideas — and cowardly to boot. Recently a Kansas legislator from Bonner Springs left a loaded handgun in a committee room. I’m not surprised or even mad about the mistake. People are always dropping things, losing them, leaving them behind. The significance to me is that a legislator thought it necessary to carry a handgun into the Statehouse. The only reason could be fear, and each day that fear is constantly reinforced every time the gun is seen or touched. It is reinforced for all of us by the increasing presence of guns.

As unsettling as 2016 may seem, 1932 was far scarier. The Great Depression had gutted the country, and the world. People were out of work, hungry, and there was no safety net, no Social Security. Many were starving while food rotted on farms. Totalitarianism had captured Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Tojo’s Japan, and was capturing Hitler’s Germany. Wars were raging in Ethiopia and Manchuria. But when Americans elected a president they elected a man who gave a very different inaugural address. In January 1933 Franklin Roosevelt’s message was of courage and faith based upon a belief in the exceptional qualities of the American Republic.

In his first inaugural address FDR said:

“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. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

But I am now afraid. I am not afraid of the problems that confront us in the world, but I am afraid that the choice of the man who now leads our country proves we are no longer exceptional. His is not a leadership of frankness and understanding. The next four years will tell the tale. Our exceptionalism must now manifest itself in a vigilant resistance to the message of fear.

— William Skepnek is a longtime resident of Lawrence. He is a lawyer and taught Honors Western Civilization at the University of Kansas from 1991 to 2010.

Comments

Bob Summers 3 months ago

jeez..

How else would critical thinkers like Skepnek take Trump? But, to fear him?

I know your type Skepnek. Classic complex analysis with meretitious facts. You live in fear of anything you cannot make a victim so you can manipulate them.

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

And your response to a nuanced, historical analysis view of Trump? Stomp on the messenger: a tried and true technique of bullies. Skepnek's quote of Roosevelt's "nothing to fear but fear itself" is an appropriate reference to Trump's fear-based rhetoric, and Skepnek's call to resist such fear is the opposite of making us a victim of the rest of the world. So you completely missed the point: Trump is a manipulative fear monger out for self aggrandizement, and if we resist his fear-based emotional messages, he is powerless to take away what is quintessentially an American value: going out of our way to help others to do the right thing, leading by example.

Greg Cooper 3 months ago

Again, I ask, Summers: from which Cracker Jack box did you get your degree in psychiatry?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months ago

Excellent article. I know people who never owned guns before, now have one, because they just know someone is going to break into their house to kill them, even though crime has dropped. Fear makes you believe things that aren't true.

Fear makes you believe that all Muslims are out to kill you, even though if that were true, we would all be dead, since their are millions and millions of Muslims in the world

Fear makes you believe that all Black men are thugs, but if that were true, we would have all been robbed or beaten by a Black man at least once in our lives, and that hasn't happened.

Fear makes you think that immigrants are stealing your job even though you have a cushy job with benefits. Fear makes you believe that all undocumented people are drug dealers, even though most are either child refugees leaving a violent situation in their country or they have lived here a long time, working hard and raising a family.

Fear makes you hate the "other" and leads you to allowing people, who promise you "safety", to take away your freedom.

Man up. Woman up. Quit being wimpy.

Bob Summers 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Liberals have just about ended their multicultural nirvana in Sweden.

How long before America becomes Sweden? Will Trump's fear message stay the spread of Liberal anti-cultural shenanigans?

Let's see what the critical thinkers say at the Dailymail. How off was Trump anyway.

Katie Hopkins,

There's been a complaint about my first report from Sweden. A reader is very angry because I suggested the child raped by a 45-year-old migrant (posing as an unaccompanied minor) was 14. In fact, he was 12.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4276942/Swedish-town-migrants-laugh-laws-despise.html

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