During his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt shared with the nation his belief that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We’ve praised and repeated this sentiment for nearly seventy-four years now, attracted to its courage and promise. We focus primarily on the positive message that we can overcome almost anything. There is another, more cautionary element tucked inside this iconic line, however. By making “fear” the exception to the infinite list of things we need not fear, he was indeed warning us to be wary of “fear itself.” All of the material and ideological challenges of the day could be overcome, even in as dark a time as the one during which he was taking office, he opined. Fear, though,… fear was the one thing about which we should truly be concerned.
This most recent election season, from the primaries to the inauguration, has been mainly characterized by fear. Donald Trump tapped into a fear as ancient as it is universal — the fear of change. For decades, American society has become more and more progressive as its population has aged, but the societal change that took place during the Obama administration was particularly concentrated and effective. A portion of the population panicked as they watched the national views with which they’d become complacent give way to a new and more inclusive tide. The change frightened them, and they withdrew, seeking desperately to close themselves off from the outside, from everything they wished not to include in their intentionally restrictive worlds.
Fear has reigned on the other side of the aisle as well. This fear was of a different sort — nearly the opposite sort — but it was and is fear nonetheless. A large number of those opposed to Trump’s election explicitly cite fear as the primary reason. Some of those who celebrate the country’s progressive achievements during the Obama campaign (and even decades before) fear that those achievements will be erased. Much as the Trump campaign promoted the fear of social change, the Democratic campaign, effectively punctuated the media, nurtured the fear of complete and apathetic regression. Ethnic minorities, minorities in the realms of gender identity and sexual preference, and women feared the loss of the advances in respect and equality we’d been so proud they’d fought to enjoy.
In the end, the majority of people voted more against their fears than in favor of their wishes, in stark and disappointing contrast to the hope that accompanied the Obama election…