Fear is pushing America over the edge

Had your Fear-i-Os today? Though they've never been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, your government virtually insists that you should get a plentiful daily serving of them, for the good of your own mental balance.

Oh, we're not talking about the obvious fears of our good American lifestyle: the scary recession hanging over us, the endless uncertainty of our military position in the Middle East.

There are at least 10 other ingredients of America's current lifestyle that give our body politic a growing sense of unease on an everyday basis - just like the old brand of bread that promised to 'build strong bodies eight ways.'

Let's add up the distastefully familiar flavors we all know so well:

1. There's that security fear deep in the national gut: For our personal safety from crime, for our family's security from terrorism, and for our national security from the consequences of the Global War On It.

2. There's, well, that nagging unease of the government itself - of the blowback from its economic treaties, of its tax and spending policies, of its continuing unauthorized invasions of the privacy of American citizens.

3. There's the fear of inflation and debt; of losing jobs, losing homes and businesses and cars and credit cards and enough of the money it takes just to feed our families.

4. There's that threat to the environment, and its reciprocal threats to us: Inexplicable cancer clusters, unexpected collapses of bridges and buildings, of car crashes caused by ever-growing congestion on unsafe roads, of dirty water and dirty air and dirty food and dirty toys, dirty clinics and dirty little diseases sneaking into our bodies from Asian avians.

5. Then there's that threat to our health caused by dwindling reliability of our financial capacity, even of our health insurance policies, to pay to heal us of disease and injury and the sneaking ravages of old age.

6. There's the nagging anxiety about whether we really can leave a better world with better lives to our children, who will labor under the nation's crushing financial debts - even about whether they're getting the best education our society can give them right now. Even about whether they will be shot to death in their classrooms, or kidnapped from their homes and raped and murdered.

7. We're all of us, those who think about it, at least a little afraid of the computer and the telephone, about whether in the hands of new managers they're being combined right now to eliminate or export our jobs, our careers, our livelihoods.

8. And don't we all have that troubling doubt about the media - whether they're slanting the news, whether they even know the truth anymore, whether they have too much power to make the choices of society that belong to us? About whether they're outright lying to us?

9. And we never really forget the Bomb, do we? Whether it's Russian, Korean, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, Iranian, Israeli, British, even - American? They're all out there.

10. Then there's the hidden fear of our leadership, isn't there? Are they competent? Are they crooked? Are they really acting in our interests, or their own? And to paraphrase a former White House speechwriter who recently said, of this year's race for president, "We would like a candidate who does not appear to be obviously insane": we all really worry at least a little bit that the president we already have, his whole government, IS insane, don't we?

Oh, it's not that the government gave us all these reasons to be afraid. It's just that these fears give the government a frightening atmosphere, a new power, with which to make and manipulate the policies that control us, without us being fearless enough to fight back.

In fact the worst fear we live with is the fear of public discourse.

Of saying out loud, to friends and family and strangers, what's really on our minds about the America we live in. Because we're afraid they may not agree with us. They may even get very angry with us. Because they're afraid, too.

And because we're in fact a little bit afraid that all of the frightening pressures just might be driving even us a little bit over the edge.

The greatest danger isn't simply that all this makes us a little - or a lot - afraid of the future. The greatest danger of the politics of fear driving our lives is that it makes utterly impossible our greatest duty: the unflinchingly honest search for real solutions, thoughtfully and openly arrived at, for the best ways forward for an America itself in danger of going over an edge.

Because, as another echo from the White House reminds us: We really do have nothing to fear, but letting fear rule us.

• Robert Cutts is a career journalist who has been a news reporter, magazine writer and editor, author of two nonfiction books and a college journalism teacher. He lives in Gardnerville and Japan.


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