In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency of a country distraught by financial and societal depression. At his inaugural speech, he stirred Americans’ determination and hope by declaring, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror…”
In 2020, politicians left and right squawk self-righteous dogma, attempting to stir nothing more than the froth of Americans’ basest emotions. However, as these leaders posture and pontificate, they confirm the silent message that is suffocating American character, policy, and society: The only thing we have to fear is not being fearful enough.
Consider the consequences of facing our times unafraid: If you are not concerned about initiating a second wave of COVID-19 deaths, you are heartless. If you question whether facemask requirements are diminishing our humanity, you are an idiot.
If you believe that freedom to practice religion is more important than preventing every possible bodily tragedy, you are mentally sick. If you chafe at the phrase “these uncertain times” because all times are uncertain, you are underestimating the problem. If you do not worry about the financial security of your family, you are either a despicable plutocrat or an ignorant optimist.
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If you are a white citizen not publically announcing your guilt and privileged inability to understand the fears of black citizens, you are a racist. If you are a black citizen not admitting to fear of police, you have betrayed your brothers. If you are a law enforcement professional who believes you can act justly toward citizens of all races, you are blind to your bias.
If you are resigned to the possibility of a leftist election wave, you are actively promoting the socialist agenda. If you doubt that President Trump can singlehandedly ruin the entire country, you underestimate his conniving. If you dismiss breathless reports of foreign hackers skewing the election, you are naïve.
Most of all, if you do not fear being on the wrong side of history, you are a traitor to humanity itself. If you want to have a rational conversation rather than a radical conformation to the approved narrative, you are close-minded and dogmatic.
Actions speak louder than words, so saying the right things is not enough. If you talk the right line without immediate accompanying actions, you are a liar. You must do something. Do something radical. Do something that will offend rational and conservative people while screaming that you do it because you were offended.
Spy on your neighbors. Report any gatherings of people, no matter how many hygienic precautions they take—unless they happen to be congregating in support of a cause currently in elite favor. Tear down or deface statues, not only of slave owners, but of abolitionists. Mudsling at the opposing political party. Lie if you have to when the stakes are high enough.
Better safe than sorry. That is the motto by which we believe our country will thrive. With it as our watchword, we can easily make the decisions to sacrifice the intangible for the sake of the quantifiable.
Values, faith, moral principles, meaningful conversation, true human interaction—these can be set aside until this is all over. How long must we put these transcendent goods on pause? Well, follow the science. Look at the data. We cannot give an exact answer, but surely we will recognize it when we see it. For now, the important thing is to stay safe.
But in this divided and antagonistic nation, how can we stay safe? The answer is simple. Intimidating those you deem wrong is the key to security. Threats are necessary to ensure justice. Coercion and bullying will bring about political change. You must live in constant fear of others, but constantly make them even more fearful of you, and above all of us must loom the larger fears of poverty, pain, and death.
Not only was F.D.R. wrong, so was Patrick Henry. “Give me liberty or give me death”? No. Take my liberty as long as it will protect me from death. Dear America, here is your charge: Keep me safe from viruses, safe from injustice, safe from political upheaval, safe from any unfairness that life might present. In return, I offer up my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I renounce my rights to freedom of religion, of speech, of press, of assembly.
Really, it is a small price to sacrifice the abstract for the tangible, isn’t it? Fear makes the Faustian bargain so devilishly tempting. Take my soul, just save my body.