David Brooks published an excellent column in yesterday’s New York Times: “An Era Defined by Fear: The Emotional Tone Underneath the Political Conflicts.” You can read it HERE.
“It’s been an era when politicians rise by stoking fear. Donald Trump declared an ‘American carnage’ and made it to the White House by warning of an immigrant crime wave that doesn’t exist.
“Fear also comes up from below, in the form of childhood trauma and insecurity. It sometimes seems as if half of America’s children grow up in strained families and suffer Adverse Childhood Experiences that make it hard for them to feel safe. The other half grow up in overprotective families and emerge into adulthood unready to face the risks that will inevitably come. Depression rates rise. Safe spaces proliferate. Collegiate mental health systems are overwhelmed.”
Marilynne Robinson, who is one of our best contemporary American writers, wrote about fear a couple of years ago in the New York Times Review of Books. She wrote that there is a lot of talk about the United States being a Christian nation or founded on Christian principles and that sort of thing. She then offers a simple two-part thesis:
First, contemporary America is full of fear.
And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.
“Do not be afraid” is one of the most oft repeated phrases in the entire Bible. It’s what the angels say every single time they show up in the Gospels.
Marilynne Robinson says there is a lot of talk about the drift of America away from a Christian identity, but no one ever talks about the pervasive fear in our culture as an example or symptom of that loss of Christian identity.
David Brooks concludes:
“They say that perfect love casts out fear. And maybe there is at least one presidential candidate who will perform the role Franklin Roosevelt performed 86 years ago — identify fear as its own independent force and confront it with hope and optimism.
But I’m coming to think governance might be cure. The simple act of trying to solve practical problems. Enough with charisma. Enough with politicians who treat each election as a matter of metaphysical survival, a clash of existential identities. I’ve developed a hankering for slightly boring politicians who just get stuff done…. I might agree or disagree with some of Elizabeth Warren’s zillions of policy proposals, but at least they’re proposals. At least they are attempts to ground our politics in real situations with actual plans, not just overwrought bellowing about the monster in the closet.
“Fear comes in the night. But eventually you have to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and get stuff done.”