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Voices / Column

Presidential candidates play the fear card

We should fear many things that kill more Americans than ISIS, and all can be easily remedied

Randolph T. Holhut is The Commons’ deputy editor. This piece was adapted from a column he wrote for The American Reporter, a daily news website for which he has served as chief of correspondents for many years.


The Republican Party has played the fear card for years, but it is truly breathtaking to see the cynical way that the current crop of that party’s presidential candidates is whipping up fear for political gain.

Is there a reason to be afraid of terrorism? Not if you are an American living within the friendly confines of the U.S. of A.

Statistically, you are more likely to be killed by a lightning strike — a 1-in-83,930 chance — than to be killed in a terrorist attack. According to Time magazine, between 2007 and 2011 the odds of being killed by a terrorist in America were 1 in 20 million!

Yet, if you listen to the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes of the world, our nation is living in the shadow of terrorism and it is only a matter of when, not if, there is another major attack on U.S. soil.

To prevent this hypothetical attack, they gleefully talk about committing war crimes: torture, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, mass detentions, and other horrific acts — all in the name of keeping our nation safe.

* * *

Donald Trump thinks if we kill the families of Islamic State members, terrorists would think twice about committing attacks.

Ted Cruz wants to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion” and test “whether sand can glow.”

Of course, neither Trump nor Cruz sees fit to explain why the indiscriminate killing of civilians by U.S. forces would differ from the indiscriminate killing of civilians by ISIS.

Jeb Bush thinks waterboarding prisoners is swell, and he defends his brother and his administration’s use of what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — or what the rest of the civilized world called torture.

GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson thinks the Geneva Convention and other international treaties should be ignored, saying he is “OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians” because in the larger scheme of things, “it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by 1,000 pricks.”

* * *

All this nonsense is driven by fear, which, in turn, drives our political policies and, ultimately, drives our lives.

We get a steady torrent of fear from the news media, which helps feed the feelings of fear and hopelessness among many Americans.

It is how we get widespread fear that boils over into anger and hatred against those who are not white, Christian, and heterosexual.

We should fear many things that kill more Americans than ISIS, and all can be easily remedied.

How about doing something about the 30,000 Americans who are killed by gun violence every year?

How about doing something about the lack of affordable health care, which kills thousands of Americans annually?

You want safety, security, and stability? How about fixing the crumbling infrastructure in this country, which can save countless lives from bridge collapses and failures of other important systems essential to our daily lives and well-being?

How about addressing income and wealth inequality, which exacerbates all the aforementioned problems?

Oh, and how about dealing with climate change, which merely affects the future of all life on our fragile little planet?

Those are things that our political leaders need to be concerned about. Unfortunately, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, all the Republicans and Democrats running for president are ignoring them to varying degrees.

May the New Year bring more people around to the idea that we are not a fearful people and that Americans, working together, can overcome any obstacle in our path — but only if we are willing to try.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #338 (Wednesday, January 6, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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