Fear and Loathing in the Age of Trump

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With American politics at peak polarization, the stakes of the 2016 election could not have seemed higher—both for everyday Americans and those in the limelight. Egged on by a voracious, scandal-happy media, both left and right feared the worst for their country. The fears of many Democrats became a reality when the electoral map turned red, solidifying Donald Trump’s victory. At the same time, many Republicans breathed a sigh of relief: their fears of a Clinton presidency were abated.

What is the role of fear in politics? Is it a valid one? Donald Trump addressed the fears of the populace and succeeded in making many Americans feel heard—something Clinton could not accomplish as acutely. Call it fear-mongering, or just call it politics: tapping into insecurities, validating fears and proposing solutions is almost always used to win. One side stokes fears of fascism, the other socialism; one job-loss, the other insurance-loss; one guns, the other the confiscation thereof. While this rhetoric can be polarizing, it’s also entirely common—especially when the opposing party is in the White House, ripe for criticism.

However, fear-mongering during the Presidential transition is a beast of another kind, and far more dangerous. Transitions of power are a cornerstone of democracy, meaning that everyone regardless of party has a responsibility to honor the results of the election to help the President-elect’s transition smoothly and peacefully. Why, then, are some Democrats attempting to make the transition anything but peaceful?

Since his victory, Donald Trump has been taking all of the typical steps—and doing a laudable job, at that—by building a cabinet, receiving briefings, and making policy plans. Keeping the President accountable is vital to a healthy democracy, so to some extent, it’s good that the public is scrutinizing his actions. It just so happens that most Democrats are going about it in an entirely unproductive way: by blasting each decision based purely on hypotheticals.

This would be one thing entirely if it were the predictable backlash of leftist voters, but it’s coming from the top-down. Democrats in Congress, not to mention celebrities, mainstream media outlets, and others in positions of power are feeding into outrage prematurely, and doing a disservice to us all in the meantime. Large numbers of elected Democrats refused to attend the Inauguration–a time-honored tradition of temporary unity. In a strange, unintended consequences sort of way, the Democratic Party may actually be hurting itself far more than it is hurting President Trump. I’m not saying this as a Republican who wants the opposition to quiet down, because that’s not the case—diversity of thought is what makes America great. I’m saying this because I believe presenting Trump’s presidency as illegitimate from the beginning actively hurts our country.

By rejecting him from the onset with a “the world is over as we know it” rhetorical flurry, Democrats are, in fact, helping Trump succeed. Conflating Trump with Hitler, as has become shockingly common, is an utterly false equivalence and a deeply insulting one, too. When neither the apocalypse nor WWIII have come to pass in four years, the President might seem okay to a majority of voters; he may even get re-elected with a comfortable margin. That is to say, the lower expectations are for Trump and the louder Democrats’ presuppositions for his failures, the more bullets they are loading into a gun that might end up shooting them in the foot. He will almost certainly prove their cataclysmic hand-wringing wrong. And most importantly in politics, they’ve given him a path by which the only way to go is up.

Being concerned is fine for either side, but if your concern fear turns into loathing, you just may lose logic on the way. Both parties would do best to judge our leaders based on their actions, and react accordingly, rather than letting fear and hate cloud their senses—and common goals—entirely.

Trump’s cabinet is a pertinent example of how this contagious, speculative fear is warping reality like a funhouse mirror. A cursory glance at news headlines would have you believe that he picked strangers off the street and assigned them positions based on a whim. This might as well be fake news, as it downplays the successes of the extremely smart and qualified people that want to help Trump and the American people succeed: There’s James Mattis as Defense Secretary, venerated by the Marine Corps; Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary, a veteran transport expert and Asian-American female; and Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary, doctor and expert healthcare legislator. Dr. Ben Carson might also turn out to be an inspired choice for Secretary of HUD, as public health and housing are intricately linked.

Yes, these cabinet members have conservative ideals, which allows for plenty of disagreement with Democrats, but they are more than intelligent and competent.

At the end of the day--or election, as it were--bettering the country is a goal we should all get behind no matter who is in office. Trump might not have been your choice, but we all owe it to give his administration a chance. It’s times like this I am most thankful that we live in a Republic, which keeps mob mentality from overthrowing our elected leaders before they get a chance to start leading.

Some advice to my Democrat friends is to keep your skepticism and even your strongly worded disagreement, but save your apocalyptic outrage. It will mean much more—and make a bigger difference—if you don’t cry wolf so often.