Last Updated: April 9th, 2019

As the American people watch their “land of liberty” get mangled into a version more fitting for a sci-fi film than real life, what we the people can best do is try to understand what’s going on so we can come to a reasonable state of compromise with a society that’s run astray.

America is still a representative democracy. If the people who put Trump into power change their minds, he’ll have to change his actions, otherwise he won’t get re-elected. And we all know how important votes are to this man.

Using fear as a political weapon

While the motivations of Trump supporters are as varied as there are people, there’s one underlying current that all their motives ride on: fear.

From blaming immigrants for being potential terrorists to blaming foreigners for stealing jobs, a lot of the fear comes from what’s been labelled as the “other.” Pointing fingers and labelling the “other” creates an easy enemy for Trump to campaign against—and now that he has power, to punish.

As if that’s going to work. Like much of Trump’s politics, this has to do with optics. He’s creating an optical illusion that makes people feel better, feel safe.

Uncle Sam can’t keep us safe. Uncle Sam shouldn’t keep us safe.

The nanny state

An American friend of mine was relating a story about a little gathering she had at her house in San Francisco. They were playing some acoustic guitar and singing. Nothing all that loud, but not exactly quiet. They got paid a visit by the police, who came to the door because of a noise complaint.

A Brazilian traveller was at the party and got enraged that the police showed up. They weren’t angry about the noise complaint itself, but because the neighbour didn’t ask them to be quiet instead of calling up the police to handle it.

The concept of “neighbour” is nothing more than a nuisance we can do away with by making a short phone call to the local PoPo.

That’s the type of society America, and to some degree, all other Western countries, have stooped to. We no longer take responsibility for ourselves. We’re refusing to take ownership over ourselves and our communities. We’ve compartmentalized ourselves into 350-square-foot boxes and tuned out the world around us to the point where the concept of “neighbour” is nothing more than a nuisance we can do away with by making a short phone call to the local PoPo. After all, we pay their wages through our taxes, so we might as well make use of them, right?

Wrong. Just because we pay for something, that doesn’t mean we should use it. That’s the mentality governments take when they buy into the military-industrial complex’s sales pitch to buy the latest and greatest bomber. If you spend trillions of dollars on the military, it’s going to get used.

I wonder if arsonists think the same way. Damn those firefighters sitting around all day playing cards. Let’s make them do some work! (Which isn’t actually the case, since any fire department is dispatched to all kinds of emergency responses.)

The no-nanny state

I once lived in a mountaintop village in India called Dharamkot. In the year I was there, I never saw the police (or any “authority” figures) once.

The reasons for this are varied: Indians don’t pay much taxes, the little tax they pay gets gobbled up by corrupt authorities and some places just don’t need authority figures for society to run harmoniously. There’s an understandably strong distrust of government authorities in their culture. Since villagers are self-sufficient, they just don’t have much need for authority. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of the Big Brother state we live in.

One night, there was a restaurant blaring music until the middle of the night. The sound could be heard all over the village. I asked a local friend what would happen in a situation like this.

Problems rarely happen there, but occasionally a business would start up and try to throw late-night parties, so the village would deal with it by calling a community council meeting of neighbours. A representative of the council would go speak to the offender and work out a resolution. In this case, the restaurant could play music until a certain time of night and at a certain volume.

This is also a culture without a social safety net, in which family plays that role. One’s family ties are closer, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since many people are enduring painful marriages to keep the family together. Divorce is uncommon and looked down upon. The population is mainly agrarian, with two-thirds living rurally.

The comparison between rural India and urban America can only go so far, of course. I’m using it more as a reminder of what we were before we urbanized and developed into our current form.

Urban interventionism

Cities naturally demand more intervention, not just because there are more people, but because there are more people of different cultural backgrounds encroaching on each other’s space.

In the U.S., where 80 percent of the population is urban, there’s going to be a need for authority to keep law and order.

That trend towards urbanity is unfortunate, but it’s a a done deal (for the foreseeable future, at least). It’s unlikely that the tide is going to turn back much, with the exception of a percentage of back-to-the-landers and downshifters who see the value of opting out of city life in favour of greener pastures.

Few will deny the importance of a social safety net. If Indians had access to free health care, pensions and employment insurance, they’d welcome it.

Drawing boundaries in the nanny state

Gated community in Arizona - Fuelled by fear
But there’s a difference between asking for law and order and asking our government to be our nanny to watch over us. Growing up in this kind of culture, it’s easy to forget or not think about what an acceptable limit is in the first place, because we’re writing the rules as we go along.

To ask your government to build a wall to protect you—come on. I get that walls are going up everywhere. There are more than 20,000 gated communities in the U.S. If that’s not a reflection of fear, I don’t know what is. It’s kind of like asking your father to fight your battles for you even when you’ve become an adult. What is adulthood for, anyway? They say 40 is the new 30, not the new 10.

Between fear-mongering politicians and worry-inducing media, the American population is a frightened one.

To ask your government to keep out immigrants, when that government has fought wars to win resources from those people who are immigrating—then to ask your government to keep those low-paid migrant workers who farm your food so you can eat—is ridiculous. It’s the same mentality the U.K. has in thinking they should have free access to the European market without allowing the free movement of people. It just doesn’t make sense.

Trump used fear-mongering to his advantage during his campaign. Between fear-mongering politicians and worry-inducing media, the American population is a frightened one. Fear is an easy emotion to manipulate. It’s a powerful emotion. It’s the one negative emotion that underlies all other negative emotions.

Fear at the root

Jealousy, greed and anger all have fear in common, because we live in a constant struggle between desire and aversion. When we can’t get what we want or push away what we don’t want, we’re unhappy. This state of samsara glues us to the treadmill of the not-present state.

When we’re fixated on the future or the past, we’re coloured by some shade of fear, because we fret about what we want in the future but might not get (desire), worry about what may be coming to us that we don’t want (aversion) or feel scared of the outcome of our past actions (regret).

Fear isn’t always a negative thing. If we didn’t have a healthy sense of cautionary fear, we’d drive on the wrong side of the road for kicks or swim with sharks for a stunning selfie opportunity.

It’s logical to fear people who want to kill you, which is why it’s understandable that people fear terrorists. And since terrorism now is most often linked to Islam, it’s at least understandable why people would fear Islamic people. It’s for that reason that labelling people as Islamophobic is counter-productive. What we have to do is work on isolating the terrorists and keeping them out (and ourselves safe), not just targeting all Muslims with the hope that the terrorists will somehow be caught.

That’s an example of fear overcoming our sense of reasoning, and that’s a problem. It’s the same issue with building a wall to keep out the Mexicans. There’s just no logic. It’s fear run amok in our minds.

The question is, do we want to live in fear, with big government playing nanny for us, or do we want to live freely with less government intervention? Conservative governments favour less intervention, and that’s something I agree with them on.

We’ve been given the power of free will. Do we not have a responsibility to exercise that power?

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image 1: Stan Wiechers (Creative Commons BY-SA); image 2: Weidner (Creative Commons BY-SA)