Freedom or Fear?

I sat on the floor as my father added tinfoil fans to the rabbit ear antenna on top of our Zenith black and white TV set. The picture went from fuzzy to recognizable shapes.

“That’s better,” he said. Then he sat back on the couch with my mother.

I sat with my back to the overstuffed Victorian chair. I could see better the closer I was able to scoot toward the set, but I had to be careful. If either of my parents noticed how close I was they would shoo me back.

“Jerome, don’t sit so close to the TV. You’ll ruin your eyes,” my mother admonished me.

Rats. I scooted back and after a suitable length of time, I got up and went into the kitchen. Although we had a regular faucet with hot and cold water, there was still an old fashioned hand pump. I worked the red lever until water gushed out and filled my glass. Well water was free so we used it as much as possible. The water was cold and delicious and after drinking my fill, I returned to a spot close enough to see the TV but not where I would get fussed at again.

There was a man standing on a stage talking. I didn’t understand most of what he said but then a whole bunch of balloons started falling from the ceiling and the camera showed people wading through balloons piled up knee high. That looked like fun I thought. Much later in life I learned that I had watched Adlai Stevenson become the Democratic nominee for president. My parents watched the Republican convention as well, but I found it all too boring to watch. When you’ve seen one balloon drop, you’ve seen them all.

The rest of my life followed the same pattern. I watched some conventions, especially when our nation faced great difficulty, while I ignored others either because I didn’t think it was important or both candidates were so appalling that I couldn’t bring myself to look. Exhibit A is the Nixon/ McGovern contest. But this year is different. Even though I find both candidates extremely distasteful, I watched more of the conventions than I usually do. Of course streaming media, YouTube, and TiVo make it easier to skip the boring parts.

The difference between the two parties in 2016 has seldom been more distinct. In Cleveland, the Republicans sold fear upon fear with Trump stealing law and order lines from Richard Nixon’s 1968 speech. Hillary, and especially Michelle Obama, presented a much more positive vision of America’s future. And I am impressed.

People who are afraid of our future either haven’t been around very long or they have forgotten what is like to do “duck and cover drills” in elementary schools in preparation for a nuclear apocalypse. Yes, I know that people today have to do active shooter drills. But there is a great deal of difference between preparing for the end of all civilization and preparing for shooting of several dozen people.

As a child of the Sixties, I had to worry about the end of the world, civil rights riots, Vietnam, and an endless drumbeat of assassinations of important political leaders. Now I watch in disbelief as Republicans call for the jailing and assassination of their chief political opponent. As if that weren’t bad enough, the “Trust me I’m the law and order candidate” called upon foreign governments to hack his rival’s emails to assist him in defeating her. Unbelievable.

If one only pays attention to headlines, one can conclude that the world is falling apart and is incredibly dangerous. But the facts are quite different. Overall, violent crime has been declining in this country for decades, including attacks against police. As for terrorism, most incidents in the U.S. are home grown rather than orchestrated by terror groups and are more the result of mental instability combined with easy access to guns. You have a much higher probability of dying from a bee attack than terrorist attack. The truth is that due to globalization, there are fewer wars, fewer deaths from starvation, and less infectious disease than at any time in history. We have access to instantaneous information and communication everywhere. And in the U.S., the number one killer is too much access to food.

Democracy is messy business. Everybody has a different opinion on how things should be done. It takes a long time and a lot of arguing to move forward. But move forward we have. We started with a system in which only landowning white men could vote and make decisions. Now everybody has the chance to participate in the democratic process. And we are stronger as a result. However, expanding who we accept into our tribe is always scary. In almost every country there is a backlash of fear, rejection of change, and extreme nationalism.

Trump wants us to be afraid and to trust him to fix things without any details of how he will accomplish the things he has promised about job growth, immigration control, crime, or terror. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I don’t trust any government, politician, or business even when I know for sure what they are doing. I’m certainly not going to buy the pig in a poke that Trump is selling. I am willing to sacrifice some freedom in order to deal with real threats. I am willing to go through TSA screening to make flying safer as an example. But succumbing to fear has historically always led to loss of freedom. And I value my freedom too much to give it away on somebody’s imagined fears and promises.

Some will argue that Hillary will try to take my freedom as well. That’s probably true, especially in the area of guns. However I know what her agenda is and I am confident that I/we can protect ourselves from the unpopular parts of it. Many people support Trump because he is an unknown quantity… that “he will shake things up.” No thank you. I prefer my democracy “stirred not shaken.”

Republicans have succeeded in making me afraid of the future. Too bad it is fear of their candidate.