Fear united the final Republican presidential debate of the year on CNN last night, as candidates for the White House articulated on stage the mass phobia that has gripped the GOP since the attacks of 9/11.
Candidate after candidate pleaded with the voter to allow them to act as their commander in chief and give them the opportunity to prove themselves in the gladiatorial world stage in their fight against evil Islamist jihadis, Russia, Iran and other threats lurking in the frightening world beyond the oceans. They all traced their phobias back to the day of September 11, 2001 and the Islamic radicals who plan to carry out more atrocities at some point in the future on the home soil. One candidate was adamant that another 9/11 attack was somehow now imminent.
Another said we should carpet bomb the Islamic radicals, while another was happy to start Armageddon by exchanging gunfire with the Russians. Others complained about not being able to use mass surveillance and the annoyance of encryption, while some wanted powers to shut down the internet.
All the candidates for the presidency of the United States were referring their phobias back to the time of the 9/11 attacks and the resulting sense of insecurity that ensued. The latest terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino were also referred to, as well as the closing down of all schools in Los Angeles the day before the debate, which was a hoax.
It was as if all the terror events since 9/11 including the most recent ones, were only a prelude to last nights ominous Republican debate on insecurity.
New Republic reports:
Republicans might consider themselves the party of freedom, but their true identity, as the presidential campaign has made clear, is the party of fear. “We are on the road to decline, and we are running out of time to fix it,” Senator Marco Rubio said in January. In a recent super PAC ad, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says, “My number one priority as a leader is to make sure that there is not another generation of widows and orphans created because of a terrorist attack on the American homeland.”
At December’s debate, all the candidates, with the partial exception of Senator Rand Paul, painted a frightening picture of America as a country that is on the verge of disintegrating.
“We need strength,” Donald Trump said“. “We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.”
Trump is often portrayed as an anomaly among the GOP candidates, but consider Christie’s opening statement. “America has been betrayed,” he said. “We’ve been betrayed by the leadership that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have provided.” As evidence, Christie pointed to a Los Angeles school district closing over a bomb hoax. “Think about the effect that that’s going to have on those children when they go back to school tomorrow wondering, filled with anxiety whether they’re really going to be safe.”
One might wonder how Obama and Clinton are responsible for the school district overreacting to a hoax. One might also wonder about a presidential candidate who uses the Los Angeles incident not to criticize overreaction to perceived threats but to stoke fear.
All the candidates spoke of an America under siege. Paul offered a few libertarian caveats about the dangers of ranking security above liberty, but even he used xenophobic fear of immigrants to attack Rubio.
How did fear come to loom so large as a part of Republican rhetoric? The crucial turning point surely was 9/11, which gave birth to a culture of fear in America—about which a small but vital literature has emerged, such as Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream (2007), Corey Robin’s Fear: The History of a Political Idea (2006), Peter N. Stearns’s American Fears (2006). Using historical evidence, Stearns argued “that there either more fearful Americans than there once were, or that their voices are louder or more sought after and publicly authorized—or both.”
The best articulation of this culture of fear—and the concomitant willingness to do almost anything to secure an impregnable level of safety or security—can be seen in the 1 percent doctrine as articulated by Vice President Dick Cheney: “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” In effect, Cheney was calling for the United States to become one giant safe space, even if it meant massively overreacting to threats abroad.
Sanctioned by Washington, a language giving priority to safety has increasingly shaped other parts of society, including academia. Last September, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, argued that freedom of speech has to be tempered by an acknowledgement of the demands of safety and civility: “[W]e can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility.”
Read the full story: The GOP Is the Party of Fear
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