If there is any theme that dominates this current era in American history, it’s fear.
On both sides of the political divide, we are motivated by perceptions of threat and terror in the world around us.
There’s monsters everywhere — illegal immigrants and treacherous straight white males, college marxists and bigoted Donald Trump supporters hell-bent on fascism. Underneath nearly every political argument we have is this constant backbeat of anxiety.
The problem with this emotion is that it breeds nothing but bad outcomes.
When we are afraid of the world around us, we are less likely to understand things. Other human beings with a point of view transform into ominous entities that need to be combated with great force.
Furthermore, fear is an easy way to rationalize personal cruelty.
If conservatives scare you, since you believe they are a threat to everything good, then you’re going to feel entirely justified in canceling them from polite society. Even though it’s terribly unfair to make another citizen feel unwelcome in their own country, progressives have no qualms committing this sin against Republicans.
When one is convinced a certain group of people are monsters, extreme responses become the only wise course.
On the right, we saw the power of fear with the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump supporters, who are genuinely animated by a sincere love of country, ironically let their anxiety motivate them to engage in an attempted overthrow of the United States government.
Their paranoia became so intense, they viewed a legitimate election, validated by the Supreme Court, as a shadowy attempt by liberal elites to steal the White House. This belief was thundering in their minds as they stormed the capitol, inflicting harm on law enforcement and desecrating the most sacred spaces in our national life.
In the process, the MAGA crowd became the very threats to America they claimed the Democrats were.
Fear makes villains of us all.
We see goblins and trolls everywhere, figuratively speaking, and that helps to justify extreme, brutal responses.
Of course, in truth, the world isn’t full of threats, but simply human beings. Therefore, such fanaticism is rarely ever justified, and most often results in harm to very innocent people.
Our first premises create our reality. When we start from the position that the world is terrifying, we create a terrifying world.
Human beings retreat within themselves, build walls instead of bridges, get addicted to an endless search for security to assuage their paranoia. We become too frightened to ever venture forth and realize any sense of community and solidarity with each another.
The one life that we are given gets transformed into a nightmare.
Of course, the logical implication of that is we have the ability to embrace the opposite view. We can decide to have faith and believe in a world of goodness and opportunity, full of not monsters, but families just like our own.
Every inch of human progress, from Martin Luther King’s dream to Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of global peace, has come about from this courageous idealism. Great leaders decide to take a risk, to gamble on hope, and they inspire the masses to unseen heights.
We are in desperate need of this sort of soul force today.
Moving toward a better future starts with remembering that Americans continue to share a set of core, fundamental values — a belief in fairness and hard work, multi-racial democracy, and protecting the vulnerable. The parties disagree on the best set of solutions to achieve those values, that’s true.
But our similarities provide a way forward, in which Americans can speak to one another as partners, not adversaries.
The best way to think about politics is not as a war between enemies, but a conflict between members of the same family.
Visions for the country may differ, but the ultimate goal — that each individual is able to fulfill their god-given potential — is shared by everyone, each brother and sister.
Our greatest presidents always understood this truth in their bones. The people are to be spoken to with an attitude of grace and friendship, not fear. While there is a time and place for righteous anger — specifically when dealing with the corruption of powerful elites — ordinary citizens deserve true, loving care.
Fear is a horrible, horrible thing. Like an acid, it eats away at everything noble in the world around us. It is the greatest enemy of life.
If America is ever to heal itself, partisans on both sides must expunge this virus from their minds, and realize that the way forward rests on truly seeing each other again.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.