“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
So said F.D.R. during his first inaugural address in 1933. The Great Depression had devastated the country and his attack of the word “fear” was a precise and calculated choice. People know this part of the quote. They cite it and repeat it. But fewer people know the end of the sentence, in which F.D.R. unpacks exactly what sort of fear he’s talking about:
“…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
It’s a shame that part gets left off, because the 32nd president wasn’t talking about productive pragmatism, or calculated risk assessment — he was talking about lizard-brain thinking, the deprivation mindset, and blind panic. He was talking about irrational fear. It’s a strain you might recognize because it’s the same brand of fear that currently has our country in a vice grip.
How so? Let’s look at a few trending news items that have a hold on the collective consciousness:
It doesn’t matter if you love the guy or hate him, it’s pretty clear that Trump’s word choices, public persona, and campaign tactics are driven by inciting and fostering fear. Even his slogan — Make America Great Again — is anxiety-inducing. It’s implied message is that America, well, kinda sucks. We’re like our own overly attached girlfriend meme, insanely jealous of Trump’s vanished utopia: “Are we not great? When did we stop being great? How do we go back to being great? I want us to be great!”