This Fever of Fear

Published: October 26, 2020

By Jim Lichtman
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During the Trump presidency, 35 to 40 percent of Americans have been consumed by a fever of fear: fear of immigrants; fear of black and brown Americans; fear of election security. (The only thing Trump has told supporters not to fear is the coronavirus.)

However, Trump’s greatest abuse is sowing doubt and distrust; doubt climate science; distrust our intelligence communities and medical establishments. He has taught his faithful to doubt and distrust any institution or individual that contradicts anything that stands in his way.

New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen compared Donald Trump to Joseph R. McCarthy, the Wisconsin Senator who exploited an environment of fear by claiming, without hard evidence, that Communists were operating within the government, the equivalent of Trump’s “Deep State” conspiracy.

“American freedom is in decline,” Cohen writes, “The freedom to think, because thought depends on truth. The freedom to dissent, because Trump believes he has ‘the right to do whatever I want as president.’ The freedom to breathe, because Trumpism — its nepotism, it’s cozying to dictators, its incessant volume — is suffocating.”

During the dark age of McCarthyism, fear was the weapon of choice for a demagogic Senator who successfully stoked fear by attacking individuals and institutions that he deemed pro-communist. It took the stature of journalist Edward R. Murrow and producing partner, Ed Friendly, to break McCarthy’s grip by reminding Americans, “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home,” as Cohen quoted.

Last March, I compared Trump to McCarthy.

“Following McCarthy’s accusation that counsel for the committee, Joseph Welch, placed a member and communist from his own law firm on the Senate panel,” I wrote, “Welch explained how he learned of the young man’s background and told everyone in the room that the associate did not take any part in the committee’s work.

“McCarthy couldn’t let it go as he continued his attack on the attorney, prompting this memorable response from Welch:

” ‘Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?’

“In our current context, the question is fitting,” I said.

“Set against a backdrop of fear concerning the coronavirus, the president has leveraged the issue into yet another political attack, blaming the media and Democrats for exaggerating the threat, contradicting many of the facts about a disease that is spreading throughout the world.

“In a White House press conference, Trump said, ‘We have a total of 15 people, and they’re in a process of recovering with some already having fully recovered.’

“ ‘Trump claimed that 15 Americans had contracted the new virus,’ Politifact wrote, ‘even though the CDC’s total count was then at 60 and is now up to 61.’ ”

“On Friday, White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney [since replaced by Mark Meadows] said,  ‘The reason you’re seeing so much attention to [the coronavirus] is that they think this is going to be the thing that brings down the president. That’s what this is all about it,’ The New York Times reported (Feb. 28).

“Hours later, at a rally in South Carolina, President Trump said, ‘Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. This is their new hoax.’ ”

Based on journalist Bob Woodward’s taped conversation of Trump for his book, Rage, Trump told Woodward early in February that he had been warned by security officials that the virus was coming even as he was telling the public that it was a “hoax.” As Trump described to Woodward, “It’s also more deadly than your – you know, your – even your strenuous flus.”

How does he go from calling it a “hoax” to claiming it “deadly”? He gets away with it because supporters magically dismiss medical experts with decades of experience and instead, believe a man who lies for a living.

For Trump it’s all about fear and doubt – fear through the deliberate use of false information, and doubt in any individual or organization who challenges him with the facts. And that fever pervades everything Trump touches.

Mail-in ballots: “a disaster.” “The Democrats know it better than anybody else,” … claiming that it will lead to the “most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.”

Non-violent racial justice marches: “The only way you will stop the violence in the high crime Democrat-run cities,” Trump says, “is through strength!”

“ ‘It’s obvious that law-abiding Americans will be on their own if Biden and his allies are elected in November,’ communications director Tim Murtaugh said. ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’ ”

One detail that Murtaugh and Trump forget is that the violence taking place – largely from right-wing extremists – is happening on Trump’s watch, not Biden’s

Trump is McCarthy 2.0. However, while McCarthy’s lies focused on communists and gays, Trump’s lies number in the thousands about any issue he wishes to address on any given day. And the more he bombards us with lies, the more supporters believe.

During McCarthy’s brief reign, Republicans in Congress remained silent with one notable exception, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine, who fearlessly stood on the Senate floor to offer her “Declaration of Conscience” which eventually led to McCarthy’s censure from the Senate. (Even after censure, however, 35 percent of American’s still approved of him.)

Sadly, Republican Susan Collins from Maine does not even come close to matching Smith’s integrity. Sadder still is that under Republican’s current leadership, the Senate has become a hollow shell, absent any integrity.

How this election is decided will determine the future course of the country. Will we continue as a Democratic Republic or a Banana Republic?


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