Fear is an awful feeling. And we are hard-wired to feel it.
Sadly, there are those in public offices who prey on our fears to benefit themselves and promote their agendas, and no political party or individual has an exclusive chokehold on the practice.
But President Donald Trump is adding some new wrinkles.
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We are experiencing a leadership by fearful tweets, whether true or more frequently false, as it is in his case; leadership by threats of retaliation, to allied nations and to members of Congress, if you don’t get on board with me; leadership that paints a dark portrait of an invasion of immigrants coming to destroy our country.
It appears the years-long fantasy he was peddling that President Barack Obama was not an American citizen was just a warm-up act.
Put it all together and it’s simply leadership by fear, messages of doom and gloom messing with those wires in our brains that trigger our fears.
As a child I heard another president, Franklin Roosevelt, speaking to the nation of fear as we entered World War II. But his message was different: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The difference in those messages remind me of something that Bill Waterson, the creator of the wonderful comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, said when asked about fellow artist Charles Schulz and about Peanuts and all the characters that have been part of our daily lives for decades.
“It may seem strange that there are no adults in Peanuts’ world,” he answered, “but in asking us to identify only with children, Schulz reminded us that our fears and insecurities are not much different when we grow up.”
Waterson was correct. We carry many of the same feelings from childhood to adulthood, but Roosevelt told us how to deal with our lifelong fears, while Trump simply continues to exploit them.
We also need to remember that while Charlie Brown never could kick that football, and he hit only one home run in 50 years, and that little redheaded girl remained a dream, he never gave up on his journey for hope. Neither should we, even if there are days when Charlie’s friend Lucy would do a landslide business at her sidewalk psychiatric stand.
There is evidence across the country that a new journey has started. Thousands of men and women from every walk of life are gathering at town hall meetings and rallies to join in a chorus of voices and loudly express their views.
Listen to what many of them are saying: Too many of our leaders have abandoned the idea that all people should have a fair share of opportunities; too many leaders have turned benign neglect into active neglect; too many leaders have forgotten one of the messages conveyed by the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, come and we will help lift you out of darkness of despair.
I believe they are saying that we understand that, as Commander Spock of the Starship Enterprise once declared, “Change is the essential process of existence.” But what we want are leaders who will help reduce the pain of change and not increase it, leaders who are guided by the values that have truly made America great and not just a slogan on a red cap.
Perhaps the idea in the commandment that has been embraced for centuries across the world that we should care for our neighbors is too simplistic in these days of distrust and discord, days when all of our institutions are being challenged. But we should pray that is not the case.
It didn’t say love your neighbor only if he or she was the same color, or has the same social status or wealth, or practices the same religion, or is of the same nationality, or thinks or acts or loves as you do. There were no qualifiers in it.
Somehow that message is being lost as leaders at the very top stoke our fears rather than enrich our hopes.
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Co. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.