Fear vs Something Else

Posted on January 21, 2021


Like many of you, I’m experiencing a (possibly unwarranted) sense of optimism over the arrival of the new administration. If the US were a restaurant, and President Biden (Oh to hear myself say those words) were a chef and we were the restaurant patrons, he has just been handed the ingredients which which to make our main course. It’s a large steaming pile of dog doo, a toxic mix comprised of Trump detritus and Covid. His job is to serve it to all of us, and I can’t imagine that any chef, no matter how talented, could possibly even begin to turn that into something palatable to the American people.

In spite of my commitment to myself not to spend even one more second of my precious time on earth thinking about the Trump followers who continue to be immune to truth, science or anything even vaguely resembling reality, I find myself thinking about them. The worst of them are taking up arms and dreaming of serving in some kind of time warp army of patriots, committed to “taking back” a country that never existed in the first place. The bulk of them live in fear of their wallets getting slimmer, of unborn babies being terminated, of Bibles being burned, of guns being confiscated, of hordes of dark-skinned people streaming through open gates, of their country no longer giving them props for simply being white.

It does no good to tell these folks that few, if any, of their fears will come to pass. The market economy has rolled on throughout our history. Guns and bibles have never been threatened. Dark-skinned arrivals, if one is even vaguely aware of American history, have only served to bolster the US economy to the advantage of everyone. Unborn babies, a small percentage of them, may continue to be at risk, but throughout time, most women who choose not carry them have found a way to terminate, either inside or outside of the law of the land.

The last item, alas, may occur for these people. They are, indeed, in danger of losing their right to be white. No matter the administration, no matter the policies, the simple fact is that the demographics of this country are changing. Georgia, or any other red state that shifted, didn’t have a Come-to-Jesus moment. They have simply undergone a shift of demographics, combined with black residents exercising their power at the polls.

Trump’s greatest power was to recognize what many white people fear, and to use that fear as a weapon. Fear is the great motivator of any number of actions we take that result in exactly the thing that we are afraid of. We fear losing something and so we cling more tightly to it, until the life is sucked out of it. We fear not having enough or being enough, and so we accumulate more and more (money, approval), which simply creates a greater need for more. The itch is never satisfied. It simply intensifies.

There is an opposite to fear, but it isn’t courage. Marianne Williamson says it is love, and that is a compelling idea. But it’s the stuff of another post. I do believe that until we get to something other than fear in this country, we will never access whatever true power we have.

I know how dangerous fear is. In my parents’ generation, and in Europe where they were born, I lost many family members to a government-created fear that they, by their very existence, were a danger and had to be eliminated. I live my own life knowing that their deaths deprived the world of what they could have contributed.

I know how limiting fear is. I’ve been oil painting for all of my adult life. During that time, I have always had a love-hate relationship with the painting process. I’ve always compared myself to other artists and I’ve always found myself to be inferior. Throughout my life, I have created some work that I’m really proud of. But I have never enjoyed the process. The noises of judgement in my head were too strong. They drowned out any joy. And they also drowned out any growth.

My painting took a dramatic course change during Covid. It became a way for me to escape Trump and to escape the crushing thought of the illness that lay in waiting. It took me to an elemental level of my art, me at my easel. No other students to admire and intimidate me. No instructor to please (or seek help from) as he made the rounds through the classroom. My relationship with my art became, for the first time in my life, a relationship between me and myself alone. Without the mental turmoil I always carried, the fear was gone. In its place was pure joy. And the result was the growth I had always sought, but never knew how to make happen.

We now have a president whose toolbox doesn’t include fear, a man who operates from the simple belief that when the least of us are served, we all benefit. A man who is aware that our true home is the world. A man who knows that, while it is certainly possible to control people, it is far more effective to inspire them.

I’m staring at the steaming pile of dog doo. I know that he can’t magically make it disappear. I know that there are millions of people in this country who have been fed this for the last four years and who can no longer distinguish between this and real food. I also know that there are those who have seen the power of using fear as a weapon and will continue to do so. But I also know that without a climate of fear fostered at the top, there is at least a possibility that people will make other choices, and one of them will be to choose what nourishes them. We are all desperate for nourishment now, even those who still don’t know that they have been starving.

Posted in: current events