The week before Halloween, I went with four of my grandchildren (and a couple of my daughters) to a crowded costume party held at Asphalt Green, a giant soccer field located a few blocks north of Gracie Mansion, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This residential area is distinctly middle class (and above) and home to numerous families struggling to afford huge rents for the sake of living in a safe and well-cared-for area of the city with good public schools.
After waiting in a long line for about 30 minutes, we went through a series of gates, manned by security personnel, and had our bags and strollers checked for weapons. Once on the field, I watched many well-outfitted adults—some dressed in Halloween garb, others in work clothes—frantically trailing their kids, who were running with abandon from one carnival-like attraction to another. In the midst of a thousand happy, young voices frolicking about, there was also palpable tension in the air as parents and caregivers worked hard to keep their charges well within sight.
Standing to the side of a large group waiting fairly patiently at a football-toss activity, I listened attentively as a few of the young mothers, standing together, whispered loudly to each other about how anxious they were about safety nowadays, and that the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Living in what could be described as the safest time in our history, I find it surprising that so many well-off Americans feel as if they exist within a culture of fear. According to Harvard professor Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. The crime decline of the 1990s has proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present.” Furthermore, the stock market is soaring and unemployment is at a 30-year low.
Yet, a recent Gallup poll found that concern about crime and violence is at its highest level in 15 years. The Chapman University Survey on American Fears points out that almost 70 percent of us are afraid of threats of terrorism, economic collapse, government corruption and cyber warfare.
What’s stirring this culture of fear?
Since Donald Trump first led the “birther movement” early in Barack Obama’s first term in office, Trump and his minions—alarmist agitators on the right—have made a concerted effort to brainwash Americans by stoking a fear of change. Whether it be people of color, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, possible terrorists, or foreigners—“others” have been cast as “gaming the system.” And over-the-top, Trumpian rhetoric has raged.
Trump’s constant “us-versus-them” bombast; his persistent lying; his complete disregard for and misuse of facts; his relentless attacks on the news media; and his poisonous condemnation of government institutions are not only contributing to a pervasive atmosphere of fear, but also create an intense sense of anxiety surrounding the country’s future.
Almost every time we listen to or watch a newscast, we see or hear Trump, or one of his band of militant supporters, spreading the seed of conflict and discontent. Their purpose? Blow up the system and foment anarchy. What do they hope to accomplish? Long-lasting power and influence.
This country is now spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year to combat the mostly imagined threat of foreign terrorism on our shores, but it is primarily gun-toting, white, domestic terrorists who kill our loved ones close to home.
And while we spend trillions upon trillions of dollars on defense, there are insufficient resources to fight the burgeoning opium epidemic; improve public education; repair roads; fight fires enveloping the West; control floods in the South; rescue Americans floundering in Puerto Rico; and control ever-more dangerous viruses and illnesses that sweep through the nation.
Young parents should be concerned about the polluting of our oceans, lakes, and rivers; about the increasing scarcity of drinking water, worldwide; about this country withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord while, at the same time, promoting the use of dirty coal; and about the systematic firing of Environmental Protection Agency scientists.
Young parents should be concerned: about the slow death of unions and retirement benefits; about the impending demise of Social Security and Medicaid; about a health care system that could leave you broke and destitute; about a public education system that is going bankrupt; and about the filthy rich getting unbelievably richer as your taxes underwrite their wealth.
Scared? You should be!