A NATION IN FEAR
Last week, in a local Target store, an aggressive, disheveled man was ranting and careening down the aisles. As police cars pulled up outside, a woman in the food aisle said, “I hope we don’t get shot.” A few days after that, on my street, a neighbor’s endless and unsupervised construction resulted in a workman blocking my driveway and then hurling obscenities at me when I told him to move. “You better be careful,” a friend told me. “He could come back and shoot you.”
A twenty-year-old girl is now dead because she and her friends pulled into the wrong driveway in a dark, poorly lit rural neighborhood in upstate New York. A sixteen-year-old boy in Kansas City, Missouri will never be the same after being shot twice when he rang the wrong doorbell, trying to pick up his siblings from a neighbor’s house. The defense offered by both shooters is that they were afraid. Parents across this country are afraid when their kids go out with friends, when they go to school, or concerts. When they drive off to go anywhere.
That’s the thing about fear – it’s like a cancer, it metastasizes; it has no logic and no limits. And we are a nation infested with fear. Donald Trump knows that; it’s why he tries to terrify his followers with every speech he gives. Ron DeSantis knows it; it’s why he ominously warns against a “woke” culture and anything else he can use to feed into people’s fear. Every legislator and judge who is trying to take away a woman’s autonomy over her own body knows it. I knew a woman years ago who was dying from inoperable lung cancer. She and her husband were careful but still she got pregnant. Fortunately, the abortion pill was available and she didn’t have to go through the terror of feeling life grow inside her while she was dying, knowing that her fetus would die along with her. Talk to a rape victim about their incontrollable fear that they might find themselves pregnant from the violent and demeaning attack that they endured. I was a rape victim in the 70’s and I know that terror. I was lucky – I didn’t get pregnant, but I would have been able to get an abortion if I had. Women across America, no matter what their circumstances, now live frightened that that right will be taken away from them.
Fear paralyzes. It weakens you, drives you to your knees, makes fighting for what’s right seem impossible, useless. It’s why people stay in abusive relationships, it’s why people can’t defend themselves when they’re attacked, and often it’s why democracies crumble – citizens are too scared to rise up.
I don’t want to hear President Biden, or any other presidential candidate, tell us how strong and resilient America is, how we can do anything we set our minds to. I want someone to acknowledge that we are a country steeped in fear. Only when we own our fear can we do something about it. Pretending it doesn’t exist, ignoring how much it is crippling us, only lets us sink deeper into its quicksand. We need a leader who is courageous enough to say, “We’re in trouble, America. We’re scared. Let’s own that and work our way out of it.” Sadly, I don’t see anyone like that on the public stage, and that scares the hell out of me.