When thinking back on much of the research I've done, and the interactions I have had with conservatives I've noticed much of their ideology is based on fear. I also realized how fear is not only being used, but created, exploited and cashed in on by those who are on the right.
The politics of fear are nothing new to our political spectrum, but even in an age of instant information, wireless communication, and media saturation, the politics fear are stronger than ever an in electorate of which half of are scared to death.
Whether it be fear of Muslims from 9/11, to fear of the LGBT community; to becoming a failed economy like Greece, the Republican party of today are using fear as a tool to implement their policies that only help the rich.
So what drives that fear?
People are resistant to change, change of habits, diet, perceptions, and ways of thinking. To change one must have an open mind. To many that can be a scary thing. It's sort of like being afraid of the dark, you don't know what you'll find there. To be afraid of the unknown is not something that's uncommon. To draw a parallel I look at the full Imposition of the ACA in 2014. People on the right are afraid of it one, because they're not sure what it means for them, and two, because the Republican establishment has perpetuated lies about it, saying that it's a bureaucratic takeover of your healthcare by the government, and that politicians will be getting between you and your doctor. Not to take away from the fact that the president didn't really sell healthcare reform to the people as well as he could have.
Republicans have also sold the public on the uncertainty factor as it pertains to healthcare reform. Telling the base that businesses wont hire because they're uncertain about what will happen when the ACA becomes fully implemented, which pins unemployment squarely on the shoulders of Obama and the Democrats who passed health reform. That brilliant strategy shifted focus away from the massive obstructionism in the congress when presented with the jobs bills the President pushed for.
One last thing about fear of change, the whole idea of conservatism is keeping things the same, not progressing forward, not trying new and scary things. That has a huge impact on a part of the population who as a majority is undeniably older, who pine for the glory days of the 1950's (which ironically had tax rates of up to 90% on the wealthy) and are still afraid of social progress which is held as a platform of the modern GOP. That's not to say there isn't progressive elderly, I know a few myself.
But it's not just fear of change.
Fear of the "other" is also a huge part of the Republican party. That Democrats, and specifically Barack Obama, are somehow not American, that their ideas are...foreign. They've gone so far as to even question where the President was born, and when presented the evidence, it's hailed as some sort of elaborate cover-up. I wish I could say it's a fringe attitude, but with a CNN poll from 2010 saying that six out of ten Americans doubt that our president told the truth about his place of birth, I just can't. According to another Pew poll 17% of Americans think he's a Muslim, even though he assured us of his Christian faith.
I personally don't care if he's a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or even a Satanist, as long as he does his job and protects the constitution by not allowing his faith to influence policy.
There is also this idea that President Obama is a socialist, which a whopping 63% of Republicans believe. This is a fear that is akin to the McCarthyism of the mid 20th century. It's a fear of losing the American way of life to some Communist hellscape filled with free healthcare! gasp
The socialist narrative has been relentlessly pushed by Fox News as they describe people fighting for income equality as "class warfarists" as well as telling their viewers that democrats are jealous of and hate successful people.
Perhaps the most worrisome part of this "fear of the other" on the right is the fact that major party spokespeople have spread the idea that all social programs, are either just handouts for lazy minorities, or reparations. All this does is gin up resentment for minorities by saying "Obama wants to take your hard earned money and give it to...those people." Since President is half black (his mother was white) he is still considered by the right as the physical embodiment of the "other" and therefore only works on behalf of those who are not real Americans
Fear of the other doesn't stop there.
The LGBT community has also been used as a way to scare people into voting GOP. The Republican party repeatedly speaks out against gay marriage, and not just speaks out, but actively stops efforts at allowing gays to marry. They say of course that their purpose is to protect traditional marriage. A task that is actually not possible since the definition and use of marriage has changed throughout the centuries. Still it's an effective way of making an argument that uses fear as a way to keep the rights of Americans down. The common theme among the right is that if we allow gays to marry, then men and women wont get married to each other anymore, people would marry animals and the entire human race would set itself on a course for extinction because no children would be born anymore. Everyone would just be gayin' it up all day.Oddly enough the "no more children" argument is also used by anti-choice (aka so called pro-life) proponents as well.
Fear of Immigrants.
More like fear of Illegal immigrants. The horrible bogeymen of the GOP is one that can be easily used to scare Americans who are already fearful of losing their jobs. A common refrain heard from the right is that the illegals are coming to take your jobs. The GOP plays on that fear, to their own benefit as seen with those voter ID laws we saw during the election which Republicans said were there to stop "rampant voter fraud" perpetrated by those dastardly illegals looking for free stuff! The real effect of the voter ID laws were to disenfranchise black and latino voters, a majority of which vote primarily democratic. During the Republican primary debates there were even talks of a fence, an electrified fence, between the U.S. and Mexico. It got a great applause line from the crowd, though later Mr Cain came back and said it was a joke.
A theme also heard by those on the right is the fear of American decline.
This fear is manifest in the idea of America no longer being the city on the hill, the shining beacon of freedom, and it's people being complacent and no longer exceptional. It takes the form of opposing anything that is used for the common good as well as tools used to further that purpose, specifically social programs and taxation. We hear from the right on a regular basis how taxes are too high, there's too much regulation and red tape that's choking innovation and job creation. We hear how Obama and the Democrats are creating a culture of dependency on government programs like SNAP and TANF, and that use of these programs takes away your freedom and gives it to the government. We read and hear daily about the "evils of collectivism" over the government created Internet on our laptops, or on the radio in our union built cars as we drive down government created highways. The fear of collectivism seems to outweigh the understanding that we all need to invest in our countries infrastructure. The irony of this whole fear of American decline is that those who have this fear are perpetuating an actual cause of decline by denying the government the ability to reinvest in Americas once envied infrastructure.
What is the medias role in this?
The media has a large role in the politics of fear. Fox news is undeniably the number 1 rated news channel on television. Fox news calls itself fair and balanced, many of us know that it is anything but. Its role in the Republican party is nothing short of setting agendas, framing debates and demonizing opponents of the pro-corporate Republican agenda. It used its influence to galvanize the Koch backed Tea Party movement when it was still young and when it still railed against bank bailouts and against privatizing gains, while socializing losses. Yet went after the Occupy movement that were protesting the same things. Fox news regularly uses fear to promote their corporate agenda, by calling the president and his policies socialist. They also have called him Anti-American.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh has even said that Obama hates America. All of this toxic crap plays up fear and the belief that we have an illegitimate, foreign born, anti-American, freedom hating, socialist that wants to give white peoples hard earned money to black people and illegal immigrants because he hates you.
In my opinion the politics of fear is an extremely difficult thing to deal with. Fear is a base emotion that came naturally with evolution, it's kept our species alive but now it's hindering progress. How can one dispel the politics of fear if the only tools you have, facts, logic, and reason are ignored? Fear is in the gut, Colbert calls it truthiness. I call it a successful tool for manipulation.
We can't stop fear itself, but we can stop those who spread it around with lies.