“Fear” has become a highly politicized word. Depending on who it is applied to, it can either be a call to compassion and an indictment of those said to be responsible for the fear, or a character flaw that makes the person said to be fearful worthy of disdain and condemnation.
The other interesting aspect of the modern use of the term is that, for the most part, it is applied to people who are, in fact, not fearful at all.
The current enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, falsely described as “draconian” (another frequently misused adjective) is commonly said to be spreading fear among entire communities. Never mind the fact that immigration enforcement has merely returned to pre-Obama levels, or that it is mostly directed at deportable aliens who have committed other serious crimes in this country, or that people who violate laws of any kind are supposed to at least be worried.
There is scant evidence, aside from self-serving anecdotes by opponents of any immigration enforcement that immigrants generally, or even illegal aliens in particular, are fearful. Illegal aliens boldly lobby Congress, state legislatures, show up at city council meetings, liaise with local police, and even engage in acts of civil disobedience – often sporting tee shirts or banners emblazoned with slogans like “Undocumented and Unafraid.”
Nevertheless, it is demanded of society that we go the extra mile to allay whatever real or contrived fears this class of people are said to be experiencing.
Conversely American voters who demand that our immigration laws be enforced are also said to be behaving out of fear – an offense for which they must be marginalized and ignored. Never mind that many who want their nation’s immigration laws enforced have been harmed in some way by the lack of enforcement. Some have lost jobs, or seen their wages decline. Others find their children sitting in classrooms where half their schoolmates don’t speak English and educational resources need to diverted.
But the fact is that, for the most part, these folks are not fearful either. They are angry – and generally not at the immigrants. They are angry at the economic and political elites who not only ignore their interests and concerns, but dismiss them as being “mean-spirited” or just not smart enough to understand some elitist ivory tower report that insists they are actually better off because of unchecked immigration.
The abuse of the word fear is also emblematic of the whole breakdown of civil political discourse in our society. Fear is an emotion, and emotions will always enter into how people form opinions. But human beings are also capable of rational thought. Reducing any political debate to one negative emotion, all but precludes any sort of constructive resolution – a phenomenon that is evident not just in the immigration debate, but nearly all societal issues.
To paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only thing we have to fear is the reckless misuse of fear itself.