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Fear and Loathing in the U.S.

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


People are tired and frightened.

Yeah, we always are. People are more than usually tired and frightened.

We are tired of the often vicious hyperpartisanship. In polls, folks of all political persuasions loathe congress and desperately wish to cool off the red-hot partisanship.

Part of that is the viciousness. Folks who blame Donald Trump for that are not facing the whole picture. Sure, he’s exacerbated things; but it started while he was still just gouging tenants and workers around New York.

The base for most hatred, in our personal lives and our politics, is fear. A radio station once gave me a manual for talk radio. It said success required making your audience fear someone, then convincing them that you are the only one who can save them from what they fear. That creates devoted listeners.

Fear is part of us. We come into this busy, complex world yowling, clueless about our surroundings, and helpless. For a long time we’re children, dimly aware (until about 16, when we know everything) of how little we really understand. Our parents protect us, but necessarily teach us we need protection. (The many parents who abuse their kids, psychologically and otherwise, wreak more acute havoc.) Schools, particularly high school, exacerbate our fears: not too sure who we are yet, we get reminded how inadequate we are by other kids whose inner fears have led them to band together and reassure themselves by harassing or bullying those they can.

As adults, we may (or may not!) have comfort zones: family, workplace, bowling or bridge club, church, mosque or synagogue, reading group. Beyond those, the world feels dangerous. Free exploration of ideas may also feel dangerous, or just be something we lack time and patience for. So, more and more, we rely too much on political party or blogger or journalist. As we chose an allegiance in school, or as prisoners do, we become Republican or Democrat, or some subgroup treat not just overtly political issues but all issues, one of two ways: learn what X thinks and shout it; or learn what Y thinks and shout the opposite. In one move, we express loyalty to the group and proclaim to the world (and our inner voices) “No, I’m not lost and confused!!”

Ethnic hatreds are part of that. Considerably less so, I hope and believe, than in my youth. But the problem is wider: those who see things differently, do things differently, believe differently are dangerous. Fear is foolish, but powerful.

How can we push for the reasonably non-partisan and civil world we want? Push ourselves in that direction. Listen to folks we disagree with. Talk to everyone. Start with a smile, because you’re contacting a fellow human being. Recognize how much you each love your children, New Mexico desert, the Organ Mountains, and the sports, arts, hobbies, or causes to which you devote yourselves. Those children have different names, carpentry isn’t oil-painting, people ride horses, dirt-bikes, or bicycles, you pet a dog or a cat, but you both feel the same. You both want a better and more peaceful world, particularly for those children.

Find those common points. Laugh. Appreciate each other. Truly see each other. Then talk about Biden and Trump in that context. Not as antagonists, but fellow humans seeking the best course.

I hardly find anyone who can’t share a laugh, a sunset, or a ballgame, or teach me something.

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.