When we sift through the wreckage of the past year, much of the debris we uncover is rooted in fear that’s quite reasonable, a natural response to the pandemic double-edged sword offered by the limitations it proscribes: Remain sequestered only to find your risk-free isolation eventually becomes maddening; defy the guidelines and your apprehension of the very people, places and things that once furnished comfort, goes into overdrive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests with a second vaccine shot we’re “safe to travel,” hastily adding, “but don’t,” generating more confusion and consequently, more fear.
Fear is an ancient emotion characterized by biochemical and emotional responses, powerfully alerting us to danger or the threat of harm. Psychological or physical, real or imagined, even caused by a mental condition like panic or anxiety disorders, fear can be the most compelling motivation or a debilitating paralysis.
Isolation for long periods of time can be a precursor of social anxiety when trying to reconnect with friends — leaving family members after being so close for so long can lead to separation anxiety, and studies of previous economic downturns find job loss is associated with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem and could lead to higher rates of substance abuse and even suicide. It is unlikely that these fears will dissipate any time soon since it appears we are still a long way from normal and might not recognize it when we get there.
As if COVID-19 weren’t enough, we’ve had multiple factors to contend with since February 2020: A long overdue racial reckoning initiated by white supremacists openly marching in Charlottesville and the horrifying murder in plain sight of George Floyd; a disgracefully consistent, self-serving corruption of lies from the White House that caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths and political upheaval culminating with an attack on democracy not seen for more than a century.
Each of these situations on its own is sufficient to generate widespread terror but together, they coalesce, permeating the culture with a deepening dread that threatens to linger, even as we ever so slowly climb back into our old lives. But while Democrats push Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure initiative toward fruition only weeks after passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the other political party sees an opportunity of a different sort. Rather than even so much as acknowledge our national malaise of anxiety and commit to do something about it, congressional Republicans instead cling to their comfort zone, convincing Americans to be even more fearful of things that are either not very frightening or completely non1existent.
What’s funny about their taking this route is their apparent cluelessness. They don’t realize their sky-is-falling warnings are far less threatening to a population more likely to yawn at the suggestion Democrats are “coming for the suburbs,” MS-13 will be moving in next door or either socialism or Sharia law will soon be imposed on an unsuspecting populace.
Best of all is the the GOP fabrication of their status as “deficit Hawks,” which is only true when Democrats are in charge and legislation is earmarked to help people who actually need help. They unanimously voted “no” to COVID-19 relief, which will help millions impacted by the pandemic, citing it would “explode the deficit” as though voters have forgotten Republican’s own fiscal demolition of the deficit with their 2017 tax cut primarily benefiting the wealthy and corporations. They’ve pulled this bait-and-switch so many times it’s insulting to think the country hasn’t caught on by now.
Even as the relief bill was making its way toward passage, GOP stalwarts continued complaining it was a blue state bailout that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, pay people not to work, make food stamps more widely available and provide some benefits even “illegals” might receive. But however solid the congressional opposition, polls tell a far different story with broad public support (over 70%) of the measure, including 41% of Republicans and right-leaning independents.
It’s possible that, after decades of their anti-everything except adding to the wealth of people who don’t need it agenda, the Republican Party is completely out of ideas and pushing the panic button because they can feel their party, as well as their constituency, beginning to implode. In the 5 months since Election Day, they’ve remained unable or unwilling to create a platform; come up with a philosophy or even generate a list of objectives for potential voters to consider. There’s no “this is what we’ll do” in their message, only a pathetic amplification of their usual cultural demons designed to frighten people who are way over it.
Guess what? Most of us have experienced real fear and resent the GOP’s feeble attempts to serve up more of the same. No one with a shred of intelligence is afraid of threats presented by trans kids or Asian-Americans, or the right to vote, or Jewish space lasers, or blood-drinking, child-murdering Democrats, or common sense gun-safety legislation. You know who’s really afraid? Republicans. They’re frightened to death that they’ve given their party away, lock, stock and barrel and might never get it back. Moribund in their position because they’re as frightened as they’d like their constituents to be, their paralysis arrives courtesy of the vengeful Florida Nanny, ready to slap their hands if they misbehave or make even the tiniest nudge toward rationality.
Finally, when fear rules the day, the day quickly becomes ridiculous as it has in Alabama. In this Southern GOP stronghold, where yoga instruction in PE class has been prohibited since 1993, the state Board of Education has steadfastly maintained that the gentle stretching of youthful tendons is “the Hindu Religion” and God forbid, we don’t want our children to become Hindu. Efforts to “de-Hindu” the practice into acceptability failed in the state Senate last month.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.