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Selling The Politics Of Fear: Are You Buying?

Updated on July 24, 2011
Jon Stewart selling Fear!
Jon Stewart selling Fear!

Fear Is The Real Enemy! It Is The Most Valuable Political Commodity!

It has been said that fear is the most powerful enemy of reason. The idea that a nightmare could come true? That you could lose your life? That your family could be killed in an instant? Your way of life destroyed? Your home, job, possessions may disappear?

These are all nightmares that none of us ever want to see materialize! The mere thought that any of these things could happen can cause such anxiety, that we react irrationally in an effort to end the nightmare. How far do you go to stop the nightmare? What are you willing to give up in exchange for ending the nightmare? To feel safe? Do you give up your freedom? Your rights? Your honor? Your entire basic system of beliefs and your sense of ethics?

When someone portrays themselves as the political savior; convincing you that they alone can protect you from the things you fear the most, they can motivate you to act against your best interests.

The politics of fear involve buying and selling. Fear is a valuable commodity! The politician sells the fear. You, the voter, buy the product: THE CANDIDATE THAT WILL SAVE YOU!

Your purchase, however, comes with strings attached. You may pay a high price to be saved. The purchase price can be so high that the fear becomes the smaller of your nightmares. When a politician holds your safety in his hands, or leads you to believe that they do, they are effectively holding you hostage.

Frightened By A Perceived Threat, Real Or Imagined

According to licensed clinical social worker, Nancy Bradbury, fear produces anxiety. The anxiety then leaves people open to suggestion, even if the suggestion is illogical.

In the current climate of lost jobs and an unstable economy, plus the ever present unseen terrorist, more are willing to be persuaded. According to Bradbury, it becomes "anything to reduce the anxiety". So, it is easy to see that politicians can capitalize on fear and use fear as a way to win elections and change government policies. The opportunity to use fear has existed throughout history and has played an important role in almost all major government policy.

Most recently, in the United States, fear has been widespread. Fear is instilled because people are afraid of the unknown and of the future. What MIGHT happen becomes the great motivator. Bradbury states, "Fear is always of the future, based on the prediction of future events, almost like brainwashing."

In the last ten years, fear has centered around several things and they have all produced anxiety. Some of those fears are:

  • enemies, either foreign or domestic, that terrorize and kill
  • war
  • illegal immigration and immigrants
  • the economic collapse of the country
  • foreclosures
  • unemployment
  • looming poverty, especially for seniors and retirees

And as always, the fear divides us.

Promoting The Fear And Selling Us The Ones Who Can Save!

When a candidate for public office capitalizes on the psychology of fear, he or she stokes the fires. They isolate the fear and then make the consequences of ignoring those consequences sound even more frightening, even more dangerous.

They become the experts! They make bold statements, usually beginning with the words, "I have the solution." Their sales pitch always contains one or all of the following elements. " It will take a great leader to bring this country back to glory. I am that leader; the one that you can lean on, the one and only. Come, follow me! Together we will fight the enemy and restore this great country to what it was intended to be. Believe in me!"

It almost sounds as if the candidate is a great prophet. And the greatest of prophets are always too willing to sacrifice themselves for you, for your very survival.

Slick campaign ads, designed to make the other guy look like part of the problem or even the cause of the problem, become an integral part of the brainwashing process. Brainwashing is an important factor in the sale. Predicting dire consequences are also a factor. Those two things combined with just the right words will motivate and inspire the weak-minded to believe and follow, often without question.

While Bradbury hesitated to speak of poorly educated constituents because she did not want to offend anyone, she said, "The less-educated are more willing to believe lies and are easier to brainwash." That is precisely what fear mongers hope! They are not necessarily looking for an educated constituency; they are looking to make a sale.

There are several times in recent history that fear has prompted the American people to do something irrational.

  • The threat of terrorism, coupled with the fear of a nuclear weapons attack prompted our government to attack another country. That country was Iraq.

Presented with false evidence, very few Americans were against the invasion of Iraq. Very few were against the toppling of the leaders of that country. Fear was the motivator. Anyone who spoke up against this war was called traitor, unAmerican and worse. The dissenters knew that the reasoning behind the invasion was flawed and by speaking out, they became pariahs.Yet, very few today would call those who dissented those same names. The fear was unfounded. The war was without just cause.

  • The fear of terrorism has also had the American people standing in line, willing to give up their freedoms, promoting the Patriot Act as a way of defending themselves against the fear. Save us at any price, is the mantra. Take our rights, just save us from the enemy.

In the last century, America has not fared well when we examine the politics of fear. In almost every instance, we find a scapegoat; someone to blame. Then we seek to remove the threat, incarcerate the threat, legislate against the threat, do anything necessary to rid ourselves of the threat.

  • During World War II, the United States succumbed to the politics of fear when they created internment camps for American citizens of Japanese descent. Almost 120,000 were removed from their homes and sent to 10 camps that were referred to by President Franklin Roosevelt as "concentration camps". Half of those held in the internment camps were children, American children.

According to Michi Weglyn, author of "Children of the Camps, "...Executive Order 9066 was justified as a "military necessity" to protect against domestic espionage and sabotage. However it was later documented that our government had in its possession proof that not one Japanese American, citizen or not, had engaged in espionage, not one had committed any act of sabotage."

One of the most remembered and profound quotes in all of history was that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he said in his first inaugural address, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" Yet, it was Roosevelt himself, who signed Executive Order 9066.

  • In the 1950's, the enemy was Communism. The fear of government infiltration and possible government takeover was what prompted the McCarthy hearings. Innocent people were sent to prison; some people were never able to find work again. Even the entertainment industry was targeted. Once labeled a Communist, the victim's life was ruined.

These incidents demonstrate politics of fear at its worst. The incidents also demonstrate just how submissive we become, how weak-minded, completely blind to actual reality.

The Politics Of Fear In The Next Presidential Election!

While fear is exploited by political parties and candidates, irrational fear is often pursued and sold more vociferously by one side of the political aisle. In the 2012 elections, fears will be exploited. There will be no boundaries.

We saw it yesterday, we see it today and we will see it tomorrow. The only question:

Will you be buying?


Submit a Comment

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    7 years ago from California, USA

    Thank you, Fay!

    This was a hard one to write. The fear is so prevalent and seems to rule every conversation; most of it is irrational and yes, the masters on the selling side are very, very adept!

  • profile image

    Fay Paxton 

    7 years ago

    Excellent hub, Jillian. Whatever else they are and the list is endless, they are masters of propaganda. I am amazed at their ability to lie with abandon, no apologies and convince so many they are truthful and right. I understand that people want something to believe in...but damn!

    up/useful and awesome

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    7 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Chef,

    I was afraid of the USSR. We used to have drills, hiding under our desks at school. That was our 'protection' for when the godless Communists attacked us with their nuclear weapons. I think of it now and wonder who dreamt up that one. The GOP is better at fear. They do not care if what they say sounds outrageous. They say it anyway.

    Here is a link to the dip- Would not dream to put it on your site. Check it out! I would love your thoughts!

    Dear Credence2,

    Dutch Schultz may not have been an Italian mobster, but he was right! People are dumb! Much like that little 5th grader hiding under her desk for protection!

  • Credence2 profile image


    7 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

    Yes, indeed Jillian, fear the real enemy ignorance and deceit by those that want to nfluence your decisions based upon fear. As you say, people need to engage in critical thinking and evaluate what their being told as compared to reality on the outside. I guess we can always hope.... It may have been the 1930's mobster Dutch Schultz that said that "People are Dumb". Hardly profound but quite accurate.

  • chefsref profile image

    Lee Raynor 

    7 years ago from Citra Florida

    Excellent as usual Jillian. I remember as a kid being afraid of the "Red Chinese," then Nixon went to China and we didn't have to be afraid anymore. Fear is the most primal instinct and politicians know all too well how to use it and us to reach their own ends. Conservatives seem to be better at fear mongering, I think because they do it from the subconscious level of us against them. Gay, Blacks, Muslims and so on are all different from us and they are to be feared and put in their place. These fears are just racism washed clean and packaged as conservatism for public consumption. Progressives are more hard pressed to elicit fear of Wall Street, big business or pollution but we do have the loss of Medicare and Social Security to give our side a boost. (with the help of Paul Ryan and the republican party)

    Up and awesome


  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    7 years ago from California, USA

    If you want to laugh for a minute, go take a look at one I have just posted! The subject is not funny, but the two videos are so funny! Maybe just my warped sense of humor?

    Better to laugh than be fearful all day!

  • PETER LUMETTA profile image


    7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

    Beautiful essay Jillian and 100% right on, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". I believe this train of thought is a bit much for the average teabagger to understand. Religion is also based on fear, fear of God, fear of Hell, fear of the devil, etc. Without fear they would hardly funtion just like politics. Rality and logic don't move the masses half as much as FEAR. And I'm afraid I have said all I can on that subject. Thanks, Peter

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    7 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Minnetonka Twin,

    Thank you for reading this and commenting! People really have to start thinking for themselves. Taking the time, instead of relying on others. It might make a difference...

    Dear Stump, I agree and believe that you are right. Organized religion many times puts blinders on people, so they don't think. It is an excuse. To say I believe this because of God is nuts. i apologize to those that I offend, but if there is a God, He would want people to think, assuming that is what He gave them a brain for. All holy books are not to be taken literally- I think I am a spiritual person. I believe in God- I do not go to church. I don't like the hypocrisy. I try to be good to others and try to treat people well, because that is what my sense of right and wrong tells me to do. So many who rely on the Bible just pick and choose what the convenient parts of the Bible tell them, or what their preacher says. They never delve into the parts they disagree with and never doubt anything they are told.

    And no, you cannot fight with an evangelical. Nothing is important, especially not education. That might make them think and might take them away from God. He is the only important thing in their lives. It is crazy!

  • Stump Parrish profile image

    Stump Parrish 

    7 years ago from Don't have a clue, I'm lost.

    What luck for rulers that men don't think...Adolph Hitler

    You hit on one of the biggest problems facing this country...The lack of people who actually know how to think. Our educational system has been declining for decades and I for one don't think this is unintentional. The results are plain to see if one actually has the ability to look. In my opinion a large part of the problem is the growing power of organized religion. Christians are taught every day to ignore the facts about our world. They dismiss the scientist that claims the earth is older than 6000 years. If the scientist is wrong about this they must be wrong about everything. I have used this example before but I think it is relevent to the last statement. While discussing the age of the earth with a good friend, I asked him what he was using as proof that the planet was about 6000 years old. He stated that he believed in god and that was all the proof he needed. This indicated to me that he would disbelieve anything that differed from what his 60 year old sunday school teacher stated. Here in the south education has never been a high priority or of a decent quaility. How else can you explain the mentality an 8th grade dropout who knows in his or her heart that they know more about science or American history than those who have spent their life studying these subjects. Stupid is as Dtupid does should be America's motto. Great blog, voted up and awesome.

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    7 years ago from Minnesota

    What a great job you did writing on this topic. Very informative and something that people really need to think about. It is amazing what fear can do, just look at your examples. Scary stuff.


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