This is the first of several topics we’re doing on the subject of fear. That many Americans are afraid for their futures these days is beyond dispute. Whether they’re focused on the truly most dangerous threats and understand their causes is more debatable.
The public is all over the place in what to dread most. If you google a phrase like, “greatest threats to America” you get a list of fearful articles that focus on a huge variety of external and internal threats and problems: ISIS and illegal immigrants, inequality and Republicans, Obama and the Ebola Zika virus, climate change and the national debt, student loans and economic stagnation. We have talked about many of these before, and a point brought up frequently, including by Aaron and James, was that the American public is being led around by the nose. While the dangers we face from foreign enemies and domestic problems are real, this POV goes, none of them amount to an existential threat to the safety of the United States. Compared to the Great Depression, Nazis, Soviets, urban riots, and a Civil War, today’s problems are minor and manageable.
Yet, there is another point of view. Yes, the 2016 election cycle already is famous for its fear-mongering. To hear the Republican presidential candidates tell it, President Obama has transformed America into a smoking, post-apocalyptic hellhole. Bernie Sanders says we’ve become a democracy in name only and a (non-violent) political revolution is the only way to fix it.
Whichever POV you think is right, if any, consider this: Would such rhetoric resonate if the public were not really worried about our collective future? Today’s list of threats does, after all, include undetterable terrorist networks, record economic inequality maybe coupled with long-term economic stagnation, partisan political paralysis unequaled since the civil war, and potentially catastrophic climate change.
On March 21, our topic will be fear-mongering as a political strategy. For this meeting, I’d like us to focus on how big our fears should be. Does our country really face existential threats to its future, whether external or internal?
Here are some discussion questions for Monday and links to articles that we do NOT face such threats. For more details about specific threats, I’ve linked to our old meetings on some of them.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What threats to America’s safety is the public worried about these days? Does it very by age/ideology/region/etc.?
- Objectively what are the worst external and internal threats to Americans’ safety?
- What is the case to be made that any of these threats pose an existential threat(s) to our nation’s safety? That they don’t?
- If we are overreacting to current dangers, why?
- How good are people at discriminating different threats?
- Are our civic leaders acting responsibly (politicians, news media, etc.)?
- What should our leaders do differently, if anything, to educate Americans about how threatened we are (or aren’t)?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Public opinion on our worst threats. Notice partisan and generational differences.
- Presidential candidates: Who/what each one says is worst threat. Recommended.
- The threats are exaggerated:
- Wrong. The threats are serious, says the official CIA 2016 Foreign Threat Assessment.
FYI, old CivCon Mtgs on need for pessimism:
- Could American democracy unravel? (1/16)
- Which catastrophic events should we worry most about? (2015)
- Are we too pessimistic about USA’s future? (2013) Recommended.
FYI, old CivCon mtgs on specific threats:
- External: ISIS, Al Qaeda, cyber threats, climate change.
- Internal :
Next Week: Dissolving the Glue – Is Americans’ Trust in Each Other Declining?