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'Fear itself' is now America’s great problem

fear panic
Unsplash/ Tonik

On March 4, 1933, incoming President Franklin Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous inaugural addresses in history.  The nation had plunged into what became known as the Great Depression, with unemployment skyrocketing, banks failing, and despair and fear gripping the nation.  At the start of the Great Depression on October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), roughly 16 million shares of stock were sold on the New York Stock exchange, bankrupting thousands of investors.  The economy worsened through 1933. News sources continually highlighted and hyped the catastrophe and fed further fears, paralyzing the economy.  Roosevelt famously warned Americans: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm believe that the only thing we have to fear is…. fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  After the last two years of hyperbolic fear-peddling causing panic and paralysis, it’s time we listened to Roosevelt’s exhortation. 

Similar to the consequences of Black Tuesday, the COVID-19 epidemic was a shock to the system. The last nationwide epidemic, the Spanish Flu, occurred over a century ago and was overshadowed by World War I.  In the century since the Spanish Flu, scientists had been able to prevent epidemics from ravaging America. Generations lived without pandemics, and during that time Americans developed profound faith in scientists to control any outbreaks within the nation’s borders.  COVID-19 shattered that complacency.  Faith in scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci remained high in early 2020, and most Americans accepted the initial shut-downs and quarantines.  The rationale for the first temporary shut-down was to “flatten the curve” and prevent a spike of infections medical resources could not handle. This quickly morphed into semi-permanent shut-downs and mandates, causing division between those worried about the loss of Constitutionally protected freedom and those worried solely about the perceived dangers of COVID-19.

Vaccines appeared to offer a way out of COVID-19, but then Americans learned COVID could still spread by the vaccinated. In the early stages of the vaccine, many scientists and media allies promised the vaccine would stop the spread of COVID.  Additionally, the vaccines were to end the masking requirements, but that also quickly fell apart. In many “Blue” states, businesses and schools that had opened were again closed. On top of the persistent fear of COVID and the rising despair and fear of the future, other fears and divisions were being exacerbated.  After over six months of left-wing rioting throughout various parts of the nation over George Floyd, the January 6 riot hit the Capitol. After January 6, Democrat pundits and supporting media warned of a national right-wing conspiracy.  That didn’t transpire, but the fear-mongering about January 6 continues. Progressive media and even Democrat-aligned retired flag officers demonize tens of millions of Americans who voted for Trump.

Like what Roosevelt described, the current fear is “unreasoned, unjustified terror,” completely disproportionate to the alleged threats. According to WebMD, the first and only COVID Omicron variant death was not reported until December 24 (the same day the CDC claimed Omicron made up 73% of the new COVID cases). The data shows the new variant to be relatively benign, and potentially helpful to fighting off COVID through the antibodies generated.  Many scientists have noted the much higher infection rates with Omicron, while also noting the potential beneficial effects. Disregarding the facts about Omicron, many in the mainstream media continue hyping up an alleged catastrophic horror.  Multiple polls have shown mainstream media viewers to believe COVID death rates and hospitalization rates are well beyond the actual numbers.  This dynamic brings overreactions like closing schools, transportation, and business. Disproportionate mandates cause not only paralysis but social and economic harm (which correlates with physical harm and death). 

The same type of “unreasoned, unjustified terror” creeps into the fear-mongering about fellow citizens. The political left and supporting media have ratcheted hyperbole about conservatives being an alleged “threat to democracy” and even a terror threat.  Vice President Kamala Harris claimed her greatest fear about national security is this alleged conservative threat to democracy.  Three Democrat-leaning retired flag officers, including MG Paul Eaton, a perennial left-wing MSNBC commentator, went so far as to opine in The Washington Post, “we are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.” That statement is ridiculous, considering, “The FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn (the election).”  There was no “coup” attempt on January 6, so retired generals, of all people, should not claim to be “chilled to the bone” about one in 2024.

Our nation has spent almost two years being “chilled to the bone” by fear-mongering. Fear is killing us and must stop. During previous times of national emergency, America put its ultimate faith in God and kept fear under control with faith. In 1933, Roosevelt reminded Americans of that characteristic defining our success and demanded we shed fear. Our nation is fraying, but we can come back. “If” we can shed our fear and put our primary faith in God.

Bill Connor, a retired Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book Articles from War.

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