Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear

Trump’s candidacy relies on the power of fear. It could be the only way for him to win.

.. Overall crime rates may be down, but a sense of disorder is constant.

.. His acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention similarly made clear the extent to which his message revolves around fear. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life,” Trump thundered. “Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country. Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally; some have even been its victims.”

.. But he also, in a more unusual maneuver, summons fear in the abstract: There’s something going on, folks.

.. When back-to-back terror attacks hit Paris in November and San Bernardino in December, he pointed to them as proof that his warnings about Muslims were justified, and voters flocked to him ..

.. Trump’s standing in the polls rose about 7 percentage points in the aftermath of the attacks

.. Trump supporters, recent polling has shown, are disproportionately fearful. They fear crime and terror far more than other Americans; they are also disproportionately wary of foreign influence and social change. (They are not, however, any more likely than other Americans to express economic anxiety.)

.. It is a feedback loop: He stirs up people’s latent fears, then offers himself as the only solution.

.. fear is a handy tool. “Fear is easy,” Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican ad maker, told me recently. “Fear is the simplest emotion to tweak in a campaign ad. You associate your opponent with terror, with fear, with crime, with causing pain and uncertainty.”

.. A majority of Americans now worry that they or their families will be victims of terrorism, up from a third less than two years ago

.. Nearly two-thirds worry about being victims of violent crime. Another poll, by Gallup, found that concern about crime and violence is at its highest level in 15 years.

.. “the psychological management of uncertainty and fear” to be strongly and consistently correlated with politically conservative attitudes.

.. the characteristic most predictive of a person’s political leanings is his or her tolerance for ambiguity. “The more intolerant of ambiguity you are—the more you seek control over your surroundings, certainty, clear answers to things—the more you tend toward conservative preferences,” ..

.. he would bring order and control to a chaotic world.

 .. I really thought this was a rational policy disagreement that was headed toward a logical compromise,” Sharry told me recently. “Now, I see it as deeply cultural. It’s racially charged, it’s tribalism, it’s us-vs.-them. It’s a referendum on the face of globalization,
.. The fearful mind sees immigrants as an invasion force, refugees as terrorists, rising crime as a threat to one’s family, drugs as a threat to one’s children, and social change as a threat to one’s way of life.

.. “Trump speaks to our id, something latent in all of us to different degrees. This is not a political campaign. It’s an identity campaign.”

.. From colonial times to the early 19th century, the pervasive, virulent fear was of Catholics, who were seen as inferior, unassimilable, and in thrall to a foreign dictator (the Pope).

.. The mass immigration of Irish Catholics in the 1830s and 1840s ratcheted up the panic and convulsed American politics, with the Whig Party collapsing and the anti-Catholic nativist Know-Nothing Party briefly becoming America’s second-largest political party.

.. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, is now campaigning on a fear-based appeal of her own—the fear of Trump.

.. as President he would escalate the likelihood of catastrophic violent conflict from without and within, posing a serious threat to the future of the United States,” her team wrote in a memo outlining their findings. This message, they noted, was far more effective than emphasizing Trump’s “misogyny” or depicting his economic record as bad for working people.

.. “Every time Clinton says, ‘Trump is dangerous,’ what people are hearing is, ‘The world is dangerous, it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous,’” she told me. “It just plays into the message of chaos.” And the more chaotic the world feels, the more people may look to Trump for comfort.