Fear Trumps

In my novel A Change in the Weather, the United States elects a right-wing Christian Dominionist, Roland Strauch, as president in 2016 after a terrorist attack on US soil.

Two years later, the last of the summer Arctic sea ice disappears, and the atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere undergoes a fundamental shift. That causes agriculture to collapse, followed by the economy. Fear grows, and Strauch is granted extraordinary powers, essentially becoming a dictator.

Most moderate observers expect Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and all the other anti-immigrant demagogues who have bubbled up in the Republican primary race this election cycle to fade into history. The majority of Americans will see them for what they are, they say: irrational bigots and hate-mongers whose “policy” statements are pure reaction (“I would bomb the hell out of ISIS“). (We already are bombing the hell out of ISIS and, as Paris shows, they can still pull off dastardly acts despite it.)

But after the horror in Paris, not only do Republican candidates want to randomly bomb Arab countries (I guess that’s what that means), they want to create registries for Muslims and to reject Syrian war refugees—and aren’t even embarrassed at the obvious historical parallels with the Nazis’ registration of the Jews or the United States’ own internment of ethnic Japanese in World War Two.

But more disturbing is that a majority of Americans are okay with at least some of these ideas.

Robert Reich is circulating a petition that urges various leaders to repudiate Trump’s hate speech. His point is well-taken. If these fear-driven statements aren’t challenged, they gain legitimacy, as the poll cited above show. Fear trumps.

But while the crackpot statements aren’t truly legitimate, peoples’ fear is, and should be acknowledged without mockery. Frank Bruni’s piece in the New York Times makes the case that President Obama must “explain, with gravity and respect, why certain courses of action would be imprudent and how they’d contradict the very American principles that we intend to be a stirring example to the world,” and not just accuse people of “popping off.”

I signed Reich’s petition. We are a better people than to refuse refuge for true war victims. And it’s far easier for terrorists to get into this country by other means than posing as refugees—using student and travel visas, for instance, which worked for the perpetrators of 9/11.

But the refugee process had better be damned sure no terrorist can use our own good will against us. It will be bad enough if we have a terrorist attack in this country on the scale of Paris, especially if Obama and other leaders haven’t continually countered statements from Republican leaders that paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush. I trust that all is being done to keep such an attack from happening.

But if it does, it will be very, very bad if any of the perpetrators sneaked in disguised as refugees. The Republicans would lay that at the feet of the Democrats, and that could hand the Republicans the presidency. It probably wouldn’t be Trump or Carson. My bet would be on someone far more formidable, and who has federal experience: Senator Ted Cruz. Who happens to be a Dominionist.

If Cruz or another of these bellicose Republicans win, the fight against climate change—which is a big contributor to the situation in Syria—is all but over. The most rational Republican would back-burner it. The most hardcore, like Cruz, already regard it as a liberal plot against American sovereignty. The fight against climate change would in fact be blamed for helping to make America “weak” by having redirected investment away from fossil fuels and having opened up the country to the influence of the United Nations.

A Republican presidency in this awful scenario would be all terrorism, all the time, and anybody who had other priorities would be labeled a traitor.

It would be the beginning of a dark downward spiral of militarization, ethnic and religious discrimination, conflict, extraordinary presidential powers, surveillance, and restricted freedoms. As the climate grows more unstable, throw in weather disasters and a weakening economy. All of which would stoke the fear that would drive even more of the same.

As happens in my novel.



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