10/11/2010 10:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fear Itself, and Why We Should Fear it

There is an impression, widespread and generally accurate, that America is changing. And that impression creates uncertainty, and uncertainty generates fear. The issue is whether our fears are justified.

We are becoming more Latin, Asian, and African-American. White Christians are less dominant. Increasing ethnic diversity changes culture. Movies, music, literature, education, all adapt to reflect a changing society.

International corporations increasingly condition and determine our economy. The U.S. government cannot guarantee American jobs. Jobs go where the money goes. Pass a law that prevents companies from making things elsewhere and the companies will simply relocate. Traditional monetary and fiscal policies don't work anymore as they used to.

All of us Americans are dramatically affected by all this. Seeing your country change around you in ways that neither you nor your elected representatives can prevent is frightening, especially if you are older, white, and conservative by nature. You blame those in power -- the "elites" -- for not stopping this. Find a villain. How about a black president who must be a Muslim born somewhere else. You are frightened, and frightened people easily and naturally become angry people. A century ago we called these Americans "populists". Now they call themselves the "tea party."

Unless you believe these cultural, social, and economic trends can be reversed, that we can somehow magically return to the 1950s of happy days, ways must be found for our nation to absorb these changes and make them "American" as we have during past waves of immigration and cultural diversity. The magic of America exists in this unique capacity to absorb difference and make it come out American.

In the meantime, older, white, conservative Americans should be listened to with respect and encouraged to overcome their fears. It is a law of nature that generations must move on. In a decade or so we will all look back (including me, I hope) on this period as yet another era of transition where the magic of America adjusted to change and made us better. And less afraid.

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