The decision to pull the planned Christmas- day showing of The Interview is just one more illustration of the degree to which our nation, our society, and our psyches have been captured by fear. We have, quite simply, become a nation of wusses, to borrow a phrase used by my former boss Ed Rendell as the title of his book. And that characterization is generous and does little justice to the level of disgust this decision has engendered in me.
Our collective inability to stand tall in the face of threats, real or imagined, lies at the heart of the dysfunctional funk that currently smothers American individualism and the can-do attitude that those of us in the baby-boom generation were weaned on. We need to get over it, buckle up the proverbial chin straps and refuse to allow cyber-hackers, terrorists, out of touch politicians, and out of control authorities dictate the boundaries of our freedom and liberties.
Fear has ignited the raging inferno that smolders just beneath the surface of American society today. Fear is a powerful motivator and has been used with pernicious effectiveness on a number of political fronts throughout history. But the penultimate event that punctured the national psyche was the attack on September 11, 2001. Our sense of global dominance and moral superiority was severely damaged that day and I would argue has never been repaired. And it is reflected daily in our collective decisions to look the other way as civil liberties have given way to national security and public safety.
Plato said "we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." Our society and its leaders have been blinded by the shining light of bigotry and hatred that has always been with us but seems to have made a resurgence since the aborted victories of the 1960's. We avert our eyes by locking people up. Mass incarceration is the tool of choice and a sinister attempt to justify our refusal to combat the issue head-on can be found in the cries of "reverse racism" that have gained currency over the past several decades.
Today we live in abject fear of change, any change. We fear a change in the economic paradigm that powers and subsequently is killing our world; namely, a fossil-fuel driven economy that is rapidly choking our air, poisoning our ecosystem, threatening our water supplies, and damaging the health of our citizens. We fear the changing demographics that are reshaping our communities. We fear immigrants, terrorists, diseases, education, science, transparency, public debate, and saddest of all the civil liberties that for two centuries have distinguished us from other nations. We fear our government, and religions that are foreign to us.
FDR uttered the prophetic words in his first inauguration that the only thing we had to fear was... fear itself. Today that rings as true as it did over eight decades ago. We have assiduously sacrificed domestic affairs for an increasingly aggressive and devastating military infrastructure. Instead of rebuilding roads, bridges, sewers and public transit systems we have devised more effective and efficient killing machines. In the process we have become the most dreaded and feared military power humankind has ever known. We have not only internalized fear but are busy exporting it to others.
The incredibly vast chasm created by historic income inequality represents a shift back towards the Gilded Age. Voter resentment is reflected in historically low participation rates and is aided and abetted by an expansive voter suppression effort across three dozen states. And a crisis in confidence in our governmental leaders and institutions is actively exploited by private sector titans who operate off the principle that the best labor is cheap labor and the cheapest labor system ever devised is slavery.
We are more than a broken system, we are a dangerously unbalanced one and the absence of leaders willing to extoll dramatic prescriptions for restoring balance in all aspects of society is what we ought to fear most. What is needed most is an inspiring leader willing to do what most political advisors would consider political suicide; namely, call it as he/she sees it with little regard for the potential outcome. That is the way America should deal with the uncertainty that fuels fear.
For the sake of future generations we must muster the courage to face our fears and in the great American tradition accept the challenge they offer by prevailing over them rather than succumbing to their taunts. But just as importantly, spreading fear abroad can be as damaging to our strength and resolve as succumbing to it here at home. Our goal as the world's leading democracy must be to spawn respect not fear and until we change the calculus upon which our public policies are based we will continue to slide backwards.