While the trash-talking presidential candidates toy with foul language, they are avoiding a word that needs to be said out loud. It's the taboo four-letter F-word:
Now it is true that real, genuine embodied fear is a healthy warning sign of impending danger. But what is happening in America is something quite different. It is a politically manufactured and media magnified fear that exaggerates some threats and minimizes others. And the method for doing so is not secret. It has been known and studied for more than half a century.
Adolf Hitler's second-in-command, Hermann Goering, explained it in detail in his prison cell n Nuremberg, Germany. Speaking to a psychiatrist, he candidly explained that, when a leader wants to use violence or go to war, "it is always a simple matter to drag the people along."
All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
The German people, among the most civilized and well-educated in Europe, committed genocide. Fear reduced them to sheep.
Today this emotion has become an easy excuse for even the craziest ideas. In our "land of the free and home of the brave," fear enables candidates to advocate "carpet bombing" cities, government surveillance of private emails, or banning all refugees who call themselves Muslim.
Why do candidates get away with calling Mexican immigrants "criminals" and "rapists? Fear.
Why, when our military is larger than the next six countries combined and we want to reduce our national debt, does every candidate favor "rebuilding," which means spending more, on our military? Fear.
But fear not only drives many of the candidates foreign policy proposals; it pervades our communities.
Just remember Tamir Rice, the 12-year old angel-faced boy in Cleveland, Ohio, who was playing with friends outside a recreation center with a toy gun. After an onlooker called 911 to report some kids playing with a "probably fake" gun, police arrived. Within seconds, Tamir Rice lay dead.
As security cameras revealed, when the police officers were only ten feet away from Tamir, he pulled out the toy gun to show the rookie policeman that it was just a toy. But the officer did not shoot him once, or shoot him in the arm. Instead, he shot him twice in the torso. He killed Tamir because, he said, he was afraid.
In Ferguson, Missouri, no doubt Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown seven times, was afraid too. So was officer Erick Gelhaus, who shot 13-year-old Andy Lopez eight times in Santa Rosa, California. (Andy was carrying the same toy gun that Tamir had in his possession.) Even though Gelhaus was an Iraq veteran with ten years experience as gun safety instructor, he too lost control. But he had a compelling defense: he was -- you guessed it -- afraid.
If Tamir and Andy and Michael were the only casualties of the F-word, it would still be a tragedy for those three families and their community. But it is actually a much larger tragedy that affects us all.
Constant fear, bordering on paranoia, floods our muscles with blood, and starves our brain. The result is a populace that is adrenaline-saturated, muscle-bound and dumbed-down. When the adrenal glands are chronically bombarded with fear-based messages, they wear out. Instead of training ourselves for a decades long geopolitical struggle, our fear-primed populace constantly anticipates another terrorist attack. As the election approach, political parties position themselves to benefit from the "fear factor." And, week after week, news programs exploit the fear by hyping potential threats.
So before we destroy ourselves with the F-word, let's replace with the F-word with the V-word: Vigilance.
American needs a citizenry that is watchful, agile and smart. If we became more "alert" and "aware," as the dictionary defines vigilance, we will defend ourselves much more effectively. Vigilance will not only prevent more deaths like Tamir Rice, Andy Lopez and Michael Brown. It will let us all breathe more deeply. It will focus our foreign policy and our defense budget on threats, not partisan advantage or contractor's profits. It will enable us to focus on the real threats to our well-being.
"The only thing we have to fear," said President Roosevelt, "is fear itself." So when candidates stoke your fears -- that your guns will be taken away, your religious freedoms will erode, your children in public schools will be brainwashed, your border will be overrun by terrorists -- be vigilant rather than fearful. If we let ourselves be distracted by bogus dangers, we will miss the real threats.
Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, is the author of The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide.