The first question you may have is most likely “Gosh Drew, what the heck is ‘fear-mongering’?”. Well, good people of the internet, Google defines it as “the deliberate arousing of public fear or alarm about a particular issue”. However, the much more informative Urban Dictionary defines ‘fear-mongering’ as “what Republicans use to fight terrorism and what Democrats use to fight global warming”. So basically, it is how politicians inspire public interest. They trigger fear as a highly motivating and extremely influential factor in voting. The mode in which politicians spread fear is by using propaganda.
Now, how to spot fear mongering!!!! Learn up folks.
Long long ago in a galaxy far far away from reality, one small seemingly harmless little Austrian boy named Adolf Hitler grew up to be one of the most charismatic and hateful men to ever live. Now young Hitler knew of poverty and the strife it caused, so when the Germans were defeated in World War I and plunged into economic and social turmoil he offered the German people what appeared to be a solution (even though many from within the German Worker’s Party felt he was unqualified to do so). Hitler used all forms of media including radio, film, art, the press, music, books, and theater to spread his message centered around fear of outsiders and the elite state of the Nazi Party. This specific propaganda painted a world where the best Germany was one that was exclusively owned and operated by Germans. Its purpose was to “elicit political loyalty and race consciousness” say the experts at the USHMM. Hitler preached anti-immigration and racism. The Nazi Party illustrated certain groups of people as the root cause of economic woes and social issues. Hitler spread fear in the hearts of the German people which caused a deep social divide.
Fact: we have been taught in school that mass genocide and devastation are a bad thing. We have also been taught that Hitler is a bad guy, and not the funny kind like Dr. Evil. However, his methods are not so dissimilar from politicians of today, playing on fear to sway people into backing a certain agenda. There are two prime examples of this sort of politicking that are extremely relevant today.
The recent Brexit “Vote Leave” campaign, spearheaded by Nigel Farage, to leave the EU was founded on fear and nostalgia (a very powerful combination). History teaches us that at one point in time the UK was so dominant and vast that “the sun never set on the British Empire”. This kind of extensive power leaves a sour taste in the mouths of the power hungry when it is taken away. The emotionally charged campaign slogan for “Vote Leave” was “Put the Great back in “Great Britain”. The champions of “Vote Leave” attributed the root cause of this epic fall from greatness to be an influx of immigration mandated by the EU, not the Spanish Armada or the transfer of Hong Kong back to China. Farage decided wage stagnation was due to immigrants stealing jobs from British blue collar workers. Furthermore, that these same immigrants were taking advantage of the social services paid for by the English tax payer. Now, despite all the most knowledgeable economists weighing in and coming to the clear decision that leaving the EU will in all likelihood send the UK into an immediate recession, the irrational fear that the British were not in control of their own destiny and that their country was being overrun by immigrants won out in the voting booths. Reason was drowned out by the tidal wave of fear-mongering rhetoric and propaganda used.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign first gained speed when he accused Mexico of sending us their “criminals, drug-dealers, and rapists” and that the United States should in fact build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Now the only two other famous walls that come to mind are the Berlin Wall (divided a nation) and the Great Wall of China (built by slaves)… Anyway, Trump has continued to use similar divisive tactics by citing outrageous statistics regarding immigrants such as “The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.” This statement simply does not hold up under scrutiny, The Washington Post describes it as yet “another cherry-picker number”. In his nomination acceptance speech Trump painted what NPR described as a “dystopian” reality. He opted for an eleventh-hour-before-the-apocalypse-esque speech founded upon erroneous statistics regarding crime rates and police deaths. Trump’s strategic rhetoric “turned his white supporter’s fear into a weapon”, as stated by Vox, capitalizing on economic and social anxieties to foster support for his run at a spot in the oval office.
But why is fear so powerful? Psychologists link the effects of fear with survival instincts that have adapted from preserving life to maintaining a certain lifestyle. Fear in the times of early man was the driving force in what kept the species alive and kept them from hanging out with saber-toothed cats and running over the edge of cliffs. However, instead of big animals and heights, humanity is afraid of change and the unknown. This is why politician often employ campaign strategies that capitalize on people’s biggest fears. Voting is a far more emotional decision than previously thought to be; that is precisely why fear-mongering and doomsday rhetoric is being used too frequently. It is not a new tactic but it is one that is here to stay. Guard yourselves against it and make sure when you hit the voting booths you are armed with accurate knowledge and not frightening specious statistics.