For nine years we were led by a fearful prime minister, and during the last election he gave us broad hints about who we should fear the most. Not that I am suggesting Mr. Harper was simply being a demagogue and trying to scare us into voting for him. Quite the contrary; I believe he is a genuinely fearful man. In any case, it did him little political good.
It may, however, be far more effective for candidates in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The Republicans, and not just the buffoonish Donald Trump, are playing the fear card with great zeal, and they too leave little doubt about who Americans should most be afraid of.
Unfortunately, this is falling on fertile ground. According to a Pew Research survey, Americans rank terrorism as the major problem facing their country, substantially more important than unemployment, the economy or gun control. Over 80 per cent rate ISIS as the greatest threat to their well-being, almost twice as many as who rate climate change the most serious threat. A Foreign Policy article claims that half of Americans fear they or a loved one will become a victim of terrorism. This is, of course, ridiculous. As the author of the article points out, "in a typical year, more Americans are killed by cows than by Islamic terror attacks." (She didn't say if the cows were Christian or Muslim.)
Irrational fear is dangerous. It's dangerous for Americans and it's dangerous for the rest of us. It's dangerous for them because, quite aside from what it might mean for their Muslim citizens, it leads them to undermine their own freedoms. A solid majority of Americans now say the government’s anti-terrorism policies do not go far enough to protect the country rather than that they have gone too far in restricting civil liberties.
And it's dangerous for the rest of us because a frightened America is a more belligerent America, and that means more military aggression, more death and destruction, and more hostility toward the West. A solid majority of Americans believe that President Obama isn't tough enough on foreign policy and national security while almost half say the use of overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world. A frightened America could demand greater militarism from their next president or even elect one of the Republican warmongers.
These disturbing sentiments may not differ all that much from those of Canadians. Fortunately, however, Harper's damage to Canadians' privacy and civil rights should now at the very least be mitigated. As for our international posture, unlike the U.S. Canada can make only limited mischief and, in any case, we now have a government less fearful of the world around us.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once told his fellow Americans that they had nothing to fear but fear itself. They, and we, are now very much in need of a new FDR to remind them.