The Fear Factor

Fear is a great motivator.

In 2015, Trump descended from on high riding his golden escalator. He stepped down from his palatial perch in Trump Tower with a singular message for America: fear. America is not great. Immigrants are not welcome. Your political opponent is the enemy at best and a criminal at
worst. The news is fake. The American Dream is dead.

The answer? Donald J. Trump is going to Make America Great Again.

Donald Trump hit the American political scene with blunt force. The elite were appalled. The media was dismissive. The forgotten man and woman were enthralled. “This guy really gets it,” and, “He speaks to me,” they said.

No, he understands fear is a great motivator.

Trump is not responsible for the fear. Donald Trump mastered the art of exploiting the fear. Before, the fear was mostly unspoken and dormant, a product of the human mind in any era, a sort of currency that has been manufactured by patriarchs, profiteers, and politicians.

Harmless. Right?

In 2016, Trump harnessed the power of fear. America’s most universal pre-existing condition. Festering just under the surface of our psyche.

Trump repackaged it, promoted it, and profited from it.

It was the fear of the Clintons, the fear of the swamp, the fear of the deep state, the fear of the diminishing American Dream, and the fear of the unknown. Remember, it was Donald Trump who told Black America, “What the hell do you have to lose?” He created the fear that they would somehow miss an opportunity for something they had long been denied in America. A chance.

This was a choreographed and scripted fear that melded reality TV and American politics.

It wasn’t the message of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Nothing to fear but fear itself.”

No, he exploited, expanded, and legitimized our most primal fears. Now, these fears are untethered from reality. Like children, we are afraid of the dark and wonder what is lurking under the bed.

In 2020, every Democratic voter and anti-Trump voter has 2016 PTSD. They cannot believe the polls. They are afraid of the unknown, afraid of the possibility of four more years of a Trump presidency, and afraid he will not accept the outcome if he loses. On the other hand, Trump supporters are afraid that 2016 really was a fluke. They cannot believe the polls. They are afraid of the unknown. They cannot imagine the next four years without a Trump presidency. And if Trump loses, it was stolen. To concede anything less is to concede to their greatest fear of all: America is changing.

Democrats believe they are losing when they are winning, and Trump voters believe they are winning when they are really losing. Fear is driving both conclusions. Democrats are afraid to feel optimistic. Trump voters are afraid to feel pessimistic.

Fear is a shy motivator.

Here is my experience with the shy voter this election. The voter that may be hesitant to reveal his/her intentions. His name is Tory. He lives just down the road from me. He stopped me the other day during my evening walk and introduced himself. I am glad that he did because we had a great conversation. Tory is a white man in his mid-thirties. He’s married with two children and one on the way. Tory works for the neighboring school system. He teaches pole vaulting at his home in the evenings and on the weekends. Tory and his wife are religious. Tory voted for Ron Paul in 2012. Super guy.

Like most Americans, Tory and his wife are concerned about COVID, they are homeschooling their children because they are afraid to send them to public school, and they are afraid of what Donald Trump is doing to America.

Tory sent me a picture of his ballot last week. Tory is a Biden supporter.

Fear is a great motivator.

At the most basic level, fear is driving this election. This summer, fear swept over me when I read on Facebook that large groups on foot protesting police brutality should be run over or arrested for blocking traffic. I guess this is only true for Black people protesting the killing of other Black people, but I digress. Fear is irrational and it is this irrationality that is motivating Trump supporters to harass campaign buses, shut down bridges, and block traffic.

Fear is driving a record number of people to the polls. One day before the election, more than 90 million Americans have already cast their vote in the 2020 election. By comparison, in 2008, 129 million people (roughly 57.1% of the VAP) voted in the election between John McCain and Barack Obama; the highest since the 1968 election between Nixon and Humphrey (roughly 60.7% of the VAP).

Incredibly, 2020 is on track to exceed the 60% mark, making it the highest turnout election in over 50 years.

Fear is a great motivator.

Fear has become the unifier and the coalition builder. Not taxes or terrorism. Not walls or welfare. Not foreign policy or fiscal policy.


The unshakeable anxiety that something tectonic will shift based on the outcome of this election.

It feels insurmountable, and it feels real.

Fear is a great motivator.

Malcomb Gladwell writes in David and Goliath: “Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”

Fear is Donald Trump’s greatest strength; it is also his greatest weakness.

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