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The Coward Party

June 14, 2016

I do not know if attaching this label to the Republican Party would be politically effective. Maybe not, and in politics efficacy is all. But at the very least it both true and satisfying. Republicans are always trying to make cowards of us all. They feed on fear. It might be said that Democrats also try to raise fears that suit their politics — I remember the old charge “scaring seniors about Social Security” —  but even when that may be true there is a huge qualitative difference between the two parties’ approach to fear, that goes beyond the opinion, which I hold, that the things Democrats want us to worry about are generally a lot more worth worrying about than the things Republicans want us to worry about. To try to get people concerned enough about an issue that they support ameliorative action is different than stoking the atavistic fears of reaction.

Republicans are not wrong in understanding where there interest lies. There is abundant research, as well as ordinary observation, to show that when people feel that their basic security is threatened they become more politically conservative. There are studies showing that even just being just being reminded of the fact of death has this effect on people. (Though I hope at least some are sensible enough to have the opposite reaction — aware that they must eventually lose everything, they might be all the more eager to approach life in an open-handed, welcoming, generous spirit. Death makes a mockery of misers.)

So fear is the tool of the party, courage the enemy, cowardice the victory. The Coward Party.

Now let me say right here that I am not a brave man. If someone wanted to call me a coward I would find it a bit cruel but I could not actually object to the characterization. So I would not be one to cast stones when it comes to facing fearsome things in a person’s actual lived experience, things like heights, horses, cancer, stinging or biting insects, police officers, children, people who are looking at you, dentistry, clowns, a broken heart or suspicious meat. Faced with such real terrors, I can only sympathize with those whose courage fails them.

But when we talk politics it is a whole different thing. Faced with a homicidal gunman in an enclosed space who among us can be sure we wouldn’t join the coward party, if we were so heartless and arrogant as to attach that label to anyone in that situation?  But just hearing the news about a homicidal gunman in an enclosed space, while eating your breakfast far away in the safety of your home — there is no excuse for spinelessness there, no excuse for panic, no excuse for debasing yourself with ugly emotion and fearful accusation, no excuse for sacrificing principle for the sake of a safety that, in actual fact, you are currently already enjoying. That is the kind of cowardice that I am talking about, and it does not deserve sympathy.

There is a difference between the courage we have as individual organisms and the courage we have as members of a public, as citizens. The different is the second kind is a hell of a lot easier to achieve. There is no excuse for not having it. The biology of fear does not imply a politics of fear. That is something that is created. The Republican party wants to create it.We should not let them succeed.  We should have a public discourse that rises above fear, to achieve a position from which we can actually address the substance of human life, including the real fears that thwart it, and make the best we can of it. In this way we can all be a little better than cowards.

Note: this post alludes to the then recent nightclub shooting in Orlando, but it could as well be something else. There are always terrors to exploit.

 

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