Say ‘boo!’ and we jump. This is not an example of fear, but anxiety; stress. Distraction. The noise is unexpected. It bothers us. We jump. Often we yell, scream a response of pure outrage. How dare you make me jump! How dare you!
About a year and a half ago I moved out of the heart of a major American city and into the bordering suburbs. I am a city boy at heart, someone whose life has been very crowded, filled with hordes of people, and noise, and pushiness, and the whole glittering spectacle of a million different things to do at any given moment, so long as you are willing to wait in a slow-moving line. To me, the silence and darkness of the suburbs is horrifying.
The first difference you notice is the faux self-assurance of the residents. They arrogantly look around, a vague sense of superiority mingled with doubt blaring out of their eyes. There is a notion that they have succeeded in some way or another, but even this is not grounded, the mixture of childhood dreams, parental expectations and the false realities they impose upon themselves, freezing the melting pot of America into caked on left-overs about to be washed down the drain.
I picture these people peeking out their windows, spying on every car, every person who might be walking a dog outside their home. They are shivering, hearing the disastrous news in the background, and forming opinions about the world without ever really paying attention. A person a shade darker than white looms by (although it is dark before we get home from work at this time of year, so everyone and everything looks darker–nighttime, the color of fear!). 9-1-1, or is it only that new neighbor? Why did they move here? What are they? Are they black? Illegal? A Muslim?
They cringe in Rear Window helplessness, perhaps clutching a shotgun. The world is filled with horror. Everything is out to get them.
If we turn things around and look to history, we can obviously pinpoint this psychological change to September 11, 2001. A terrorist attack. This did not unify us as we hoped in the immediate aftermath of the chaos. In fact we were profoundly unsuccessful with our response. Because the goal of terrorism is not so much death and destruction, but the actual fear it inspires. Fear inspires irrational and spontaneous actions, often ones we regret. We say things we never meant to say, and do things we realize were mistakes, and then we have to justify our actions with whatever scraps are still whirling in the air–who to blame? Who can we blame? In what way is my over-reaction not their fault?
The President claims that ‘caravans of migrants’ are coming to get us. He warns of an even larger phalanx than the non-existent one that terrorized us before the recent election. He monotonously repeats a refrain of ‘crisis’ until that word’s very meaning shifts from looming threat to immediate danger. Words like ‘humanitarian’ are added to further stifle understanding, taking an out-of-date term like that to try and make it seem like the stoking of fear is for the good of all.
Even the arguments against my point here are shallow and steeped in reactionary cowardice. Extreme, incredibly tragic and awful examples are taken, holding up the relatives of victims as some sort of heroes for having a relative victimized by a monster. These survivors are painted as the grim yet faithful end result of something that hasn’t existed since the time when Britain, Spain, France and the Netherlands were at war with one another to claim large pieces of this land from its natives–open borders. It is implied that these gangsters, “drug cartels,” and “human traffickers,” and “murderers,” and “rapists,” are all salivating at the chance to sneak in and victimize the helpless American population–that same nation of people so horrified by what might some day happen that they clutch and fetishize their guns until they cannot help but use them to a compulsive orgasm of violence. In no way am I disclaiming the tragedy of these situations, because they are real, and nothing like this should ever happen to anyone. It is likely, for these individual victims, that they would not have had the same fate had the criminals been stopped at the border. But to condemn the ‘politicization’ of one thing while highly politicizing the victim of another is one of the root hypocrisies at the heart of our two-party Democracy.
It is the wrong argument to make–three fucking savages did three different awful things, and therefore none of us is safe, and we need to lock ourselves inside our houses in hope that the end-of-the-world will simply pass us by. I would like to propose a counter narrative, no less valid within this context that absolutists are putting in place, about why a complete shutdown at the border is wrong. Given the fact that the numerous examples of terrible crime are cricketed and parroted in a mantra to induce a fear which destroys civilization, try and remember another side of the story:
Magdalena wanted to be a doctor–an obstetrician, in fact, but she had no money, and her opportunities for education were nearly non-existent. Intelligent and hard-working, ‘Maggie’ had spent much of her youth nursing her ailing grandmother, caring for the old woman with a rapture that caused her to find purpose in life at a very early age. When her father was killed by the son of a local cartel member for accidentally bumping into him on the sidewalk, Maggie’s family was suddenly without any means. Her only option, as she saw it, was to try and get to America, get a quick degree in nursing, and then send the money home to care for her mother and her sisters and brothers. She paid whatever she had to a local coyote–not one of those guys smuggling trunks filled with underage prostitutes into the cities, but just an old farmer looking to make some extra money in hard times.
Within three months Maggie has her certification and is working as an out-patient nurse, caring for the elderly in their homes much like she did with her grandmother. She is a kind woman–good at her job. She makes her patients feel better, and provides cheerful comfort over their final days.
Then one day Yee-Haw Bob Denniger, a pushy, loud and righteous pro-Trump fanatic, sees this ‘un-American’ looking woman injecting something into his mother-in-law. Bob had nothing to do with hiring Maggie, nor with anything about his wife’s mother’s care. He hated the old bitch anyway. But this was different. Who was this woman? Did she belong here? In his house? In his America?
Since Maggie was an honest woman it was not difficult to uncover her status. She is tried. She is convicted. She spends quite a bit of time in a cell, awaiting deportation. In the meantime the old woman dies. One of her brothers joins the cartel. He and another brother are shortly thereafter murdered. Her mother loses the house and the rest of them simply wander, like nomads, through the hard earth, up north, to meet their criminalized savior, and clamor on the edge of freedom, booed by the small, roaring crowds around the President of the United States.
This little tale is every bit as true as the atrocious tragedies that have befallen victims of violent illegal immigrants. It is frankly far more common. But the brush of fear has painted everyone with the face of a super-villain, our infantilized world increasingly one that can see only absolute good or evil. This is the loss of humanity. This is the elevation of fear over hope, over pride, over the simple and basic right to freedom.
We live in this world of fear, and allow ourselves to expect that every situation will end in disaster. We are living in an end times of our own making. I refuse to live in the end times. And I know I am not alone. And while I am far too cynical (and certainly vastly too anonymous) to declare this any sort of rallying cry, or wake up call, hopefully someone will see a different side to the story they have been feeding themselves for all these years, and open their eyes to vital humanity, an ungeneralized reality, that allows us to remember the world will still be here after we are gone.