Vote After Reading
By Andrea Farr
We are living in a time of fear that is substantial, consistent, and bipartisan. Today, even as people began congregating at the polls before sunrise, the general consensus was that of a universal anxiety—but this is not a new feeling. Fear has long been manufactured and promoted advantageously in the political sphere, with visual media serving at the forefront of our contemporary political dialogue.
On the night of November 3rd, Saturday Night Live began with a segment of Laura Ingraham, played by Kate McKinnon, and her Fox News coverage of the group of Central Americans headed towards the Southern US border—“a vicious caravan of dozens, maybe millions of illegal immigrants,” the sketch citing clips of Black Friday crowds at Walmart, zombies clamoring over a wall in World War Z, and crabs scuttling across a beach as footage of the migrants on their journey.
The misreport of visual information has been a hallmark of the public discourse on this issue. Days before the SNL episode aired, The New York Times reported on five virally appropriated and misrepresented images of the caravan, some of which have been propagated by President Donald Trump himself. Fear-mongering is dangerous and easy at a time when media can be manipulated and spread across numerous platforms in minutes, and when political identities come to be a heavily integrated part of personal ones. This has created the opportunity for fear to be felt in a very individual way, the prevailing rhetoric insisting that widespread individual well-being is in immediate danger, while largely ignoring groups of the population that are actually at risk.
The rights of immigrants have been directly undermined and withdrawn through deportation, family separation, and mass detention of immigrant children. Last week, President Trump threatening a unilateral repeal of the 14th amendment which could end the ability to gain “birthright citizenship” through executive order.
There is an ever-present and permeating sense of fear cultivated by the topic of immigration, both coming from and caused by the current administration. Although it was not the first time, President Trump stoked the fears of his followers by promising to send US military to serve at the frontline of the border when, or if, the caravan reaches this destination. Donald Trump’s continuous, characteristic use of the social platform to purvey anxiety among his followers is the action that produces the immediate, visceral, and individual reaction in the public that produces fear. This fear, when left unchecked, is promoted through similar environments until others utilize similar rhetoric to make their own threats, and not without consequence.
We have just recently, inescapably, seen the effects of digital threats of violence become realized in physical realms. Robert Bowers’ anti-Semitic comments posted to Gab, a social platform favored by right-wing supporters, lead to a shooting that left 11 dead— a devastating occurrence for the mark it left on our country’s frayed battle with anti-Semitism, and even more so in its adherence to this predictable pattern of terror. While speaking to the Future Farmers of America later that day, President Trump addressed the shooting, calling it an act of “pure evil,” but later interjected his opinion for how to address this tragedy in executable steps. “If there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them,” he suggested. “Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him.”
There is a keen irony in the incongruities of our ubiquitous distress. While our current moment has created the opportunity for most everyone to tentatively wonder about the future, the channel of our collective fear is split, causing a great deal of it to be placed in an external, personal realm. Students, moviegoers, concert audiences, employees, worshipers are shot, and to quench our panic, we are told to buy a gun. The irony comes from the fact that the issues being debated by our leaders are, in fact, very personal for those they actually affect— the women whose bodies are being regulated by law, the members of the transgender community being denied basic personal freedoms, migrants facing the threat of physical harm, and the generations to come that will face the nearly irreversible effects of climate change.
Today we have the privilege (although one that has continued to be fought for) of having our voices heard, and making decisions we believe will best protect us in the time to come.
Vote, and keep those who do not have to be told what to be fearful of in mind.