Tom Eblen

Tom Eblen: Reject the politics of prejudice and fear

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Associated Press

If you’re looking for tidings of comfort and joy this Christmas season, you won’t get any from the Republicans running for president.

The 12 men and one woman vying for the GOP nomination seem to be trying their best to scare us. And in doing so, they’re giving terrorists exactly what they want.

Terrorists are people with little power who lash out at big populations and powerful nations. Their goal is not so much to kill and maim, but to scare millions of people they can’t kill and maim.

They also want to frighten people into doing irrational things that will further their goals. For example, unsubstantiated fear led this nation to invade Iraq in 2003. That destabilized the Middle East and led to the creation of the Islamic State movement, which inspired the terrorists who attacked in Paris and San Bernardino.

Another example: when frightened Americans blame all Muslims for the actions of a few, they help the terrorists sow seeds of hatred and division that radicalize more Muslims who might be attracted to their cause.

So you can bet leaders of the Islamic State loved last week’s Republican presidential debate, which was a non-stop fear fest.

Fear-mongering politicians aren’t stupid. Like terrorists, they realize there is power in fear. Their goal is to scare people into voting for them.

Candidates competed to see who could make the most untrue, outrageous statements and propose the most extreme and un-American responses to terrorism. CNN’s “moderators” mostly enabled them by asking inflammatory questions and not calling out their lies and fabrications. I kept waiting for somebody on stage to scream: “We’re all gonna die!”

Fear-mongering politicians aren’t stupid. Like terrorists, they realize there is power in fear. Their goal is to scare people into voting for them. This has been the strategy all along for Donald Trump’s “make America great again” campaign. First he went after Mexican immigrants, then Muslims. Who’s next?

Fear is a common political tactic, used by people in both parties. Remember how Democrat Jack Conway tried to scare people out of voting for Republican Matt Bevin in the recent governor’s race? But in this Republican presidential contest, things have gotten dangerously out of hand.

Trump now fits the definition of a demagogue: “A person who tries to stir up the people by appeals to emotion, prejudice, etc., in order to become a leader and achieve selfish ends,” as Webster’s Second Edition dictionary explains it. Some of his fellow candidates are not far behind.

Let’s look at the facts: Islamic jihadists are dangerous. So are Christian terrorists, such as the man accused of killing three people and wounding several others Nov. 27 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. So are violent criminals and mentally unstable people with access to deadly weapons.

But, as Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman pointed out last week, the reality is that Americans have never been safer. In fact, thanks to a nationwide drop in violent crime, the odds of an American dying in a violent attack of any kind are about half what they were two decades ago.

Look at it this way: Islamic terrorists killed 14 people in America this year, all in the Dec. 2 attack in San Bernardino. Those victims were a small fraction of the more than 12,750 people killed by gun violence of all kinds in the U.S. this year, according to data from Gunviolencearchive.org.

The only way to achieve the illusion of absolute security from terrorism would be to create a police state.

Any terrorism deaths are too many. So are any crime-related deaths or accidental deaths. But the only way to achieve the illusion of absolute security from terrorism would be to create a police state. I don’t think that would be a good tradeoff, do you?

This is a season of reflection, a time when we think about values we hold dear and make resolutions about our behavior in the new year. So here are some things to reflect upon:

We cannot control what Donald Trump or any other politician says. But we can control our reaction to them. We can call them on their lies, see through their smokescreens and demand that they intelligently and realistically address issues.

We can refuse to be frightened by terrorists or demagogues. We can make decisions based on facts and logic rather than fear.

We can reject xenophobia and scapegoating. We can speak out against bigotry and hatred. And we can refuse to blame whole groups of people for the outrageous words and actions of a radical few, be they Muslims or Republicans.

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