In a perfect world, or just a reasonably harmonious nation, we wouldn’t get furious at each other for being frightened. Yet rage at each others’ fearful acts and attitudes is the story of this election.
The prime motivation behind #BlackLivesMatter is the fear that unarmed young black men will be killed by police officers. It’s that same fear that has motivated people like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to draw attention to the perceived mistreatment of minority Americans by cops. If you are a police officer, or the relative of one, your point of view on that may be different. But does it make sense to be filled with hate for people who support that movement for being terrified about such violence?
And, to be fair, does it make sense to be angry at police officers and their families for putting forward the idea that #BlueLivesMatter, too — that an officer working to protect society ought to be able to get home safely?
Many of us don’t understand why so many Americans fear that what they think of as American or “white” culture will be subsumed by Latino and Asian newcomers. To me, the varying immigration waves of America over 300 years are what have defined our culture, and should continue to define it.
Many Americans exhibit desperately dangerous and potentially deadly behaviors like smoking cigarettes or riding in cars without wearing seat belts. Yet some of the same devil-may-care folks are so terrified at the tiny risk that Syrian refugees, often women and children, will commit an act of terrorism that they’d rather let such refugees die outside our nation than take a chance on welcoming them in.
Often, that fear presents itself as rage or hatred aimed at Muslims or Mexicans here illegally, or any other kind of “other,” but it usually isn’t. True hate is a pretty rare thing, while anger springing out of fear is now practically a constant.
And many Americans, particularly working-class white Americans, are terrified that the prosperous future they were counting on is receding into the distance.
Many of us find those fears ridiculous. But that doesn’t make hating people who feel those fears sensible, productive or fair.
What got Donald Trump the Republican nomination was his ability to see that much of the GOP no longer believed a Reaganesque, fiercely individual society with a tiny government, low taxes, unfettered trade and a shrunken social safety net would work for them.
Working-class white people are right to abandon a GOP vision built on the promise of shrinking entitlements they now depend on in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s just not in their rational self-interest.
But a lot of Americans are terrified of Trump and his supporters, too. Democrats and liberals and big-city types are scared of people who take the right of gun ownership seriously, who truly place their faith in the Bible or who put their opposition to abortion above all other political issues.
For many, Hillary Clinton is an acceptable candidate who has the experience, knowledge and temperament to lead the nation. Trump, to them, is not an acceptable candidate because he does not have the experience, knowledge and temperament to lead the nation.
Still, many of us understand that there are reasons to be furious at both candidates.
Wednesday, though, Americans are going to need to try to stop being furious at each other. If we can understand that many of the people who disagreed with us over the course of this election were acting out of fear rather than meanness or evil, that might not be as much of a tall order.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.