When we were little, Daddy and our uncles would hide outside our bedroom windows at night to scare us. If we’d been bad—sassed back, refused to eat our peas, protested bedtime—we could expect the boogeyman. The boogeyman was how they got us to behave.
My fear of the boogeyman lasted, embarrassingly, into my 20s. I remained afraid of the dark and of what lurked beyond nighttime windows. I knew this was irrational. But irrational fear is still fear.
In the weeks before the midterms, the president and his allies employed a boogeyman scenario: a caravan of Honduran migrants was marching like an army toward our southern border; thousands of aggressive, marauding criminals bringing both murderous intent and diseases of Biblical proportion. Small pox! Leprosy! Middle-Eastern terrorists hiding amongst the women and children!
And at numerous rallies endorsing Republican candidates, including Kentucky’s Andy Barr, the president declared that a vote for the candidate was a vote for him personally, a vote for security and safety.
On Oct. 27 in Murphysboro, Illinois—the same day congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue were gunned down, and following a week of pipe-bombs mailed to prominent Democrats—the president repeated the falsehood that Democrats want to abolish U.S. borders. Vote for me if you want to be safe! And “of the dozen people interviewed at Mr. Trump’s rally, almost all of them spoke in considerable detail about their concerns over immigration. Ms. Hooten, the Trump supporter at the rally on Saturday, blamed Mr. Soros [a prominent Jewish benefactor], Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama for the caravan. ‘I think they’re all involved in this,’ she said. ‘I feel it’s treason.’”
Reporters told a different story about the caravan, filing photo after photo of crying, bedraggled children and stories of exhausted men and mothers, but no matter. The president continued flogging his fear narrative in the days before the big election, inexplicably dispatching 5,200 troops to the border for a caravan of refugees still a thousand miles away and on foot. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” he tweeted.
Then came election day and warnings about the caravan miraculously disappeared. No more tweets. No more warnings of invasion. No more terrifying, presidential pronouncements. No more FOX news alerts. Just like that.
In 1984, President Reagan declared that it was morning again in America, but President Trump seems hellbent on an American midnight. Dangerous, dark people are invading this country, he reminds us every chance he gets, and you’d better stick with me, your White Knight, the only one you can trust to keep you and your loved ones safe.
In Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” he quotes then-candidate Trump from a March 31, 2016 interview. “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, fear.” And as we have learned, he wields that power with abandon.
When the president held his post-midterm election press conference, he mocked every Republican candidate who had not welcomed his embrace on the campaign trail. The message? Fear me, I can hurt you.
When questioned about his phony, caravan campaign tactic, the president bristled, declaring the reporter asking the question an “enemy of the people” and later, in a unprecedented act of retribution on the free press, stripped that reporter’s White House credentials.
When I look back now, I can see where my young daddy and uncles were coming from. They used what they knew how to use, scaring us and calling us names like “sissy” or “big baby” because that’s all they knew, and they were overwhelmed at having a houseful of children and no idea how to control us.
Sadly, and I would argue dangerously, this president is equally overwhelmed and ill-equipped. He lies, scares, and threatens because has no other tools in his toolbox. Like my daddy and my uncles, the president uses the one tactic he knows—fear—to maintain a sense of control.
On a recent trip to Missouri to visit my Trump-trusting parents, I was greeted with Dad showing me his iPad. “Have you seen this? The Muslims are going around to all the Walmarts in this area and buying up burner phones! They’re planning something.”
You might call my dad’s fear irrational, but it is still fear, and I blame the president for gleefully stoking it.
It is midnight in America, and I am not a kid anymore. I know enough to be afraid.