Political leaders and the mass media deluge the public with a constant stream of frightening incidents caused by the enemy-of-the-week: nerve gas killing dozens of little babies in Syria, Russian-directed poison assassination attempts in England and terror incidents throughout Europe, requiring an increase in domestic police state surveillance and spying. Extensively monitored bank records, intrusive workplace controls, and all personal and, especially, political communications, are in the hands of state security officials or corporate security contractors.
Hundreds of prosecuting attorneys look forward to career-enhancing investigations in perpetuity, tracking the complex networks of extended personal and family links, including long forgotten acquaintances and the contents of casual conversations. Everyone may be subject to interrogations without warrant or explanation. And the ‘media’ cheers on the process.
Political trials and convictions in court and the media are rampant. Social, work-place and academic self censorship and blacklisting of dissident voices have become pervasive and accepted.
Elections and appointments are rigged by corporate and special interests to favor the most bellicose ideologues who manufacture the pretexts for war.
Political intimidation, trade wars and sanctions run amok .
‘Exceptional’ people in authority are defined by their power to bludgeon the majority into passive submission. Corporate mass media propaganda repeats brief and lurid messages calling for the death and destruction of the latest ‘fill-in-the-blank’ enemy.
War fever is everywhere infesting the weak minds of local opinion leaders, who echo the rants and raves of psychotic leaders without pausing to question.
Last week, the Mexican immigrant workers were described as dangerous invaders, drug dealers, rapists and threats to the every day life of ordinary citizens. Walls are being constructed and thousands of National Guard are called to the border to confront the invading agricultural workers and their families.
Before that, Muslims were broadly described as brainwashed terrorists, programmed to plant bombs at their first opportunity anywhere and everywhere – on mass transport, in congested amusement parks, in any public space where the innocent may be harmed. A draconian ban of the entry of Muslims has been instituted – including elderly parents joining their citizen sons or daughters.
After the latest maniac massacre of students, understaffed public schools, (but not private, elite schools), are urged to arm the teachers with baseball bats, rocks and guns. Instead of multiplication drills, terrified teachers hold daily and weekly drills in their over-crowded classrooms – stuffing their pupils into closets and bathrooms. Elementary school lunchtimes have become prison-like exercises in ‘total silence’ drills as if to fool the would-be shooter. Images of little Oliver Twist meekly whispering to an armed guard for a bathroom pass come to mind. Haunting some outraged parents is the fear that a mad intruder might set fire to the school suffocating scores of children locked in closets and bathroom stalls because ‘fire-drills’ have been superseded by ‘shooter-drills’.
Fear stalks the land! Where will it end?
An Empire Built on Fear
Domination is the driving force of US Empire builders. But today’s empire is built on fragile economic foundations. An Empire, which has aimed to dominate the world for the long duration, now stumbles over a series of military defeats abroad and increasingly relies on instilling fear, intimidation and propaganda on its domestic citizenry to regain its dominance.
Inculcating fear, especially at home, is the method of choice.
Since the ruling class of ‘the 1%’ seeks to maintain its world domination, based on increasing exploitation and widening inequalities, voluntary submission of the majority cannot be taken for granted.
The vast majority of citizens no longer trust the ruling elite. The school lessons in democracy and civic responsibility have lost their credibility. How can public school children, who now cower in closets, believe in citizen and constitutional rights?
Unending economic insecurity and the increasingly phony patriotic sideshows are beginning to stir up popular discontent. Large scale, long-term trillion-dollar bank bailouts and exorbitant military budgets are financed by the slash and burn of workers’ wages, job security, public services and the social safety net. Soaring medical costs are the primary cause of personal bankruptcy among the working and lower middle classes. A physician-pharmaceutical industry fueled opioid addiction crisis is narcotizing millions and killing well over one hundred Americans each day. The unemployed are prescribed multiple mood altering drugs to numb their anxieties about the future. Fear, incompetent medical care, self-destruction, despair and pain all lead to premature death causing the life expectancy among workers to drop for the first time in US history.
Professionals and opinion leaders, from teachers and physicians to journalists, have abandoned their ethics and enabled the mass deception and oppression of their students, patients and readers.
An empire, which fails to reward its supporters, like President Trump’s marginalized voters, and repeatedly reneges on its promises, can only rely on fear.
The fear we experience is brought about by the ruling class; repeated and embellished by the mass media; and made legitimate by local opinion leaders through face-to-face daily encounters. Teachers and terrified parents instill this fear into the very young without stopping to analyze the origins and motives behind the fear mongering.
The mass message tells us that we face daily threats from terrorists; that we must increase our vigilance; that we must constantly strengthen police state powers; that we must accept the use of advanced lethal police weaponry on our streets; that we must turn to informing on our neighbors and co-workers as potential terrorists, militants, activists, critics and immigrants embedded in offices, factories, schools, churches and neighborhoods. Meanwhile our oligarch-leaders bless themselves with massive tax-cuts and enjoy the greatest concentration of wealth in history.
Fear diverts attention from the imperial state as it engages in dozens of wars and occupies several hundred overseas military bases. The simplest comment that this has resulted in countless thousands of deaths and countless millions of destroyed lives, not to speak of the countless billions of dollars funneled into the bulging pockets of the ruling class, is censored from all public debate.
Fear permeates society: Communications are bugged and manipulated. People are afraid to discuss, let alone move to solve, their common socio-economic problems for fear of reprisals. The message to the many is ‘keep it to yourself or to your closest kin”.
Fearful people are compelled to publicly demonstrate their loyalty to the State – wear flag-pins and repeat illogical propaganda about the ‘enemy of the week’.
Peaceful objections to worshipping the symbols of the State are demonized and non-conformists, even among talented athletes, are punished by the State and see their careers demolished before the eyes of the entire society – collective punishment for any who resist injustice.
Fear and hopelessness feeds the opioid epidemic –with millions of workers addicted, a direct result of work place injury and job insecurity, as well as of incompetent medical care in the absence of a truly accountable national health care system. Physicians may have been ‘pressured’ to prescribe highly addicting drugs to workers, but they grew rich in the process.
Fear prevents speaking out and collective struggles.
Just turn on the television ‘news’: The demagogues for the ruling class direct the fearful masses to look downward instead of upward, to fear the poor or the immigrant, rather than the banker or the militarists.
Fear is converted to anger directed toward foreigners, Muslims, Afro-Americans, ‘deplorable’ (meaning poor, marginalized, working class) whites, war protestors and strikers.
Islamophobes, Russophobes and Sinophobes monopolize the channels of opinion. Any critic of Israel is fired and permanently blacklisted. Critics identifying the ‘neo-cons’, behind the current march to war, are denounced as crypto-anti-Semitites. The loudest war criminals are re-appointed to the highest political offices – despite their blood drenched past.
Fear and self-loathing go hand in hand to secure submission to the ruling class, which channels self-hatred toward political adversaries, external economic competitors and domestic victims (the poor, the marginalized and unemployed) – who cannot die or be locked up fast enough.
Pervasive fear is constantly invented and re-invented, to keep the populace on edge, unbalanced and in search of seemingly innocuous distractions to reduce anxieties.
Russia is described as an advancing menacing, murderous, blind juggernaut in order to induce popular compliance with unending arms build-ups and to provide cannon fodder for an impending nuclear war.
US organized and funded ‘regime changes’, led by terrorist proxies in the Ukraine, or direct invasion in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and the NATO encirclement of Russian borders and economic sanctions rely on fear mongering. The message is: ‘We must bomb them first or they (Russia, China, Syria, Iran…fill-in-the-blank) will launch a sneak attack on ‘us’.
The repeatedly elected Russian President Putin is demonized as a ‘KGB’ authoritarian who must be confronted by our ‘strong leader’ – the arbitrary, accidental, fearless Twitter-addict, and mad bomber President Donald Trump, aided by the Holy Alliance – Theresa May, Manny Macron, the Crown Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia and Benny Netanyahu. What will history make of a Declaration of War by Twitter! If any historians survive…
Fear is the last desperate weapon for retaining an unchallenged world empire. Fearful adversaries are compelled to negotiate away their defenses and disarm, like Iraq and Libya, and then allow the ‘empire’ to commence slaughter at will. Military threats directed against Iran are naked attempts to force them to dismantle their defensive missiles and cut ties with regional allies. The plan is to disarm and isolate Tehran, in order to launch an attack with impunity and— force 80 million Persians to submit to the combined wills of the US, Israeli and Saudi oligarchs.
China is threatened with trade wars and an air and maritime encirclement by the US military. This aims to strike fear in the Chinese leadership and force them to surrender economic sovereignty, financial markets and industrial competitiveness in order to reverse China’s growth and advances.
Step by step concessions by targeted nations will lead to great takeovers: The ultimate goal, since the time of President Harry Truman, is the re-conquest of the Asian giant, reducing the Chinese to beg with a rusted iron rice bowl.
Russia will be accused of endless poison gas attacks and war crimes everywhere and every week from Ukraine to the quiet lanes of England to the US-Saudi funded war against its ally Syria. These serve as a pretext for greater economic sanctions, cutting all possibility for debate and diplomatic resolution, leading to economic blockades and global war.
The American ruling class’ dream is to rule over a radiated world from the luxury of their billion-dollar bunkers! Even as they strike fear and hysteria in the citizenry, they expose their methods: the only real fear is the power of manufactured fear itself.
The ruling class has planted fear-mongers throughout both political parties. They only seem to compete over which is more successful in sowing confusion and fear among the voters: Millions of immigrants are rounded up from work and home; missile strikes and wars expand onto three continents; media and mass communications are largely controlled by the military industrial corporate complex; secret police investigations are routine; prosecutors seek to investigate even our grandfathers, long cold in their graves.
Fearful Americans are just spectators, ‘quiet Americans’ waiting for the next massacre, the next bomb to fall. They are told to cower in their bedrooms, while their children are shoved into closets. They are now fearful that the Russians (or this week’s ‘fill-in-the-blank’ intruder) will poison our pizza or bomb us to the Stone Age.
Wall Street fears they will lose China, the biggest financial market in the world, as ‘the Donald’s’ trade war turns ‘hot’.
The Pentagon fears that its ships will collide in the Potomac River and some ‘temp’ contractor will push the wrong button.
The Senators fear losing their perks as they drag their young interns into basement bunkers…for their own safety.
The President, his Cabinet, UN representatives and senior advisors are afraid that the population might wake up to find that missiles and nukes can move in both directions.
By the time the masses finally discover that the greatest menace stalking the country is the fear-mongering propaganda: They will have read an epitaph for their untimely nuclear death.
Prof. James Petras is a research associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.