‘American Panic’ Takes A Long, Hard Look At Our Fears

American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why by Mark Stein is a nice counterbalance to Prayer in America: A Spiritual History of Our Nation by James P. Moore Jr.

Prayer in America, which I read earlier this year, highlights our attempts at morality. American Panic zeroes in on our dark side.

I was introduced to Mark Stein’s work through a TV show, How the States Got Their Shape, based on his book of the same name. The TV show is a fast-paced look at historical events that led to each state’s creation.

For the most part it, like Prayer, is a positive look at who we are.

In American Panic, though, Stein takes us down a much different path. Relying on a large stash of historical newspapers he unveils our fears — which are seemingly endless. Despite our rhetoric of being the ‘land of the brave,’ we have feared almost every race, ethnicity and religion that does not fall under the umbrella of white, protestant, Christian.

Although the story in Panic is told in a mostly chronological order, beginning with our fear of Native Americans, it does skip back and forth at times since some of our collective fears have surfaced, and then re-surfaced.

For example, our current fear of immigrants.

But, what the book really tells is the ease in which we, as citizens, have been manipulated by politicians feeding a fear frenzy for political gain. In each of the various eras of American history we have had someone, or something, to fear. The list in the book includes: Asians, African Americans, Communists, women, homosexuals, Jews, corporations, Catholics and even the Masons.

Stein also expertly shows the formula behind the political manipulation and how faulty logic, among other tactics, is often used to ‘prove’ a panic is justified.

In the opening Stein writes,

Political panic, the irrational fear that one’s government is in danger, is by no means unique to any country. In America, it dates back to the 1692 Salem witch hunt…The panic that began in Salem commenced after seizures afflicted three girls, ages nine through twelve. When the colony’s physicians could not explain it, fear arose that sorcery was taking place in Salem and endangering its Puritan rule…

..What happened in Salem over 300 years ago continues to reverberate in the United States.

Anyone who has spent time on Twitter or Facebook, knows with certainty, that our panic lives on.

Published in 2014, the book is even more relevant today in light of the extremism and incompetence that exists in both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

Rated: 5 out of 5. The aspect that really sold me on the book was the wide variety of historical sources Stein used to flesh out the various panics — from college newspapers to obscure letters to the editors. Another bonus, at least for me, was Stein calling out the modern-day Tea Party as a political entity built on a foundation of fear and panic. It’s a movement that needs to fade away like the Know-Nothing Party of the 1800s (a Party that is also mentioned in the book).

Favorite Recent Anti-Trump Quote

Midwestern comedian David Letterman has never been shy about expressing what he thinks of T-Money.

“If the guy (Trump) was running Dairy Queen, he’d be gone. This guy couldn’t work at The Gap…let’s just stop whining about what a goon he is and figure out a way to take him aside and put him in a home.”

Categories: American History, Books I have read, My America | Tags:

‘Truth Is I Think He Sold Us Out’ — Trump Voter

I recently had lunch with a friend and eventually our conversation turned to the national political chaos we all are enduring. The friend casually noted how House of Cards, a political drama starring Kevin Spacey, is becoming too close to reality. If you’ve never seen the show, I highly recommend it as it delves into the behind-the-scenes debauchery that has come to define our political class. Shows like House, and it comical counterpart Veep, shine a light on a harsh reality — that the average American voter has no true voice in the political direction of the country.

For some, that realization leads to anger or despair, for others it strengthens their resolve to chip away at the injustice.

Regardless how one responds, though, one thing is certain, with our ever-shifting reality, truth is under attack.

Inside The Mind Of The Twitter-In-Chief

As is the case with all of us, a level of predictability exists, even in the apparent chaos. Many on Twitter have taken the time to dissect what T-Money obsesses over (hint: it’s not governing), while other find very humorous ways to mock the insanity (often getting blocked by the thin-skinned reality TV president), but one professor took the time to boil down the Tweets into their four basic categories — and once you see the system 45* uses the Tweets are easier to understand in a broader context.

It’s also easy to see that Trump’s fan base loves his attacks on the press.

In Defense Of Local News

One of the reason a Trump can rise up from the under current of American society is because people are consuming more tainted, and less local, news. As stated numerous times, Trump won the Electoral College vote by winning at the county level. Many of the counties are small enough that local, in-depth news coverage often wanes. In my county, the size and depth of the news coverage from the 1970s is much different than today. This is not a reflection on the individuals doing the work — it’s an indication of organizations downsizing to the point that the handful of reporters remaining cannot begin to cover news at the depth required.

There are simply not enough hours.

Take, for example, this small stat from my county. In 2006, the Eaton City Police handled 28 trespassing cases. A decade later, despite (or maybe because of) the city’s stagnant population growth, the EPD handled 109 trespassing cases. This is up sharply from 2014 (30) and 2015 (50). The stat can be interpreted numerous ways. For example, a few interpretations could be:

  • The EPD is taking a more aggressive approach to policing the crime
  • Businesses are requesting more people to be trespassed off their property (for example, Walmart)
  • More citizens are trespassing

One could also ask — is it 109 different people or are some people multiple offenders. Are certain locations prone to trespassing?

Or take another stat, the number of manufactured homes being introduced into the county (10 were recently delivered in the southern part of Preble County). How does that reflect the county’s income level? Are these homes having an impact on overall property values since the county is currently averaging about 20-30 new home constructions annually.

Or, how about the question posed last fall by a local farmer. Why is his property tax bill escalating — and is it — or is he mistaken?

Each of these stats create a perception and without strong reporting the story behind the numbers is left to hearsay.

But all of these ‘small’ news stories require manpower and, in some cases, database building skills, to flesh them out. This costs money, money that smaller news organizations cannot, or will not, spend.

Montgomery County — Epicenter Of Opioid Crisis?

But local news can deliver in-depth, accurate and important information for citizens. An example of the value of local media can be seen in a recent article by the Dayton Daily News.

The national media reported that Montgomery County was the worst county in the country for heroin-related overdose deaths. When I first heard the national story it did not seem accurate (no, I don’t consider it fake or fraudulent) because I had recently attended a seminar conducted by two retired Columbus, Ohio police officers. The officers had spent decades investigating drug-related crimes. In their presentation they referenced a map of the U.S. which demonstrated the heroin crisis began in the area that some historians refer to as the Greater Appalachian region (Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia). And, the map showed (I’m relying on memory, so these are estimates) that Ohio had about 30 heroin-related deaths per 100,000 compared to 45 per 100,000 in West Virginia.

So as the national media ‘swooped in’ and told the Montgomery County story from a surface level, the local paper put considerable effort, time and manpower into digging out the local stats which suggest they may not be the worst (although still very high up on the list).

The paper also took the time to explain the difficulty in getting up-to-the minutes numbers on heroin or opioid deaths (something the Columbus officers also said in their presentation — they used Center for Disease Control stats which were a couple years old) which further demonstrated that the national news story may have rushed in its judgement of the county’s rank.

So, at the end of the day, readers of local news were given a thorough and in-depth understanding of the Dayton-area heroin problem.

The Media Is Not The Enemy

When the 2016 election was in battle mode last fall, the GOP leadership in my county posted (on Facebook) an image of a sign saying MSM (Mainstream Media) was the problem. InfoWars.com bumper stickers can also be seen here  — highlighting the information source for some locals.

When I see the attack on the media, I do wonder if former president Ronald Reagan had any clue what he unleashed when he vetoed the Fairness Doctrine. That veto ushered in the era of cable news, talk radio, alternative and fringe news organizations. Maybe Reagan thought Americans were smart enough to figure out the truth.

On some things that may be true, but, as the saying goes, politics is war by other means.

American politics is convoluted and intentionally complicated. It has been reduced to tag lines, sound bites, 140-character rants and tainted advertising sponsored by Super PACs. Without a strong press to dive into the myriad of documents, to attend countless meetings, and reporters to educate themselves on the various issues of the day, Americans must rely on talking heads or worse — social media.

In my county, if a citizen were inclined to, for example, understand what their commissioners did, they would need to know where to get an audio of the meeting (Commissioner’s Office/$1.75). Then they would need to wade through three to five hours of weekly conversation while, at the same time, educating themselves on the various programs, procedures and protocol of local government.

Americans I know, though, would rather watch paint dry (or a sporting event) instead of becoming knowledgeable enough to understand the political process to that level.

Which is why we need a strong, devoted and unencumbered media.

These men and women actually enjoy readings the documents and attending the meetings. No, they are not perfect, but having worked in the industry, by and large, most journalists are very dedicated and honest. (They could not be dishonest if they wanted to be — because the industry and/or their sources would weed them out.)

Without a strong media — especially one that includes strong local coverage — politics gets dumbed down to a spectator sports mentality where voters are rooting for their team, oblivious to the rules of the political game.

In the noise of Twitter and social media, far too many Americans vote on how they identify with a candidate, without understanding the candidate’s policy position (except maybe a handful of hot button issues like abortion). Too many vote like the Preble County man I quoted in the headline. He said,

“Truth is I think Trump sold us out,” adding “I voted for him because I liked him better than Hillary.”

But, as the local man is learning, likeability and $1.50 will buy a nice cold drink — just not a political voice.

Categories: My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

I Can’t Decide If He’s Chicken Little Or The Boy Who Cried Wolf

We have lots of Stand With Israel signs in Preble County. One can only speculate what the signs would say if the Shepherd of Hermes, instead of The Revelation of John, had been included in the Bible as originally planned.

Must I fear what others fear, what nonsenseThe Tao

Congressman Warren Davidson definitely stays busy, alternating between warning constituents that the sky is falling to crying wolf over some alleged impending doom.  I say this because the issues he has worked on this year are the work of an alarmist and are of no value to the people he represents.

Take the American Health Care Act. His logic seems to be, if we don’t repeal the Affordable Care Act, the country will go bankrupt (crying wolf). But both the House and Senate versions of the AHCA will be devastating to Ohio, the state he, in theory, represents.

Me And Jesus Got A Good Thing Goin’

Earlier this year, Davidson spearheaded a drive to protect our Religious Liberty and it resulted in 45* signing an executive order ensuring this freedom. I live in a county of 40,000 and, according to an ad in the local paper, we have 92 churches. When one of the student speakers at my daughter’s high school graduation a few weeks ago thanked ‘her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,’ the auditorium erupted in applause. If I were so inclined, like 32 percent of Ohio’s population — I could attend Sunday morning service at a different church each week and it would take nearly two years to attend all the churches in my county.

We have religious freedom here, religious diversity, on the other hand, that is lacking. (Hey 45* can we get a Religious Diversity Executive Order.)

California Is To Blame

But Davidson’s latest fearmongering is more deplorable when you consider the abysmal gerrymandering that exists in Ohio. Gerrymandering is one of the political tactics that has escalated the country’s partisanship during the past two or three decades. Now, according to Davidson’s latest e-newsletter, the ‘sky is falling’ — not in Ohio, the state he was elected to represent — but California — that blue state which, unlike Ohio, has a thriving economy. So as real Ohioans deal with a sub-standard economy, Davidson is crying wolf about the seats in the House. Davidson says,

Did you know that electoral votes and seats in the House are distributed based on the total population of each state? States like California game the system to encourage illegal immigration and are rewarded with 5-7 extra congressional seats by some estimates. 

We lose our sovereignty each day this goes unresolved. This is why I introduced the Fair Representation Amendment.

Although the Amendment is very self-serving in the GOP’s voter suppression drive, it’s an intriguing twist for a party whose current brand supports stronger state rights and less federal interference. Apparently, in this situation though, the feds need to intervene.

Gerrymandering: Legally Gaming The System

Davidson’s Congressional District is the definition of gaming the system. He presides over one of the most noncompetitive Congressional Districts in Ohio. His district is ‘packed’ with a 2-to-1 ratio of GOP to Democrat voters — and it was his Party that imposed the unethical District map on Ohio residents.

This undemocratic approach to democracy is undermining our political institutions causing many to lose faith in the political process. So maybe, to paraphrase Jesus, Davidson should just worry about the plank in his own eye and not the speck in California’s.

Categories: 8th congressional district, My America, Preble County, Religion