I stumbled across this column I wrote nine Halloweens ago, one with an Election Day on its heels and when we still had a trick-or-treating daughter, and found it all too relevant. Normally, I stick to entertainment and pop culture issues in this blog. If you find that missing, just consider how much our films, television and social media reinforce this rather than counteract or correct.
From October 2008:
"Fear will stalk my neighborhood sometime this evening.
Fear in the form of zombies, child vampires, bloody psychos and masked characters, knocking on front doors and demanding free gifts. I’m not scared, but I go along with the seasonal ritual — our youngest daughter likely will be one of those costumed characters — and drop a handful of candy in the fears’ bags. Then I’ll close the door and grumble about it all.
Fear will stalk again this Tuesday, not door-to-door, but at the ballot box, primed by months of fear pumped through television, the Internet, radio, print media and social media.
The bugaboos seeking to intimidate us aren’t masks of vampires, zombies, ghosts or cinematic killers. Instead, it’s Big Government. Islam. Taxes. Conservative Christians. Gay Marriage. Mexicans. Billionaires. Terrorists.
Pick any, pick all: Somehow they have the power to destroy a nation of 330 million people with a stable if sometimes dysfunctional government, the world’s biggest economy and the world’s biggest military — all of that will vanish unless we throw candy in the right bags on Election Day. Boo! Vote!
And we do, year after year after year.
Fear drives our politics because it’s a great motivator, both cheap and simple. Comfort breeds complacency, but fear drives action and history shows it works.
That’s always the response when voters like me complain about the sorry state of political campaigning and discourse, but that response leaves out a crucial qualifier: Fear works because we give it power.
We choose not to take the masks off those who seek to scare us. We choose not to look beyond the fears to see fellow Americans — American Muslims, American gays, American Christians, Mexican-Americans, Americans both rich and poor — or consider that threats caused by terrorists or illegal immigration are better minimized through unity and civic resolve than armadas of drones and leakproof fences.
We choose selfishness rather than sacrifice and reward those choices with more candy in others’ bags. Then we grumble that no leaders show up at our doors to call for sacrifice, consensus or consideration of our nation beyond the next presidential election. We trust no one who doesn’t look or think like us. We punish leaders for the offhand remark, the out-of-context statement, the slightest twitch of compromise.
The Halloween season, with all its spooks and goblins and creepiness, doesn’t scare my girls. They know vampires, monsters and zombies aren’t real; bugs, the occasional mouse in the house and loose dogs in the neighborhood are. They recognize makeup and masks.
But who in our society and culture, outside of my wife and I, will teach my girls the corrective to the falsely amplified fears that divide and distract us? Who will hold their hands and show them that there are no monsters under the bed or in the closet.? Who will model common sense, meaningful compromise and discernment in a way that deflates fear and creates confidence in the future?
Will their Election Days become little more than political Halloweens, a parade of fears engineered to keep candy in bags of power?"