Debate #1: Choose Your Fear

I watched the first presidential debate (1) out of a sense of civic duty. I had low expectations but found it much less unpleasant than I had anticipated. The candidates cast very different visions of American life, and both made me afraid.

Mr. Trump’s America is characterized by danger, violence, suspicion, misery, and dangerous, bad people. As I listened to him, I felt that in his world I must fear someone coming to take my stuff or my life. His response is to impose law and order: identify bad guys and take away their guns or expel them from the country. I pictured myself hiding indoors, peering out into the street to see if all the bad guys were gone yet.

Mrs. Clinton’s America is characterized by opportunities to help one another. Her vision is a challenge to engage one another, maybe even try to respect and trust one another.

Both visions provoked fear in me. In Donald’s world I must live in fear that bad people are all around me, threatening my material stuff, my safety, and perhaps my life. Hillary’s world challenges me to go meet someone different from myself and see I can help them. I’m afraid of meeting strangers, especially those I perceive as needy. I am afraid they will want something I don’t have, and I’ll feel inadequate or powerless. I am afraid they will latch on to me and suck life right out of me. I’m afraid they will discover they are as suspicious and fearful of me as I am of them, and they will reject me, and that always sucks.

If a life of fear is inevitable, then I must choose my fear. Well, many years ago I adopted an organizing life principle, one that I have heard is popular: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” I want my neighbors to trust and respect me. I do not want to drive anyone into their homes to cower in fear. I repudiate the fear that keeps me hiding indoors, isolated from my neighbors, alone and safe. I embrace the fear that drives me outside, into contact with my neighbors, in community, engaged,  and vulnerable.


(1) Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton, Monday September 27, 2016

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