The most powerful motivator of all is FEAR. Fear is a primal instinct that served us as cave dwellers. It keeps us alive, because if we survive a bad experience, we never forget how to avoid it in the future. Our most vivid memories are born in Fear. Adrenaline etches them into our brains.
Marketers use fear as a motivator as often as they can. They present a scenario they hope will invoke our sense of fear. Then they show us a solution – a path back to our comfort zone – that entails using their product or service. Fear is used to sell virtually everything: cars, tires, and life insurance are classics. But, clever marketers also use it to sell breakfast cereal and deodorant. As a result we purchase all sorts of things that a generation ago were considered unnecessary: antibacterial soap, alarm systems, vitamins… the list goes on and on.
Trump has made a concerted effort to promote fear in Americans.
The world, Donald Trump wants you to know, is “a horrible mess.” Radical Islamic terrorists are gathering strength. Christians are being executed en masse in the Middle East. Illegal immigrants lurk in the shadows. Gangs operate with impunity in our cities. The U.S. murder rate, the President falsely claims, “is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Drugs are “pouring” across the border. “Bad people (with bad intentions)” are flooding through our airports.
Fear has always been an effective form of political rhetoric. “People react to fear, not love,” explained Richard Nixon, a scaremongering maestro whose cries for “law-and-order” were a coded message to white citizens worried about black crime. “They don’t teach that in Sunday school. But it’s true.”
“No President has weaponized fear quite like Trump. He is an expert at playing to the public’s phobias. The America rendered in his speeches and tweets is a dystopian hellscape. He shapes public opinion by emphasizing dangers—both real and imaginary—that his policies purport to fix.”
Fear has been a fixture of Trump’s oratory since the start of his campaign, which began with an attack on Mexican immigrants. On the trail he sometimes called to the stage the bereaved parents of children who were killed by people in the U.S. illegally. His inaugural address was a dark rumination on “American carnage”: the factories “scattered like tombstones,” the “crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives.” In his speech at the Republican nomination convention, Trump described the U.S. in a “moment of crisis,” then he cast himself as its savior: “I alone can fix it.”
Even Presidents who sometimes wielded fear as a weapon tended to encourage the public to face threats with resolve. Trump is different. His approach is to seed fear, not assuage it. “Believe me….and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.”
Such remarks are part of a deliberate effort by the White House to demonstrate its vigilance in the face of danger. “I think what we need to do is to remind people that the Earth is a very dangerous place these days,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer explained. “That ISIS is trying to do us harm. And that the president’s commitment is to keep the country safe.”
Trump has created an entire climate ” of fear, through this constant social media work that then creates a feedback loop. He tweets. The media writes about it. Cable TV has a panel that takes it seriously.” Trump’s approach is more the rule than the exception. “The whole aim of practical politics,” H.L. Mencken wrote almost a century ago,” is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”