Friday, April 6, 2018

Border Security: The Fear Problem in Action

Yesterday I wrote about fear and its destructive effects on our politics and our lives together as a community. All of that was really just a restatement of things I have written many times before.

What does this look like in real life? If we take seriously the notion that we should not be afraid, how does that apply to the concrete world around us?

This this example from the recent news:
US would consider more than 4,000 national guard troops at border
Even since the President made an off-hand comment about sending "the military" to patrol the southern border of the US, people have been running around gathering information demonstrating that such a move is unnecessary. Both NPR and Forbes (perceived as "liberal" and "conservative" publications respectively) ran stories as far back as last December on how border crossings have actually been falling for decades, and are at a low not seen since 1971.

These facts, of course, don't matter. Deploying US national guard troops to the southern border isn't about facts. It isn't a rational response to a solve a particular problem. It's about fear.

In this case, I don't believe that it is driven by Donald Trump's fear - at least, I don't think that he's actually afraid of central American migrants. But he does very much want us to be afraid of these migrants. He's been harping on how scary they are for three years now. Sending "the military" to the southern border is just another symbolic way of saying, "Those people are scary. You should be afraid of them. Only I can save you!"

What would happen if we refused to be afraid? If we resisted the siren call of fear? Migration across the southern border is at its lowest net point in a generation or more. All of the facts point to the conclusion that migrants are a net positive to the US economy and to the communities in which they settle, whether they came legally or illegally. Any rational, fact-based effort to determine what we should be afraid of - meaning, what has the greatest chance of doing us harm - would put migrants way, way down on the list.

If we refuse to fear what our President wants us to fear, then we see government action in a new light: not as policy (right or wrong) in response to a problem, but as symbolic manipulation whose chief purpose is to manipulate our emotions. If we refuse to be afraid, it will be a wasted effort.

It should be noted that this is not the first time US military forces have been deployed to the southern border in support of anti-illegal migration efforts. The photo above was taken from a 2012 operation conducted during the Obama Administration. You can read about that operation, which involved actual Army forces, here. Essentially, the military saw it as a valuable training exercise. The difference, of course, is that the government wasn't trying to scare anybody - just trying to do their jobs a little better. A lack of fear makes all the difference.

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