By Tom Krattenmaker
If you keep up with media and politics, you’ve been encountering lots of references to fake news. The term came to prominence with the alarm over fabricated-from-scratch “news” stories propagated to disrupt the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor. Trump is now disrupting the fake news conversation by applying “fake” to news he doesn’t like, even if it’s verifiably, factually real. The public needs to see through this form of manipulation and realize that reports from professional media outlets are infinitely more credible than, say, The New Nationalist.
Oh, not familiar with The New Nationalist? That was one of the “media” sources that stoked the trumped-up Pizzagate scandal last fall. One dupe was so outraged that he headed to the pizzeria at the center of the faux controversy with a rifle, ready to go Rambo to break up the child-sex ring in operation there. One problem: the sordid operation didn’t exist.
This nonsense is malicious in and of itself. But what’s worse is the response it aims to create: the manufacturing of enemies who aren’t really enemies and threats that aren’t legitimately threatening, leading to a public more willing to go along with things it would not normally go along with.
It’s fake fear.
Fear is the steady drumbeat coming from his administration—fear of terrorism, fear of violent crime, fear of the U.S. being taken advantage of by other countries, fear of, and anger toward, a news industry Trump now calls an enemy of the people. Listen closely to the cadence, and you hear: “Go along with the deeply objectionable policies and laws that I, the President, want you to go along with. And stop wondering what the hell I have going on with the Russians.”
Virtually the first thing out of Trump’s mouth when he launched his campaign was his dire warning about Mexican immigrants who murder and rape. We might call this lying through massive exaggeration. Now, once again, Muslims are the president’s fake-fear priority. The president’s travel ban on refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries is premised on fear: the scary notion that radical Islamic terrorists are easily slipping across our borders with the intent to kill and destroy.
Last weekend, Trump made the patently false claim that the U.S. is allowing “thousands and thousands” into our country without safeguards. “There was no way to vet those people,” Trump complained. “There was no documentation, there was no nothing.”
But as fact-based reports show, there is a way to vet refugees from Middle Eastern countries, and such vetting is done—extreme amounts of it, you might say. Refugees vying for entry to the U.S. undergo several rounds of background checks, fingerprint and retina scans, and other screenings, done by multiple agencies. The rigorous vetting, combined with the relatively small number of Muslim refugees admitted, adds up to zero.
As in, there has never been a fatal terrorist attack by refugees from countries covered by the President’s travel ban.
Whatever statistics might say, isn’t it still possible that a terrorist could slip through disguised as a refugee? It’s true that terrorism in the name of Islam is a scourge of our time; an attack is always possible. But let’s keep things in perspective. It’s possible lightning will strike you next time you’re caught outside in a sudden rainstorm. It’s possible the roof at your workplace could collapse in a freak accident. It’s possible you could choke on your lunch or die in a plane crash. Statistically speaking, the chance of your being killed by a foreign terrorist is about one in 3.6 million. Avoidance of this “threat” is not something to base your life on, or sacrifice your principles for.
Fear is an age-old human phenomenon, of course, able to grip us whatever our political allegiances. Liberals harbor deep fears—especially about the new president. We swap conjectures about how long before he interns Muslims, torches the Constitution, or nukes a country that’s antagonizing him. It’s good sense to remain vigilant, but we must resist the lure of fear and the foolish behaviors it can produce.
Fake fear—not something to be afraid of, per se. The task is to see it for what it is and notice what its manufacturers are trying to put over on us. Our job is to reject it by using something the fake fear perpetrators wish we didn’t have: brains and the ability to use them.