There is an impression, widespread and generally accurate, that America is changing.  And that impression creates uncertainty, and uncertainty generates fear.  The issue is whether our fears are justified.

We are becoming more Latin, Asian, and African-American.  White Christians are less dominant.  Increasing ethnic diversity changes culture.  Movies, music, literature, education, all adapt to reflect a changing society.

International corporations increasingly condition and determine our economy.  The U.S. government cannot guarantee American jobs.  Jobs go where the money goes.  Pass a law that prevents companies from making things elsewhere and the companies will simply relocate.  Traditional monetary and fiscal policies don’t work anymore as they used to.

All of us Americans are dramatically affected by all this.  Seeing your country change around you in ways that neither you nor your elected representatives can prevent is frightening, especially if you are older, white, and conservative by nature.  You blame those in power–the “elites”–for not stopping this.  Find a villain.  How about a black president who must be a Muslim born somewhere else.  You are frightened, and frightened people easily and naturally become angry people.  A century ago we called these Americans “populists”.  Now they call themselves the “tea party.” 

Unless you believe these cultural, social, and economic trends can be reversed, that we can somehow magically return to the 1950s of happy days, ways must be found for our nation to absorb these changes and make them “American” as we have during past waves of immigration and cultural diversity.  The magic of America exists in this unique capacity to absorb difference and make it come out American.

In the meantime, older, white, conservative Americans should be listened to with respect and encouraged to overcome their fears.  It is a law of nature that generations must move on.  In a decade or so we will all look back (including me, I hope) on this period as yet another era of transition where the magic of America adjusted to change and made us better.  And less afraid.

13 Responses to “Fear Itself, And Why We Should Fear It”

  1. Lydia Forsythia Says:

    Fear, fear, fear: the rallying cry of the nervous journalist/pol. Older Americans have NO fear,but you do (although you also qualify as older, and should move on). It is only in the extreme poverty of your imagination that you falsely assert that “older Americans” fear diversity. Give it a break. Conservative older Americans’ children are “marrying up” into a diversity of races, and with the Elders’ blessings. Older Americans are on their way OUT of the job market, the one you pols royally trashed. They’re just trying to give the kids a heads up. The IMF and one global currency aren’t even being discussed, yet are poised to take over. “Fear” isn’t the half of it, and diversity isn’t ANY of it.
    As far as older generations needing to move on, Gary, last time I looked that was called, “death.”

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  3. Ken Wharton Says:

    Gary…I supported your candidacy and wish you had become President however, to say that “jobs go to where the money goes” is a little short of the truth. Jobs go where there is cheap labor. When China recently bumped the RMB (yuan) up a trifle, the US corps moved west to where Chinese labor was cheaper than along the East coast of China , the tradtional area for cheap labor. NAFTA created the current immmigration problem when American interests with huge capital brought the collapse of small farms and businesses in Mexico. What normal person of any culture would pack up and cross miles of waterless desert to cross illegally into a country? Well, one who wants to provide for a poverty sricken family. Why do we have this hue and cry about legalizing the illegals? We didn’t have that when Reagan did it. I have traveled internationally for over 30 years…social democracies treat their populations better than capitalist democracies. Take the example of one of my close relatives. Sick of ten years in the military because of the waste he saw, he left and went to work in Germany. He wanted to work in America,but he told me he wouldn’t know from one day to the next if he had a job. Now, in Germany for over twenty years, he has a family,job security, and even though his first wife died after three years suffering cancer, has had major surgery himself, and he has three children, and a wife who when she needs to see a doctor, does, and he has never seen a medical bill. Why? Germay has single payer, and we bow to the corporations. As to the socialist democracies, after WWI and WWII which were the culmination of centuries of war in Europe, those countries finally saw the fultility of it. Where is the USA? 59% of our federal budget goes to one form of “national defense” or another. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our educational system is a disgrace (I say this as a retired teacher who is proud and supportive of public schools, always under attack from the Right) and our health care sytem is not going to improve. We have troops in most every country in the world, create and support fascist dictators and impoverish the people of the countries they “lead”. Look it up on the net, we are a country which has been in war or battle for all but about two years of our existence. Read the book, The Imperial Cruise, and see if Teddy Roosevelt deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace. His unconstitutional actions led to WWII. Our continued pretense of national security at any cost is bankrupting this country morally and spiritually, and economically.

  4. Peter Tucker Says:

    I’m 57, male, white and out of work. But in contrast to your proposed fearful older American, I grew up in California. My family reunions have always been dominated by my hispanic cousins. My nephew is mixed race. I’m gay. We’ve all been waiting for change to happen and doing what we can to help it along.

    But its disingenuous to think that Federal and State laws and policies don’t have an impact on the problems we face. Multinational Corporations owe allegiance to no country. Access to markets should come with a price. China guards their markets while ours are wide open. Whether that price is a value added tax, or local requirements on labor and supply content, or just a tariff, there should be a price and our markets deserve protecting. It’s up to the Federal Government to provide that protection.

    It’s disingenuous to think that our subsidies to agri-business don’t have far reaching global consequences. Subsidies on corn allow multinationals to undersell producers in foreign markets forcing small farmers off their land and into international labor markets. Again, in California less than 10% of our significant agricultural output receives Federal subsidies.

    It’s disingenuous to think that funding more military infrastructure than the rest of the planet combined does not have consequences. If only that it starves the rest of our infrastructure of Federal funding.

    The broadcasting media in our country needs to be reminded that they are licensed by the Federal Government. That along with that license they should be required to provide air time for campaign and policy debates at little or no cost to recognized candidates. I would hope such policy would help remove the undue influence that money has on our national elections.

    Above all, if multinational corporations are to be given the voice (through their monetary influence) and recognition of citizens, then they should be required to act like citizens. At the very least this would include loyalty to America and support of fellow citizens.


    Pete Tucker

  5. Bill from Palmer Says:

    Well, I’m not surprised that there’s no other comments here as the article was basically asinine…

    Fear is normal and healthy reaction to those things deserving such.
    It’s fear that keeps us (or kept us) from walking into the lions maw.

    It’s fear that spurs us to prepare for winter or battle.

    The changes that have racked our culture/society since the end of WWII have not all been for the good. Would that we had been a bit more discriminating about which of them we called ‘good’.
    Hopefully, we are discriminating enough (fearful of consequences)at this time in our history to keep the light of individual liberty from being put out by those who prefer to operate in the darkness.

    Pray for our country-
    Bill from Palmer

  6. Tym Says:

    I do truly believe these economic trends can be reversed. I also doubt the intentions of those who do not. We have assumed a position dominated by the mindset of “run from the bully.” How about, first, we call the bully out and see what he’s made of. That is, indeed, a matter of principle.

  7. Kathy Dorce Says:

    I seem to always find myself agreeing with you, Senator Hart, as if these were my thoughts if I suddenly had the gift of expression you do! The sentence that brought tears to my eyes is this one:

    “The magic of America exists in this unique capacity to absorb difference and make it come out American.”

    Thank you for staying in the public forum and for saying things that must be said and so eloquently.

  8. ballmerboy Says:

    I’m very much surprised, Mr Hart, by your wrong-headed assertion that the government can’t guarantee jobs. It smacks very much of a defense of the (so-called) free trade agreements that have hollowed out the American manufacturing sector.
    Of course, you can’t make a law ordering companies to stay here, but you can impose tariffs on goods from other countries so that companies can’t benefit from exploiting low-cost labor and the US government subsidizes that keep international transportation costs artificially low. The US developed its manufacturing base under stiff tariffs that protected American businesses and jobs and helped create a vibrant middle class. “Free trade” has turned us into a country that buys cheap imports because that’s all we can afford.

  9. Mad Hemingway Says:

    In the meantime, older, white, conservative Americans should be listened to with respect and encouraged to overcome their fears.

    Nah. This is what happens when the intellectual standard is Fox News. Stupidity! If they can’t tell right from wrong, they should be shamed by their ignorance, not the opposite.

    It is a law of nature that generations must move on. In a decade or so we will all look back (including me, I hope) on this period as yet another era of transition where the magic of America adjusted to change and made us better.

    Mostly, historians will look at America in this time period and wonder how it survived by being so inefficient. (See point 1 above).

  10. Gary Hart: Fear Itself, and Why We Should Fear it Says:

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  11. 1murillo Says:

    “In the meantime, older, white, conservative Americans should be listened to with respect and encouraged to overcome their fears.”
    All Americans should be respected, but assuaging fears of transitions isn’t the role of “newcomers.”
    Hart missed the mark with this post. Other than stating general understandings, there’s little here to educate or inspire the reader.

  12. Gill Winograd Says:

    I am in complete agreement with Gary’s posting. The world is changing in ways we can only influence slightly and to which we need to adapt. Most of this is good. To those who fear the changing ethnic mix, well boo hoo. Racism has no justification, morally, scientifically, or constitutionally. If there are “white” people who are afraid of a “black” President they need to get over it. I am quite sure that within two generations terms like black and white will no longer be used and it will puzzle people then that they were so important to our generation. I wish the change would come faster.

    The economic disruption we feel is driven by technological change more than anything else. If we try to limit that in our country, as we did with stem cell research, the discoveries will be made elsewhere and the riches and power will go there too. Cheap labor and overvalued currencies are side issues. Our companies have to hire high powered brains abroad. Key parts of Intel’s latest chips are designed abroad by well paid foreign scientists and engineers. Microsoft and Google cannot find enough qualified Americans for jobs here in the US and constantly pressure the government to issue more visas to qualified foreigners. If not, they will move those jobs overseas. Our failure to educate our kids for jobs that are available here won’t change if China floats its currency.

    Like Gary, I’m optimistic that we will meet these challenges. Populism was irrational and racist the last time and we got over it. The Tea Party nonsense is not likely to last long either.

  13. Gary Hart Says:

    It would have been better if I had said that capital flows toward cheap labor. We have considerable subsidies to keep jobs here, though most haven’t worked very well. More subsidies and tariffs will not solve our employment problems. Trade barriers create trade wars and they sometimes become shooting wars. Greater savings and public and private investment are necessary for economic recovery.
    If being a “pol” involves twelve years of public service almost a quarter century ago, I guess I am guilty. My guess is Ms. Forsythia does not consider her political favorites to be “pols.”

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