CSotD: Fear itself

Bill Bramhall illustrates what FDR was talking about in his oft-quoted, rarely contextualized remark that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

It was in his first inaugural, as he took the reins from Herbert Hoover and began the task of rebuilding a shattered economy. Specifically, he was making a promise that honesty and transparency would be hallmarks of his administration:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

I haven’t studied the period in depth, but I get the impression that, while Hoover failed to address the Depression effectively, it was more a case of ineptitude than deceit, that he was basically a good man and simply not up to the job.

But if I’m unsure of the particulars, I’m deeply convinced that FDR was correct in that distrust and negativity are more destructive than the specifics of a crisis, and that, while trying to put smiley-faces on everything isn’t productive, maintaining public trust is a critical element of the social contract.

Bramhall suggests that we’ve hit a point where fearmongering and division are losing their impact because people are already scared and desperate.

Which is a nice opening for this


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Adam Zyglis)


(Drew Sheneman)

Zyglis is right that parents are uncertain of how to handle the return to school and are getting some pretty vague and meaningless replies to their questions.

But Sheneman takes it to a more pragmatic and chilling level, because, whatever accommodations we make to keep our kids safe from the coronavirus, we’ve already been taking steps to keep them safe from random shooters, which poses the important question

What the hell have we become?

This isn’t the fear FDR warned against. Concern over Covid-19 is perfectly valid, while, given our refusal to enact the gun laws most other nations have, school shootings are also a valid concern.

The fear we need to fear is ginned up by that refusal to impose limits on gun purchases, more for the paranoid fear of government that underlies it that for the fear of scary people you might encounter and have to shoot.

And it’s ginned up by the insistence that kids have to be back in school, with the underlying, obviously false idea that coronavirus is some kind of hoax.

Which, in turn, is ginned up by the greatest fear we have to fear, a government in which a “hoax” is anything that questions policy.

The bright ray of hope in all this is that any madman who wants to shoot up a school is going to have to find one that hasn’t just sent all the kids home because of a Covid outbreak.

I remember going out in the hall so we could kneel down next to the walls in case the Russians decided to launch missiles during the school day, and I’ve heard people of my generation talk of how those drills frightened them, though I accepted them as just part of the world.

I suppose, kids in 1932 accepted the Depression as a given while their parents took it more seriously, such that FDR had some genuine fear to push back against.

Which he did, and successfully, though not without grasping the nettle firmly, which brings us to my oft-expressed theory that Joe Biden is simply the re-incarnation of Jerry Ford: Someone to sweep up the mess and set the stage for the next administration.


Which was Carter, and he didn’t please everyone, so we picked Reagan instead and got what we asked for, and doesn’t this Mike Marland cartoon strike a familiar chord?

I’m sure FDR would recognize it, disapprovingly.

Happy days are sure as hell not here again yet.


And I really liked Michelle Obama’s speech, which you can stream here if you missed it, but I feel Bruce Plante is reading things right and I wish he were wrong.

I recognize why Americans gave FDR a fourth term: We were in the midst of a major war and I’m guessing the state of his health was not widely known.

But an amendment to stop that from happening again was wise, and perhaps necessary to guard against our treating the government like Linus’s blanket.

I love Michelle Obama. I love the energy she brought to the White House as First Lady, particularly the enthusiasm she generated among school children for good health and exercise.

But she’s not America’s only good person or good woman or good woman of color, and it’s uncool to wish for her as president if all you’re really wishing for is a third-term Obama, because, hey, she’s herself, she’s not that guy.

With any luck, she’ll still be out there stirring things up and if Kamala Harris turns out to be our first female president, she’ll have gotten there without family ties.

(And, judging from the response from rightwing bigots, perhaps despite them.)

Which brings to mind the first politician I voted for, Pat Schroeder, whose husband Jim was a gracious second-fiddle.

While Schroeder was in Congress, he formed the Dennis Thatcher Society, named after the husband of Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. “To be in it, your wife had to have a more prominent job than you, and you had to be able to sign your wife’s name to a bill,” Jim explains. “Our motto was, ‘Yes, Dear.'”

For that matter, I liked Dennis Thatcher and hated his wife. All professional couples should enjoy that kind of autonomy.

Pat Schroeder — whom I adored — was one of 16 women in Congress. There are now 105.

It’s not enough. It’s not close.

But that ladder is getting easier to climb without a boost.


E.A. Bushnell, August 1920


7 thoughts on “CSotD: Fear itself

  1. There is no “safe” re-opening of schools. At some point, the virus will spread, causing children, staff, and likely their families, to get sick. Some will die. The real argument is how much sickness and death are we, as a society, willing to accept so that we can feel “normal” again. The only thing to fear is the virus itself. We ignore this fear at our own peril.

  2. You’re reading FDR and me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with fearing the virus and you’d be a damn fool not to.

    The fear we need to fear is the paranoia that declares the virus a “hoax” and insists we pretend it’s not there. That fear is what makes people open schools against all responsible advice. That is the fear, as FDR said, that keeps us from solving problems.

  3. Sorry, Mike, I didn’t mean to give the impression that I was arguing with you, or FDR (my favorite President) necessarily. I understand where both of you are coming from, I was simply adding my .02 to the point. Those who believe the virus is a hoax, or not to be taken seriously are not paranoid, but delusional. (Well, they’re also paranoid, but that’s another story.) In this case, I believe we can’t be too “afraid”; it’s lack of fear that has gotten us into trouble. I used to sub in the public school system, and I know with absolute certainty that opening the schools now will be a disaster. Again, my apology.

  4. Things get a little twisty when you start talking about fear of looking like you’re afraid.

  5. Criminal psychologists call this phenomenon “fear of fear.” It happens when people (most often those with a criminal mentality) are more afraid of being afraid, or the appearance of being afraid, than what there is to be afraid of. It causes those afflicted with it to take extreme risks. When shown they’re wrong, they double down on the extremism, out of fear of being seen as wrong. There’s a lot of that going around these days.

  6. Donald Trump suffers from a fear of appearing weak. This is why he never admits error or apologizes, because he mistakenly believes that these things are a sign of weakness.

    He doesn’t realize that a leader has to be confident and strong to be able to admit making a mistake or apologize for being wrong. He therefore reveals himself as a weak, insecure person, who needs constant praise, and if he can’t get it, he will praise himself.

  7. Praise himself, ohhh, yes, he does that.
    And he does it a lot! On an almost daily basis.

    Name one President who has worked so hard to keep the American People so divided.
    And for what?
    To prevent the People of The United States from seeing him as “human”?
    Or to keep our attention focused elsewhere, and not in the inept or shady things he’s been doing since he took office?

    Open your eyes, America!
    This Coronavirus doesn’t care what Political Party you belong to, because it’s an Equal Opportunity Killer!
    But he expects us all to praise him for the piss poor job he’s done?
    During his Charleston, SC Rally, on February 28, he claimed that the Coronavirus was “The Democrats new hoax. And that they would “politicize it”. But what does Donald do? He turns wearing masks into a “Political Statement”.
    Proof? Asking a reporter to remove his mask to better understand him. When the reporter declined Trump said, “You want to be Politically Correct”.

    I refuse to believe that the American People have gotten so stupid that they can no longer think for themselves, rather than letting Trump think for them.
    Please, don’t prove me wrong!

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