The deepest essential difference between liberals and conservatives, between Democrats and Republicans, left and right, centers on fear. Conservatives are always fearful that things will get worse, which is why they don’t like change. Liberals welcome change, because they believe it usually brings improvement.
Fear easily leads to anger, anger that things aren’t going as one wishes, and there’s someone to blame for making things worse. Liberals can be angry too, of course, but personal calm is more characteristic.
In the ugly politics of the past seven years, look at the faces of the less-educated white conservatives during political meetings and rallies, the ones the party cultivates. They are full of hate. They think—because they are told so, and against the actual numerical evidence—that they are worse off, and they believe it’s entirely because a black man somehow became president, and besides, African-Americans are lazy loafers who live lives of luxury on our tax money. Republicans have devoted the past half century to promoting such tales.
Donald Trump is a master at arousing this anger. He has demonized all sorts of people, particularly Mexicans and Syrian refugees. These people, he claims, are the ones responsible for everything wrong, and we should hate them. It is conservative anger that he arouses, and the object of the anger almost doesn’t matter, as long as they can express their anger. Even some of the people Trump claims to hate give him their support.
But anger is not the real driving force. Fear is the driving force. People who become right wingers are perpetually afraid. They fear change, which they think will always leave them worse off. They fear newcomers, who they think will take their jobs. They fear economic policy, or economic change even in other countries, which is always about to lead to recession or depression, or loss of the value of their savings. They continue to believe these things all their lives, even when they never happen. Take a look at what became of the fear list for the Obama years: you still have your guns; sharia law has not been enacted; you have seen Obama’s birth certificate; inflation is low; the deficit has been cut by 70%; there are fewer government employees; Osama bin Laden is dead. And so on. But none of that matters to a true conservative.
When newcomers arrived in one German town from war-torn Syria, refugees who have lost everything they had to war and violence, some German right wingers acted on their conservative fears. They burned the building where these suffering people were housed, blocked the firefighters, and cheered the flames. Fortunately, no one died. Historically, some have literally burned the people they hate.
There is rarely cause for concern, however. Immigrants always improve a country’s economy; they don’t “steal jobs”. They take humble work at first, pay taxes, and become consumers themselves. Before long they become valuable members of society. They are contributors almost from the first.
It’s easy to believe that these right wing people are violent because they are angry. That’s not it. They are violent because they are afraid.
During the Bush administration, with it’s two very costly and unnecessary wars, officials worked very hard to be sure the American people were sufficiently fearful, and distrustful of foreigners, especially those from the Middle East. Remember the color-coded danger alert, the one that was almost always on red, meaning an attack on the US mainland was imminent or highly probable? Remember all the people shunted off to illegal and indefinite detention at the Guantanamo Bay prison? The worst of the worst, the Vice President snarled, until hundreds of them were found to be taxi drivers and bread bakers, after they had been imprisoned for a dozen years for nothing. No formal accusation, no trial, held for additional years even after they had been formally exonerated. We can’t have them on US soil because their treatment violates the Constitution and international law. That’s why it’s so hard to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. It’s illegal by international law, plus there actually are some dangerous people there.
In a better world we would find a way to assure conservatives that it will be OK, they can relax. But in today’s world, with the Republican presidential candidates who all rely on hatred for their message, and the Republican Congress that refuses to perform the necessary work to keep the country functioning, they will not be placated. Fear will control them all.