Descriptions of politics for most of us used to be sufficient with words like Democrat or Republican – liberal, moderate or conservative – right or left. For some, those labels still apply. For me, I see and hear a new description: fear.

A lot of Americans are fearful and scared. Scared of fast-changing world economic and other financial issues few really understand. Scared because our security of having a home may be in jeopardy for the first time in our lives. Scared because some institutions we used to believe in like banks and insurance companies aren’t the rock-solid, always-there businesses we grew up with. Scared because there’s less security in our lives than there used to be. Scared because the elected national government we were brought up to respect is failing us when we badly need it to function.

We do live in unsettling times. Personal relationships with our institutions, our security, our stability, even our employers are more tenuous and unfamiliar. They don’t relate to us as they previously have and we don’t relate to them the same way, either.

“Nationally angry” may be the best words available to describe us to others outside our borders. Anger on the right. Anger on the left. The now largely ineffective Tea Party got its start because people were mad. The Occupy Wall Street movement began for similar reasons at the other end of the political spectrum.

Fear is a bipartisan emotion. Take the TP crowd and the Occupy folks, for example. Both groups are mad at government. Both feel threatened and believe our political institutions aren’t representing them or working in their best interests. Both see bad actors in our political and institutional worlds. Both are driven by people who are – scared.

Our society has coarsened in the last couple of decades. We’ve become more tolerant of aberrations in society, entertainment, politics and even in our children. Older Americans know it. But as each deviation from what used to be normally unacceptable was made acceptable, younger people grew up thinking it had always been that way. So, just as we did before them, they pushed the envelope with fashion, entertainment and even language. The next generation did the same and lots of older folks found themselves with values and patterns of life that didn’t fit anymore.

Our national politics have been badly affected by fear. In much of the rhetoric, fear has turned to hate. This week’s CPAC meeting in Washington, D.C., has been a platform of hate. Presidential candidates and nearly all other speakers have vilified any thing or any one found “unacceptable” by virtue of their own litmus tests. Not comments critical or thought-provoking. Not offering some rational alternative to what they see as wrong with the country. No advancement of ideas to fix what they see as needing fixing. No. It’s been personal and hate-filled speech.

When the Republican National Convention is held in Florida a few months hence, expect more of the same. And not just directed at Democrats. There will be visceral infighting and bloody divisions exposed which will continue past the November general elections. No one will be exempt.

Democrats have some of these fear problems, too. But, as far as the White House job is concerned, any jockeying at their convention will be for 2016 and beyond. They’ll have the usual squabbles but, because their differences aren’t at the top of the ticket, they’ll be a lot more tame.

For the rest of us, those events won’t hold much interest. Still, like many who’ll participate there, we’re a fearful electorate in danger of making bad decisions because we’re unsettled and casting about for something – anything – to regain normalcy in our lives.

But, we’re bombarded daily with misleading or outright false information being passed as fact. We’re being fed daily doses of fear and distrust by hate radio talkers, well-paid to keep the pot boiling. We’re poorly served by many in the media who either don’t know what they’re saying is ignorant or wrong. Or don’t care. Our email inboxes overflow with anonymous hate speech and bogus facts.

Of course, some of our fear is unfounded. Many of our institutions are working. Conditions are improving and those that are new and different are starting to feel more comfortable. There are voices of reasonable people being heard. The long, slow process of recovery is happening. We have fewer reasons to fear and more to embrace.

But the hate. The outrageous, bellicose, always false and always destructive hate is with us daily, being stoked with obscene amounts of money provided by a few who want to change our society to fit their goals. It has found immoral political and business recipients willing to sell out truth and soul for a few more dollars. It’s insidious. It’s creating decay in our institutions. It’s stoking fear and uncertainty. A fearful electorate is a scared electorate. It’s capable of making tragic mistakes of historic proportions that can change a country forever.

World history contains many examples of national calamities brought on when people were afraid of conditions around them. When personal livelihood and security were threatened. When lives of stability were suddenly made unstable by events outside their control. Whole nations have been lost in such circumstances.

These are the times we live in. Definitions of right and wrong – of honesty and trust – of honor and courage by our institutions have been under prolonged attack. As a nation, we must put aside fear and anger and pursue what we know is right. What we grew up with. Who we really are.

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