Dismantling Trump’s Fear Zone
By Bob Worsley, Author, retired Arizona GOP State Senator
Welcome to the Fear Zone.
That’s a polite description of the re-election tactics deployed by Donald Trump in an attempt to dominate the airwaves, the Twittersphere and our national conversation — and scare voters into casting their ballot for him.
The impolite description of the Fear Zone, however, was initially provided by Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon.
“We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall,” he told author Michael Lewis. “This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” And the way to stoke that fear? “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with sh-t.”
Ironically, we now know that building a wall may result in Bannon getting locked up. In August, the high-living former Wall Streeter was charged with defrauding hundreds of donors to his “We Build the Wall” campaign — a crime that suggests Bannon is actually a denizen of the swamp he wanted to be drained.
But let’s get back to those election tactics. Expect daily off the wall antics by this administration to shock your sensibilities, feed your fear and lead the media on a 100mph police chase. Expect the media to chase the squirrels released as fast as one story reaches 24 hours old. Trump is flooding the zone as fast as he can tweet, hoping to upend the polls and beat Joe Biden on Election Day. But he’s changed his fear formula.
In 2016, Trump made immigrants the object of his fear-mongering. In his first speech announcing his campaign, he targeted Mexican immigrants: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”
That same speech also launched his vision of a building “massive wall” to stop the influx of undocumented immigrants, even though the vast majority of undocumented immigrants arrive at airports with tourist visas and never leave.
Trump also tried to terrorize the electorate by charging that immigrants increase crime despite study after study has shown the opposite is true.
Did all this work? Trump won the election. But it’s an open question as to whether this was due to Fear Zone, Russian election interference, James Comey’s late re-opening of the Hilary Clinton email investigation, Clinton’s faulty campaign or some combination thereof.
In the 2018 midterm elections, he tried to stoke fears of an immigrant “invasion” regarding a caravan of Central American asylum seekers that was filled with “gang members.”
The invasion never happened. And the fear didn’t work; the Republicans were thrashed at the ballot box and lost the House.
Now in 2020, Trump has adjusted the fear narrative. He’s shifted from anti-immigrant fear-mongering to out-and-out racism. Instead of decrying the murder of George Floyd or embracing Black Lives Matter, he equates BLM protestors to looters and thugs. He villainized Black athletes’ right to protest. He speaks about protecting suburbs — a clear dog-whistle about keeping white neighborhoods white and defending a few white police officers that suffer from racists out-of-control over reactions.
Meanwhile, he travels to protest-torn Kenosha, WI, and fails to visit James Blake, the Black man shot seven times in the back by police, while speaking warmly of the 17-year-old out of state white vigilante who stands accused of murdering two protestors.
These tactics send two clear messages. The first is: Be afraid, America. We are being torn apart by BLM. Cities are rioting and unsafe. And this reality — which isn’t actually true — is coming to your door if Biden is elected.
The second is: Trump is the candidate that supports racism and white superiority.
Trump and Bannon aren’t the only Fear Zone architects. David Horowitz, a former leftist activist turned-rabid anti-Muslim conservative, caught the attention of Stephen Miller, Trump’s longest-serving White House toady, a fan of putting children in cages at the border, and a pal of Bannon.
Horowitz called hope and fear the two most powerful weapons in politics, and noted that Barack Obama had used hope to become president. “Fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion,” Horowitz wrote in a paper he sent to Miller.
But he was only partially right.
I have experienced the Fear Zone before, and I can tell you its ugly power fades.
In 2010, members of Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) the organization designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, helped craft a fear campaign to pass Arizona’s notorious anti-immigration bill, SB 1070. The law gave local police the right to arrest any alien, legal or not, who failed to produce residency documents. It also made it a crime for anyone to shelter, employ, or give an undocumented alien a car ride.
The runup to SB 1070 involved a PR campaign of lies designed to stoke fear. Immigrants were painted as a grave threat to Arizona — a crime source, a drain on public resources, a threat to the job market.
But sustaining the Fear Zone was another matter. As I note in my book The Horseshoe Virus: How the Anti-Immigration Movement Spread from Left-Wing to Right-Wing America, there was an immediate backlash. Arizona’s economy took a major hit as the state’s lucrative conference and convention business endured a wave of cancellations. Meanwhile, the construction and farming sectors struggled, as much needed undocumented workers fled to more welcoming states. No wonder a petition and subsequent election to recall the bill’s sponsor, Russell Pearce, proved successful.
Civil liberties groups filed suits challenging the law. Eventually, the part of the statute requiring immigrants to carry papers was struck down by the Supreme Court. In 2016, the State Attorney General conceded that extending a stop or making an arrest to verify a person’s immigration status was not permissible. SB 1070 was essentially dead.
The politics of division and fear that fuel Trump’s campaign echo the antics that occurred in Arizona. I’m pleased to report that the Fear Zone has never fully returned to the Canyon State, despite Russell Pearce and Joe Arpaio’s best efforts. In the last decade, not a single law targeting immigrants has passed in the Arizona legislature. Why? Because like Trump himself, the Fear Zone is fraudulent; it’s a construct and an appeal to our worst instincts. Voters figured it out. They elevated themselves.
Here’s hoping they do again.
Learn more about Bob’s and the Republicans for a New President — Arizona’s efforts at our website, az.republicansforanewpresident.com
Bob Worsley is an American businessman and politician. He is the founder of SkyMall and a former Republican member of the Arizona Senate representing District 25 from 2013 to 2019. He recently published a new book, The Horseshoe Virus, about the radicalization and need for moderation in American politics that comes out in early October.