Fear can’t be the foundation for our future

For more than a decade serving in and around politics, I believed that America’s governmental institutions–properly equipped with good ideas and reasonable people–would lead our nation towards prosperity while protecting our critical civil liberties. The theory is sound, but reality is far more complex. The foundations for our future can’t be based in fear which means they’re not likely to come from Washington, D.C.

It’s tough to reach the conclusion that most of your professional work wasn’t quite as important as you once thought it was. 

Countless times, I’ve witnessed excellent policy ideas drowned in their infancy by paranoia peddlers screaming about Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, George Soros, or the Koch Brothers. If it’s not a specific villain we should fear, it’s a massive evil like socialism or an existential emergency such as climate change. The preference of those who benefit from the status quo is clear: “Be afraid and submit.”

Fear is the enemy of our collective futures. It’s also an excellent motivator, tremendously easy to manufacture, and a favorite tool of the political elite. 

They use it because it works. 

What makes you more likely to act? Pelosi calling the former Trump administration an “enemy of the state” or her suggesting that she has a better policy agenda? Few people get excited about policy discussions; far more become animated at the idea of combating domestic terrorists. 

Fearful people will quickly surrender their reason and liberty to political charlatans masquerading as saviors. The modern news media is heavily complicit. Fear drives website clicks and views which leads to desperately-needed advertising sales. Social media affords god-like insights into what motivates and drives us. In turn, we’re presented with a custom-tailored mental drug that leaves us exhausted and unsatisfied while simultaneously demanding more and more of it. 

Like our perpetual news cycle, we are quite literally “breaking now!”

The land of the free and home of the brave is increasingly a hovel for frightened junkies who have, with one twitching swipe after another, lost track of the difference between engaging the real world and screaming into the digital void.

Our republic will not survive if we continue to abandon the moral exercise of our liberties. We are on the brink of confessing that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol or board room can indeed plan our lives, define our virtues, and order our society better than we can. 

No leader, champion, or guardian is coming to save us. In America, it’s really up to we the people. We don’t need everyone to change direction immediately. We just need enough willing to head in a different direction. 

Healing our culture requires much more than legislation or public policy. We must weave knowledge, integrity and genuine love for one another into every aspect of our society. In our artistic and professional lives, we must be every bit as intentional about building the future as we claim to be in our public policies. If we commit to that effort, our policies will reflect our shared character rather than seeking to dictate it. 

Elected public service is critically important to our society. Nevertheless, it is insufficient to heal our present cultural maladies. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.” Replacing fear with hope is a tremendous challenge. We must do what is required to meet it. 

Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at cameron@triptychfoundation.org.

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