The following piece by Nina Burleigh was posted on the Newsweek website January 20, 2017:
As the sun rose over Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington on Friday, everything was in place for Donald Trump’s inauguration except the people. Hundreds of cement bomb-blockers were in place; camo-clad soldiers patrolled street corners along with D.C. police in riot gear; roads were closed; traffic crawled; choppers buzzed; and black-clad snipers took up positions on rooftops. Trump had wanted tanks and missile launchers to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue ahead of him, but the U.S. military would only give him some fighter jet flyovers.
The people would arrive later, after they lined up as meekly as cattle at a Texas feedlot and were herded through narrow security gates to be prodded and searched.
The lockdown and hardware, worthy of the takeover of a small Iraqi city, is a quadrennial Washington celebration of total paranoia in the Age of Terror. This year, there’s even more fear than usual. Millions of Americans, including portions of the national security apparatus and members of the diplomatic and foreign policy teams, aren’t just worried about terrorism: They are afraid of their new president.
Even with, or maybe because of, all our military hardware and security, the American people—the safest humans in the history of humanity—are more afraid this year than ever. Immediately after Trump’s election, people who had not voted for him started using the words scary and terrifying. A week after the election, The Washington Post ran an explainer titled “Why Millions Fear the Looming Trump Presidency.” If you are brown or gay, the reporters wrote, you are even more “afraid.”
On any street in New York or San Francisco, it’s easy to anecdotally confirm the fear. But social media confirm it as a massive event. Crimson Hexagon, a Boston-based social media analytic company, found that social media conversations about being “scared” or” afraid” about Trump increased 19 percent after the election, compared with before November 8. In fact, people were already pretty scared of him before the election: From August 1 to November 8, out of the 331 million social media conversations about Trump, 4.3 million were people saying they were “afraid” or “scared.” Of the 248 million conversations about Trump since the election, 5.1 million were people talking about being “afraid’ or “scared.”
Americans’ fear of their own president isn’t new. Many American businessmen in the 1930s and ’40s considered Franklin Roosevelt a fascist dictator. Right-wing militias believed Bill Clinton was coming to get them after the Waco, Texas, assault. But fear of the president reached a new, frenzied pitch in the past eight years, as Barack Obama’s opponents in the right-wing media and blogosphere relentlessly painted him as an illegitimate usurper of power, a dictator one stroke of the executive pen away from taking people’s guns and throwing citizens in “FEMA camps.”
Many people believed the portrayal.
Last summer, I met and profiled Lorraine Morrison, a one-time California housewife who founded an organization called Truckers for Trump, which crisscrossed the country to spread the #MAGA word at truck stops. Morrison, 47, had made major life decisions based on fear of Obama. In 2014, she took her daughter out of school, and together they moved into her husband’s long-haul truck because she had heard—on right-wing radio and websites—that Obama was going to institute martial law and send people like her to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s camps.
“I didn’t feel safe being at home with my husband so far away, with everything that was going on with the government,” she said. “It kept progressing and the rumors started getting bigger and larger, and more and more people were being outspoken and I started to get fearful. They were talking about FEMA and Obama doing all those crazy things.”
(“Those crazy things” included, according to her, the “Obamaphone”—a federal program that subsidized suppliers who provided phone service to low-income Americans. Morrison believed the program was actually intended to hand cellphones to inner-city thugs and drug dealers.)
Trump’s election changed everything for the Morrisons. Throughout 2016, she had been convinced Obama would suspend the election and institute martial law. A month after Trump was elected, Lorraine decided she could safely go back to living in a house, and she settled down in rural Georgia and enrolled her daughter in school. “When he won the election, I felt a great weight come off my shoulders,” Morrison said. “There is hope now, and this is the guy who is going to provide it for us.”
As Trump is inaugurated Friday, Morrison and the millions of Americans who voted for him have literally shed their fear of the president. And they’ve passed it on to others.
Since Election Day, millions of Americans have been talking seriously about gulags, fascism, 1930s Germany and moving to Canada. Trump’s genuine—not fake-news—authoritarian tendencies rightly terrify progressives. His actual threats to register Muslims and deport Mexicans rightly terrify minorities.
The paranoid conspiracy theories of the extreme right are not on a par with the legitimate fears of progressives, minorities and the left, but the effects are the same. Progressives’ and minorities’ deep fear of the newly emboldened white nationalist movement is the mirror image of the fear that Trump supporters felt under an empowered black president. And no one is happier about that turnabout than the so-called alt-right, the white-identity movement that seethed and festered underground through eight years of the first African-American president and his celebration of multicultural America.
At the Deploraball in Washington Thursday night, headlined by some of the white nationalist movement’s heroes, tuxedoed, stogie-smoking guests and their fur-clad consorts ridiculed the chanting, flag-burning protesters on the street as quivering “babies” and “losers” who needed to get over it and accept the new order.
The 45th president will the first in history who won’t surprise anyone if he live-tweets to the world his ceremonial trip from Capitol Hill to the White House, accompanied by martial music and the roaring accompaniment of an F-35, an F-16, four F/A-18 Navy combat jets and 60 Black Hawk helicopters.
Meanwhile, a swath of America is quaking with anxiety, expressed succinctly for many by the outgoing vice president: “We have no freakin’ idea what he’s going to do.”
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