Perhaps you too have heard people say that they don’t want to vote for Hillary just out of fear of Donald Trump. There’s too much fear-mongering in politics already, they say, and they don’t want to feed into that.
There’s no question that fear-mongering is a powerfully destructive force in American politics. However, not all fears are created equal, and I think this line of reasoning dangerously conflates appropriate and inappropriate fear.
I first came across the idea of these two types of fear in a talk by Gil Fronsdal. The basic idea is this:
If you’re walking along a path and a deadly venomous snake slithers out right in front of you, you get afraid (at least, I hope you do). This fear is a good thing. You may have been daydreaming as you wandered along, but fear snapped you back into the present, ready to act. This is appropriate fear: it is useful, it is proportional to the actual danger that faces you, and it brings clarity and focus.
By contrast, I know that some people are deathly afraid of air travel. Sometimes, this fear is strong enough that they will opt to take a 40-hour drive rather than a 5-hour flight. In this case, they are actually increasing their risk of death or injury significantly because of an inordinate response to a perceived danger. This is inappropriate fear: it is counterproductive, disproportionate, and muddies the thought process.
I don’t mean to single out people who are scared of flying, by the way. It’s certainly understandable to be afraid of being 40,000 feet up in the air. But the point is that we should try not to act on such fears. When inappropriate fear guides our actions, we may actually be making ourselves less safe, not to mention missing out on positive experiences. On the other hand, appropriate fear ought to be acted upon: it is a vital protective response.
So the real question we should be asking is: is fear of Trump blown out of proportion, or is he a snake in the grass?
Personally, I feel a lot of clarity on this one.