A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll notes a recent development in the opinion and focus of the United States electorate.
“Heightened fear of terrorism is rippling through the electorate, thrusting national-security issues to the center of the 2016 presidential campaign…, Some 40% of those polled say national security and terrorism should be the government’s top priority, and more than 60% put it in the top two, up from just 39% eight months ago. More than one quarter worry they or their family will be a victim of a terror attack. The most prominent news event of 2015, in the public’s mind, was the terrorist attack in Paris…‘For most of 2015, our country’s mood and thus the presidential election was defined by anger and the unevenness of the economic recovery, and now that has abruptly changed to fear,’ said Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster who conducted the survey...That undercurrent of anxiety…has the potential to reshape the 2016 policy landscape, shifting attention to national-security issues that traditionally are Republicans’ strong suit and away from the economic issues that Democrats prefer to spotlight.”
A recent New York Times/CBS poll found the same thing, leading CNN to issue the following “Breaking News” flash two Fridays ago: “Terrorism has eclipsed the economy as voters’ top pick for the biggest issue facing America.”
Fear of terrorism has Trumped (pun intended) economic inequality and insecurity as the electorate’s primary concern, potentially helping the rightmost wing of the nation’s corporate and imperial two party system. Good news for the leading Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (advocate of a ban on Muslim immigration) and Ted Cruz, bad news for Bernie Sanders. It’s good news also for Sanders’ Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton. As New York Times political correspondent Patrick Healy notes:
“Mr. Sanders’…progressive political message, so popular with liberals for much of 2015, now seems lost in a fog of fear. Americans are more anxious about terrorism than income inequality. They want the government to target the Islamic State more than Wall Street executives and health insurers. All of this plays to Mrs. Clinton’s strengths — not only as a hawkish former secretary of state but also as a savvy politician who follows the public mood. After months of pivoting to the left on domestic issues to compete with Mr. Sanders for her party’s base, she is now talking about security and safety far more than Mr. Sanders — and solidifying her lead in opinion polls.”
Never mind that everyday Americans are more likely to be killed by an asteroid than by a terror attack. Or that those Americans are at much greater risk to mortality from the nation’s current savage “New Gilded Age” levels of economic inequality – a leading factor behind the recent striking rise in white middle aged and working class mortality in the U.S. (Or that insofar as Americans are right to be afraid of terror attacks, the threat traces largely to “their” nation’s criminal and petro-imperialist wars in the Middle East.)
The polls are ironically juxtaposed with a recent Pew Research report on the economic disparity that ends and ruins far more American lives than Islamic terrorism. Middle class Americans now comprise less than half, or 49.9%, of the nation’s population, down from 62% in 1970, Pew finds. For Pew, middle class Americans live in households earning between two-thirds to two times the nation’s median income ($41,900 to $125,600 for a three-person household). For decades, the middle class thus defined had been the majority of the country. No longer. Since 1970, Pew solemnly informs us, “the nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top.”
Pew deleted a couple of relevant things from its report. First, as the French economist Thomas Piketty recently reminded us, this is capitalism returning to its longstanding inegalitarian norm after an anomalous thirty or so years of socioeconomic levelling inside the world’s rich nations following World War II. Second, reversing the ongoing decline of the U.S. middle class and reducing inequality is the central and recurrent theme of a major party presidential candidate who has been surprising the media by drawing large crowds and record small campaign contributions while calling himself a democratic socialist. I am referring, of course, to Sanders (imagine a study of rising white xenophobia that made no reference to Donald Trump.)
Speaking of things left out, there’s something missing from the recent media reports on how fears of terrorism have trumped anger over economic inequality in the U.S. These reports ought to include statements of self-congratulation. The outcome they describe is a central part of amehttps://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-nature-and-mission-of-u-s-corporate-mass-media/ricide.docx, after all. Apparently, that media is successfully doing its ruling class owners’ bidding by saturating airwaves, Internet, and newsprint with sensational, blood-soaked fear-mongering news content on real and alleged terrorist threats (rendered absurdly mysterious given the reigning media’s refusal to honestly cover U.S. epic and ongoing imperial crimes in the Muslim world) while marginalizing discussion of the outrageous inequalities that do far more to kill, maim, and cripple Americans than the Islamic State or “radicalized” Muslims residing in “the homeland.” One among many symptoms of this biased content is the contrast between the outsized attention that media gives to every outrageous statement of the white nationalist Trump and the minimal attention it gives to Sanders’ populist campaign.
It’s nothing new. As Sheldon Richman recently explained on Counterpunch:
“We’ve been through this before. In the 1980s a group of right-wing ‘experts,’ aided by the media, tried to scare Americans into believing that Soviet-trained terrorists were among us. If so, they preferred living here peacefully to creating mayhem….Why do the government, the media establishment, and an assortment of consultants traffic in fear? It’s not a hard question. Many people profit from fear-mongering about terrorism. Politicians and bureaucrats gain more power. They also gain access to more money… …ends up in the terrorism industry, a constellation of firms that sell the government endless quantities of goods and services.”
The fear-mongering adds to the economic inequality from which it diverts citizen attention and concern by increasing profits for the owners and managers of the high-tech permanent war-and security-industrial complex.
It’s not all that unlike the chilling nightmare portrayed in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, wherein a totalitarian government kept the masses poor and quiescent with regular hate- and fear-mongering war and terror propaganda. Orwell’s warning was relevant not only to the tyrannical “socialist” governments of the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and “Marxist-Lenninist” North Korea. It applied as well to the “democratic” capitalist West and indeed to world history’s greatest military empire the United States, where history’s richest war masters collude with state-capitalist media giants and dollar-drenched politicians to keep the citizenry cowering in dread of Muslim terrorism while the top U.S. 1% owns more than 90% of U.S. wealth (along with probably at least half the nation’s “democratically elected” officials) and as more than 16 million children – 22 percent of all US children – live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level. The billionaires and millionaires – including the top owners of leading terrorist “defense” and “security” firms like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Northrup Grumman – are cowering and clucking all the way to the bank.
Author and activist Paul Street can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org