Opinion: 2015 Was Fear's Year
A year in which we seemed to find a monster under every bed
There’s no mission statement for what I write for this magazine’s web site. I just write about things I think matter in the Carolinas. Looking back over 2015, it struck me that what I thought mattered most were stories of people, in one way or another, who were literally frightened out of their minds.
In only one instance was the fear even remotely justified, which means what we’re really talking about here is paranoia. Has fear of some inchoate Other dominated public life in any year of our lifetimes as it did in 2015? If you’re old enough to remember the Red Scare years, maybe 1953 or thereabouts; worldwide nuclear devastation seemed imminent in 1984, but that was a very specific and real threat. (Fun fact: This year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its famous Doomsday Clock at three minutes to midnight, same as in 1984. They’re scared, too.)
In March, hundreds packed the council chambers at the Government Center in Charlotte because they were afraid, for no rational reason, that allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice endangered their children.
In May, the chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners responded to a federal court ruling against Rowan County’s opening its board meetings with a Christian prayer by evoking the threat of a Muslim takeover: “I don’t need no Arab or Muslim or whoever telling me what to do or us here in the county what to do about praying.”
In June, Charleston. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.”
In July, two groups held joint protests over the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds in Columbia—one with ties to the New Black Panthers on the north side, another by neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan on the south side. Both claimed victimhood and the obligation to act out their fear of the other in public.
In August, the FBI arrested three men in Gaston County who had compiled an arsenal of homemade explosives as a defense against the federal government’s jackbooted assault on freedom, as demonstrated by a military training exercise that concluded as scheduled a month later.
Also in August, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer went on trial for shooting and killing an unarmed black man in 2013 because, the cop and his attorneys argued, he feared for his life.
In November, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory joined a long list of Republican governors around the nation in refusing to accept Syrian refugees on the chance—based on, at most, a wisp of evidence—that one or more might turn out to be a terrorist. In taking this courageous stand, McCrory chose to overlook the surfeit of terrorists his own state has already produced.
Irrational fear makes people do, say, and believe insane things, and a certain candidate for the Presidency is capitalizing—in every sense of the word—on fear as fuel for a political campaign that appeals to everyone’s worst instincts. He is winning.
I wish I could look ahead to the new year with optimism. It’s hard. There’s something profoundly ugly at play in our public life. Too many people have contracted the fever, and they’re acting it out in our public spaces. That's worth fearing.