On “The Takeaway,” I Talk about the Politics of Fear, Post-Paris

I hauled myself at an ungodly hour into Manhattan this morning, to be interviewed by John Hockenberry, the host of NPR’s The Takeaway. We talked about the politics of fear, post-Paris. Fear was the topic of my first book, Fear: The History of a Political Idea, which was written very much in the shadow of 9/11. In recent years, I’ve gotten away from that theme. Can’t say I’ve been too happy about having to revisit them. Anyway, I talked with Hockenberry about why it makes sense for Donald Trump to trade in the hysteria that he does, why we attend to certain fears but not others, and what I’m most nervous about in the days ahead. Have a listen.



  1. Benjamin David Steele November 24, 2015 at 12:09 pm | #

    I just listened to the interview. The example of Lincoln was interesting. It’s rather unique. Lincoln intentionally chose not to demonize Southerners, even as the civil war was going on. That is because Lincoln wanted to maintain the Union, including the South as part of it.

    The difference now is that politicians have learned to pick enemy others who are even more culturally and often more physically distant. It’s easier to demonize people on another continent where few Americans will ever travel, especially when those people have different languages, religions, political traditions, etc. There is no Union to be maintained with those perceived foreigners.

    Even few left-leaning politicians will seek common humanity with the innocent civilians the US military regularly kills in other countries. To show genuine compassion and basic decency is the best way to lose an election. Sadly, fear works. It’s a powerful force of manipulation and social control.

  2. Roquentin November 24, 2015 at 12:50 pm | #

    I am pretty firm in the view that Trump doesn’t believe half the shit he says and his irresponsible rhetoric mostly boils down to opportunism of the most craven sort. Even if he does not, plenty of his supporters actually do. He’d say any kind of garbage to get a few votes, not really considering whether there are greater consequences at stake rather than him winning or losing. For someone as narcissistic as him, the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around Trump and his needs probably doesn’t enter his head.

    On the other hand, I saw a picture someone posted of Trump in an online article and his facial expression appeared, at least to me, to be worth a thousand words. He looked tired. His face seemed to say that he’d been way too sheltered among the enclaves of the well-healed and mega rich. I don’t think he really understood the depravity and baseness of political life in the united states. Even as he flocked to it like a buzzard to carrion, he couldn’t hide the look of revulsion and fatigue on his face. All the while, he couldn’t be bothered to change course. This was his base. This was the constituency he’s spent massive amounts of money and effort cultivating. That expression, it almost looked like Trump himself didn’t want to win anymore.

  3. Bill Barnes November 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm | #

    One thing Trump is right about: Marco Rubio — truly dangerous.


  4. jonnybutter November 24, 2015 at 4:22 pm | #

    God, I hate ‘The Takeaway’.

  5. jonnybutter November 24, 2015 at 4:24 pm | #

    you (CR) were good on it, but…just ick. I have heard it in the car often enough to have developed a loathing. Cheap, sensational, dumb, superficial, alarmist. Everything you could dream of in a public radio show

    • Roquentin November 24, 2015 at 5:15 pm | #

      The only NPR podcast I really listened to consistently was Serial, but I listen to and watch true crime shows/podcasts with compulsion. In some ways, it’s almost as if true crime is the only place you can go for the real story in our popular media landscape. The everyday tragedies, the darker aspects of life in the US that most other forms of popular media want nothing to do with. I know a lot of people are hostile towards true crime as a genre, labeling it as reactionary, but this is misleading and unfair.

  6. xenon2 November 24, 2015 at 8:31 pm | #

    At first, I put the podcast up alone.Then, I thought I read the
    letters NY**, but I might want to tweet it, so I opened up wordpress.

    Not NPR!

    I could only stand The Car Guys(rip) and some cooking show.
    I haven’t listened to it in the 21st century.I know a man whose
    idea of heaven is NPR, all the time.I gave him an old receiver
    I wasn’t using and he bakes me an apple pie, once a year.


    p.s. I’m sure Corey was great,
    didn’t listened to the show, b/c
    of what NPR stands for.

    • Joel in Oakland November 24, 2015 at 9:00 pm | #

      Actually, “NPR” now stands for nothing, as Harry Shearer pointed out some time ago when NPR changed from standing for National Public Radio, to, NPR declared, standing for “NPR” – just those 3 letters. “NPR now stands for nothing” Shearer reminds us from time to time. (Harry Shearer and his “Le Show” – on public radio – is a blend of Mort Sahl and Groucho Marx. Shearer is also several voices of The Simpsons, played bass for Spinal Tap, and, among other things, made a muck-raking movie about the cover-up of incompetence by The Army Corps of Engineers in designing, building, and now replacing, the levees, etc that were supposed to protect New Orleans from the likes of Katrina [The Big Uneasy]).

  7. Joel in Oakland November 24, 2015 at 9:08 pm | #

    Two things:
    1) I wish more people would mention that the FBI recently declared that they consider domestic, right-wing extremist groups a greater threat to the US than foreign terrorists (according to The Southern Poverty Law Center, which, among other things, tracks domestic hate groups. I haven’t checked the FBI web page, since the SPLC has a good track record of being straight shooters).

    2) What’s with Donald Trump being able to phone in his many interviews to the yak shows, while everyone else has to show up at a studio?

  8. Mushin November 25, 2015 at 7:21 am | #

    The left rainbow social engineered coalition is as fragmented and dysfunctional as the right regressive fundamentalism in America. The only way I make any sense of democracy’s aim to self-organize, self-rule, self-regulate and self-innovate continually is to disclose a new world beyond the past 2,500+ swept along drift of patriarchal governance demanding obedience by negating human freedoms, equality and equanimity (FEAR) as the root ancestral nobility and wisdom continuum of human beings. This is an absolute lie. People are not the problem rather cultures based in arrogant aggressive political philosophical economic rhetoric filling the book shelves in universities. We need a new library where questioning is considered communal learning and mutual collaboration in designing a future together. To change the globalization process in law we must create a renaissance as learners where no one needs to commit suicide (Socrates) or get crucified (Christ) for refusing to go along and get along with the herd or group mentality operating in prejudicial cultural denial of ghosts in sacred texts. My fundamental claim based on breathing is the root of realization in humanness is our desire to validate each other’s niches in coexistence as an experience happening in the moments we live together (LOVE). In my assessment, my daily encounters in human interactions is everyone has a story, wants to be heard and listened to, and validated as a niche in the household (economy) of humanity.

    Political rhetoric throughout American history and previously in western governance divides ruler from ruled in patriarchal cultural process of codified common law operating in psychological-splitting our biological humanness millions of years old from the web of life, biosphere and star dust constituting, sustaining and maintaining the universe itself. The ultimate and only breakdown is the indoctrinated belief system claiming separation of creatures from creation. It appears we live in a mistaken observer error as genocidal animals not human beings. The undefinable creator ends up in war against creation against itself. We as a humanity do not have a snowball chance in hell of surviving within this current narcissistic MBA bean-counting genocidal attitudes, behaviors and activities based in arrogant ignorant aggressive war. Trump is articulating the American insanity. Read “Madness at the Gates of the City: Myth of American Innocence” by Barry Spector is a beginning treatise of the historical struggle for democracy and the WASP Puritan psychological splitting starting with American Natives, African Blacks, Mexicans, Socialists and now a prosperity doctrine where the poor worldwide are evil.

    It is amazing that Pope Francis shows up in the well of congress speaking about moving forward and up-framing America’s vibrant history and we digress today into this insane media conversation based in the hysteria of regressive fundamental Christians. Frankly, the rooster is coming home to the unfilled dream of democracy, light on the top of the hill, and the hen house is barren because the foxes (politicians, Obama, Trump) expressing indignation or emotional contradictions in meaningful values, have eaten all the hens and eating the chicks, our children. Trump is the new and improved American village idiot using business as usual in failed American Exceptionalism as the anchoring denied emotions for a fascist inverted democratic totalitarianism (TPP) utilizing the denial of climate change, gun controls and terrorism as the main political issues too big too fail. Regardless of who is elected in 2016 debt, entitlements and the political process needs reframed. No politician in 2016 is going to honestly address this entitlement can that has been kicked down the road for forty years. The party is over. In my assessment the right wing political rhetoric is extremely dangerous terrorizing minority citizenry by exploiting the fear, distrust, prejudices, confusion in media. Archie Bunker white men resentments are in full bloom profiting from this insane enlightened entertainment in journalistic social media. Media, Internet of Things and Social Confused Hackers in the deep web is the ultimate breakdown because technology is returning the control to the human autonomy as a cognitive live speech act. End users, pro consumers, interdependent networking permanent human concerns globally, and ultimately young global servant virtuous citizenry are committing to justice, human virtues and equanimity as a third wave renaissance.

    The good news is cognitive science that is revealing our noble ancestries as an innovative specie that are not fragile and thrive in antifragility. We humans have an innate deep rooted biological essence to love, care and feed one another not kill one another for sport. Chaos, disorder and traumatic breakdowns (emotional contradictions and historic cultural double binds) breed innovation in deep rooted antifragility inventing solutions to our permanent human concerns. Recently, President Obama spoke the truth saying 99.9% of the people on earth are humans committed to equanimity for the future of children worldwide. Loving your children is a responsibility as a parent, loving every child as if it was your own is the light on the hill of embodied democratic action in a future renaissance. Terror is an old worn out cheap evil political lie empowered by buying into it with human attention. I submit love is wherever you place your attention. TV is harmful to our health and well-being.

    What is your ultimate goal here in this blog? Sell yourself i.e. books? Social media voice on NPR? Become a great philosophic professor? What is your game?

    I get your notion that Comedic Entertainers are the new American Statesman because they speak seriously while simultaneously ignite humor as fools. Happy Thanksgiving and while your eating the turkey remember the turkey thought it would live forever until the butcher showed up a few weeks ago and cleaned out the entire farm overnight. Looks like 2016 is a moment of truth for planet earth. Have a great holiday season.
    This message is approved by the Bull!

  9. Nqabutho November 26, 2015 at 3:07 am | #

    Hey, Mushin, you seem to have a good heart, but that’s too much, man! It comes off as a bit crankish. (For example, one might point to your immediate misspelling of Corey’s name, even though as you were filling in your comment his name would appear up to your left in enormous letters.) Try instead to express your message as a haiku poem. (And btw, you might want to cut back on the weed a little bit.)

    (BTW I wish you hadn’t included that little paragraph of spiteful questions about Corey’s purpose for this blog. Clearly he’s on your side, fighting the eternal battle against those who simply want to protect their positions of power and privilege, exposing the vacuity of their dishonest arguments, and promoting clarity of vision in “people power” movements: the opposite of self-promotion; it’s all about the ideas. What’s not for you to like?)

    (BTW again, are you from Lagos?)

    WRT the Q at hand, I think the political appeal to, and the cynical exploitation of, fear of the “other”, in sections of the public amounts to continuing the work of the separatist tendencies of terrorist movements, and is counterproductive wrt the task of countering these tendencies. As Dr. King realized, only a socially unifying movement and not a separatist one would move us toward a political system where principles of equality and fairness and the dignity of each individual person governed all economic and political interactions, as opposed to one where the interests of the powerful can continue to ride roughshod over those of the people. So the most effective response to terrorist acts such as those in Paris is to increase our efforts to show that we can indeed e.g., welcome refugees from regions that are not our own, show that we are indeed their neighbours, demonstrate the difference between the unifying principles of equality and reciprocity and the divisive “us versus them” idea, which continues to rely on the power principle (the gun).

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