Matthew Byers, senior editor
During the 1964 presidential race, Lyndon Johnson ran an advertisement that depicted a young girl picking petals off a daisy, adorably miscounting from one to ten. When she reached “10,” a voice began a more sinister countdown, culminating in a black & white mushroom cloud that consumed televisions across the country. “We must either love each other, or we must die,” Johnson said at the end of the ad. Voter turnout in 1964 was one of the highest in history, and Johnson won the election in a landslide. No one wants to vote for the apocalypse.
As a nation, we are afraid, and historically, fear has won elections. Fear wins elections because it divides people and makes them vote against their own interest. In one famous example, former Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) campaigned against white working class fear that minorities would take their jobs. As long as poor white people and poor black people don’t trust each other, the logic goes, the rich will remain rich. We are told to be afraid of gay marriage, lest one day, as Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) put it, we will live in “a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife.” We hear whispers that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a Marxist. We choose not to vote for Ralph Nader because we are afraid of George W. Bush.
So, all criticism aside, it is truly historic not only that a black man has been elected president, but also that Barack Obama has elevated political discourse to something more substantial than incendiary distractions. His refrain of “change” has been tedious, yes, but not more so than the fear mongering to which we’ve grown accustomed.
The irony is that it is because of fear, and not in spite of it, that the Democratic Party has been victorious. The difference this time is that when one is in the midst of an actual apocalypse, there is no need to be afraid of a fictional one.
I’m not saying this is the end of the world. Maybe it is; I hope it’s not. But we are living in apocalyptic times. The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means “to uncover” or “to reveal.” We are currently facing absolute proof that the system under which we’ve been operating does not work. War has made us less safe and capitalism has made us less prosperous. We cannot help but wonder why the government can spend $700 billion to rescue irresponsible banks yet does nothing when its own citizens are drowning. We are seeing hard scientific facts tell us that if we don’t radically alter the way we live, and soon, the earth may not be hospitable to human life.
We are living in one of those times when things are going to change, whether we want them to or not. Our old prejudices are not enough anymore; now is a time to genuinely be afraid.
So it is with the belief that information belies fear that I will be writing a series of articles for the Echo, which I am calling the Politics of Apocalypse. I hope to investigate and expound on world events that are becoming more chaotic, more frightening and more revealing every day, focusing on one issue in each article. In the next edition, I will discuss the global economic crisis.