In a word, the reason presidential candidate Donald Trump did so well among many Luzerne County voters is this: fear.
Fear remains among the most powerful of human motivators, and the Republican masterfully capitalized on it throughout his campaign, particularly during the doomsday scenario painted at the political party’s convention in Ohio.
“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” Trump said in the opening moments of his July speech to accept the GOP’s nomination. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life.”
His dark tone, even more than the comparatively chipper “Make America great again,” spoke to large numbers of people in Northeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere, an audience eager for a savior.
Certainly, fear doesn’t account for all of the support Trump received. Many voters routinely enter their polling places and pick only the Republicans, or only the Democrats, no matter what. Others presumably were drawn this time to the glib billionaire because of a single issue (such as his supposed business acumen or avowed pro-life stance). Still others preferred, and understandably so, to vote for someone far removed from the old political power structure.
Yet a nearly palpable fear in Luzerne County no doubt propelled many people to push the button for Trump, swaying the final results in his favor. His rhetoric hit all the categories:
• Fear for personal safety. (Remember the record number of deadly shootings in Wilkes-Barre three years ago? Voters do.)
• Fear of the outsider and the unknown. (Why should we, some of the Wyoming Valley’s longtime residents ask, make room for Syrians? Or Latinos?)
• Fear of job loss and economic uncertainty. (What happens if I’m let go this week?)
People hungry for stability in their lives heard the ominous campaign speeches, evaluated their personal feelings and circumstances, and gravitated to the candidate who promised – like a doting parent – to make them safe. Trump, they believe, is a protector of their families and the familiar.
Certain Democrats and Independents, who are no less susceptible to the power of fear, say they are scared of what a Trump presidency might mean. Liberal groups will harness the emotion to try to influence people’s actions, pushing their agendas.
Enough already! When will Americans correct our collective psyche, putting fear in its rightful place? That’s an argument we repeatedly have made on this page for the better part of decade. From an opinion piece printed in December 2013, here’s what we said:
For too long, arguably since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve been motivated more by fear than any other emotion. Not curiosity. Not determination. Not gratitude. Not pride.
And certainly not hope.
The financial crash of 2008 only made matters worse, ruining too many people’s livelihoods and wrecking dreams. Plus, as many Northeastern Pennsylvania residents can attest, this region has more than its share of naysayers who can’t seem to ever acknowledge a silver lining because they’d rather curse the cloud. Their ranks have been bolstered in recent years as real troubles – natural disasters, economic crises and crimes of the white collar and street varieties – conspired to deflate our plans, trample our trust.
Hope took a bruising.
But it shouldn’t be neglected here any longer, and certainly not abandoned. Without a healthy dose of hope, we will cease to solve our problems, to better our circumstances, to attain goals (personal or public), to live to our full potentials. If we don’t instill hope in our children, we will fail them, too.
Don’t give in to fear.
Go forward each day with hope.