DALTON >> Trump plays to his audiences' fears and guarantees that he will stop the flow of Syrian refugees into our country. He asks, "How can we be sure that they aren't Islamic terrorists?" To cheers, he declares that unlike Obama, he isn't afraid to use the word Islamic as if his utterance of that word is an act of courage or a sign of wisdom.

Fear pays political dividends. It worked well for Joseph McCarthy, propelling him into the national limelight. It even served the political and financial interests of the neocons who dishonestly rushed us into a second war against Iraq, completely unraveling that region. Here in the "... home of the brave and the land of the free" fear sometimes dominates our politics with its companion emotion, anger, coming in a close second. Some prefer animosity to harmony, hyperbole to truth. Some fear the possible more than the predictable, especially when the possible is cleverly gift-wrapped with incendiary code words.

Each year 30,000 Americans are shot to death by other Americans. Each day, an average of 82 of us are killed by gunfire. Of the last 250,000 refugees entering this country, only a handful have posed any danger. The question is obvious. Why are we willing to exaggerate the possible and ignore the predictable?


In America, arguments on highways sometimes end with deadly gunfire between strangers. A visit to the local movie theater can be fatal. Time spent in a college, a university, a domestic military installation, or an elementary or high school can cost lives. The problem, some insist, is not unrestricted access to firearms, but mental illness. We comfort ourselves with the argument that if we did a better job of "handling" mental illness, we would have far fewer gun related deaths. But the majority of Americans oppose Obamacare and universal health care and millions of Americans still have no affordable access to mental health treatment and counseling. We have another problem. Rarely do people provide advanced notice that they intend to commit mass murder. We learn of their fragile mental state only after the deed is done. This past year, the deed occurred 310 times.

We fear the possible more than the definite, including the undocumented immigrants who came here because Americans willingly employed thousands of them to reduce labor costs and to maximize profits. When one of them commits a murder, they are all held responsible as if violence is a group trait. We seem to fear them more than we fear the home grown sexual deviates who prey on our children.

We send our youth off to war to prevent others from being massacred by ruthless dictators but the victims of those massacres are no longer welcomed to our shores. Some of our young die in battle, some sustain serious injuries and some commit suicide when they return home, but our soldiers are sent into harms way again and again. One percent sacrifice themselves for the other 99 percent. We often pay for our wars with a credit card, build up a huge national debt and then blame the deficit on food stamps.

Scapegoating is a common thread in our political discourse as with Trump accusing thousands of American Muslims of celebrating the attack on the World Trade Center somewhere in New Jersey. No thought is given to those who might seize on such rhetoric to fuel their revenge on the falsely accused. Reckless rhetoric and hyperbole divide us, inviting more anger, more fear and more violence. This rhetoric is the "red meat" that drives poll numbers upward.

The President of the United States who had the audacity to encourage a plan to extend health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans is demonized as the Devil, a Muslim, a Kenyan, a communist, a gutless leader who refuses to take on ISIS even though we have launched thousands of air strikes against them. Some demand ground troops, an armed invasion of Syria and Iraq to destroy ISIS, ignoring the fact that our previous armed invasions in that region created ISIS. Our war- weary soldiers have done multiple rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We honor them with free seats and fly-overs at sporting events, special renditions of our national anthem and the opportunity to do more fighting. We are generous with their blood and sinew but stingy with the blood and sinew of the well-connected.

Some of our candidates wrap themselves in biblical loin cloths and trumpet their religious credentials but their proposals for dealing with immigrants and refugees are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ. Some glance into our distorted national mirror and see only American exceptionalism.

We need better mirrors. We are courageous in battle and in football, but rarely in the halls of congress. If we really want to honor the memory of the fourteen innocents who were slaughtered in San Bernardino, we need a national reality check and the courage to challenge the preposterous claims and accusations made by some presidential candidates who ignore our national carnage, feed us a steady diet of anger and fear and with straight faces, promise us a safer world.

Edward Udel was a long-time teacher in the Pittsfield public school system and former chairman of the Taconic English Department.