‘’I have a nightmare.’’ Perhaps not as memorable as the version in which Martin Luther King had a dream, however good enough for some politicians these days. It should not come as a shock that politicians want you to vote; preferably for them. The means by which they get you to tick the box in front of their name on paper or digitally can be many. An idealist might motivate people by telling them about hopes and dreams they have for the world; plans to bring society forward and make a future worth dreaming of. Well, that seems awfully extensive; and what if you do not have hopes and dreams for a brighter future. The alternative is to tap into the big pool of uncertainty and fear; a crippling and dangerous pool.
Politicians used to gain power and authority by offering people idealistic visions. This idealism could not hold up to reality and therefore failed; resulting in a loss of faith in ideologists. Increasingly, politicians offer their people a role as guardian; to protect us from the nightmares they foresee. We require their guardianship for the threats we face; the greatest one being international terrorism. This threat is realistic and horrific; however it is exaggerated by politicians when you merely view the facts.
People often fall prey to the habit of mentally clinging to the dangerous, but rare, events that are terrorist attacks. This is not incomprehensible considering the violent and horrific nature of such events. However, when compared to other issues, the threat terrorism poses is not that great. CNN reporter Fareed Zakaria wrote in 2015 that since 9/11, foreign-inspired terrorism has claimed about two dozen lives in the United States. According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, preventable medical mistakes and infections account for 440,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. This means that you are more than 18,000 times more likely to be killed by a medical mistake or preventable infection that terrorism. Not even mentioning the chances of dying from heart disease, cancer or a car-crash, which are far greater.
Not to say that terrorism poses no great threat to national security; and governments absolutely should focus on defeating groups like ISIS. Efforts of international and domestic security agencies have contributed greatly to the prevention of terrorist attacks. However, the reasons for an international coalition that focusses on defeating ISIS are multiple. The primary reason is that ISIS vastly destabilizes the Middle East, threatens years of the Western coalition’s effort in Iraq and contributes to the major migration crisis. However, according to a Pew Research poll, 83 percent of Americans regard ISIS as a major threat to the U.S. and 29 percent cites terrorism as the most important problem facing the country today.
An article by Oates, professor of political communication, suggest a ‘fear factor’ model in which political and media systems exploit the concerns about international and domestic security. Especially the role of journalists and television news is critical in this dynamic. They often fail to offer realistic or useful statements. What is regularly done by the media is that they merely parrot the press statements from prominent politicians. A role in which they initiate discussion would be more desirable and they should position themselves more as a watchdog of realistic views. It is less complex and perhaps better for the ratings if they merely follow the emotional needs of an audience. This attitude can transform an election from a democratizing institution into an exercise that translates fear into power, Oates states.
It is vastly important to assess the motives of specific media and their reporting. Are they merely parroting press statements from politicians or are they actively initiating discussion? Because only by initiating debate and researching what is fact and what is fiction, a critical audience will shape.