In the 1960s and 70s the prevailing opinion was that a politics love and peace would form a new world order, that in the post-war era, McCarthyism was just a blip. "All you need is love," The Beatles sang. It was believed that the enduring words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, "all we have to fear is fear itself," would pass into irrelevant redundancy. That hasn't quite happened.
Fear has become the trendy political capitol for modern politicians to exploit, but to cash in on this currency there needs to be an enemy.
In America, Trump created a few enemies and his supporters are terrified of China, liberalism, immigrants and the gays, probably. They're terrified that an untamed swarm of Mexican invaders is coming not only to take their jobs, but to rape their wives and sell drugs to their children. The left is terrified of the right, terrified that Trump's going to force women to have children they don't want, put trans people in cages and build this wall he's been banging on about for so long. And they're also scared that we're all going to die because he's not doing anything about climate change, let alone acknowlege it as even George W. did.
Here, on the right side of the Atlantic, our island has been torn apart by a war that seems to be being waged more out of stubbornness than anything else. May's government has, for some time felt like a shoelace tantalisingly close to coming untied from the whiplash of a dozen U-turns. No-one wants the responsibility of untying it and doing it back up all by themselves. To displace her would threaten to take us back to 2016. We are faced with essentially three options. The first would leave us with no-deal, no economic future and, fittingly, being dictated to by beaurocrats at the WTO. The second would saddle us with May's near-universally hated deal that's about as popular as Thatcher's poll tax. The third option is another referendum that would probably be as, if not more, divisive as the last, also if that were to happen, we could all look forward to the inevitable calls for a third referendum. Best of five, anyone? The Brexiters were scared of a loss of nationhood, loss of sovereignty and, again, that immigrants were coming to take their cosy jobs. The leavers were mostly scared of financial loss and loss of political clout in an age of populism. Now, they're scared that the other side will win, scared of what losing the argument means.
Elsewehere, Italy's Salvini has made no secret of his desire to exploit fears of more immigrants comming from the Meditteranean, his coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio is now scared Salvini is coming for his head after a string of regional victories put him in a position to call the shots. In France, Macron is scared that the Gilets Jeaunes would see the same done to him as revolutionaries did to Louis XVI. Putin continues to prey on a fear of NATO to keep his people united behind him. The Palestinians are predictably afraid of the Israelis, who, in turn, are scared that all of their neighbours would see them gone. Saudi Arabia is occupied by a fear of Iran. The Turks are afraid of the Kurds and the Kurds are afraid of the Turks. Fear has turned international politics into a zero-sum game. The most recent iteration of this game has seen diplomatic ties between Italy and the EU severed after the former became the first G8 country to formally endorse China's Belt and Road Initiative, this annoyed the Americans too. The West is now scared that China will employ the same tactic that we used on the rest of the world: divide and rule, with the EU unable to present any kind of united front against them. It's not all Italy's fault, Brexit and American isolationism don't help.
Most people spend their lives afraid that no-one likes them (they're probably right) and that they're going to fail at school or in their jobs. They're scared that their parents aren't proud of them and that they're going to die alone. But fear isn't all bad, it's an instinct that drives us to stay alive. And that's what will happen, the world will continue to get better. Hundreds of thousands of people are alleviated from poverty every day and living standards are generally improving. There's a lot to be scared about, but it will probably be fine. Fear can take people from their sofas to the ballot box and even turn them into political activists. The NRA is one of the most powerful forces in US politics because, for years, it has mobilised it's membership to leverage political influence out of fear that big government's coming to take their guns. All too often fear is used to sow division in communities and countries, but fear can be a force for good in politics if tempered with reason.