When paranoia and fearmongering trump common sense

When paranoia and fearmongering trump common sense

WB-2022016

McCrory refugee emails show state leaders at their worst

It’s been almost 83 years since President Franklin Roosevelt, facing a moment of enormous national suffering and angst, uttered one of the most famous and insightful observations regarding the American experience in our nation’s history:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt’s prescient words were delivered, of course, in response to the greatest human and economic crisis ever to afflict the nation. Here’s where things stood when he took office in March, 1933:

One in four workers was jobless. One in five Americans survived on meager relief payments. The stock market was down 75 percent from 1929. Exports were at their lowest level since 1904. In just four years, the suicide rate had tripled. In rural areas—where almost half of Americans lived— sharply falling crop prices brought disaster. Farmers defaulted on bank loans and lost their land. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers faced eviction. Farm laborers’ wages were slashed. Nature added to the misery. A devastating drought struck the nation’s heartland in the early 1930s. It triggered enormous dust storms that carried off topsoil and destroyed farmland.”

If ever there was a time to feel instinctively fearful about life in the United States, this was it. And yet, to his everlasting credit, FDR led the nation away from the abyss. Rather than caving in to fear or, worse, fanning the flames, the President steered the nation back in the direction of sane and pragmatic policy solutions that greatly eased human suffering and quite likely saved the capitalist economy. *

Oh, for such common sense leadership in 2016 North Carolina.

Unfortunately, such leadership is almost nowhere to be found. Indeed, as an amazing story by WRAL.com reporter Mark Binker made clear this past Sunday, state leaders aren’t just fanning the flames of unreasoning fear; they’re actually putting spark to paper.

As is made clear in Binker’s report, the recent “crisis” surrounding the admission of Syrian refugees into North Carolina and the McCrory administration’s over-the-top media blitz in response is an issue manufactured almost entirely out of whole cloth. What’s more, one of the tiny nuggets of “information” from which it sprouted was a “news story” in one of the nation’s most execrable and malevolent online scandal sheets – a website so dishonest and utterly beneath contempt that it makes the National Enquirer look like a combination of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

A disturbing email trail

Binker’s story was pieced together by sifting through a long series of emails that he obtained between various McCrory administration officials. At or near the beginning of the chain was an email in which McCrory’s lobbyist, Fred Steen, urged his boss to “consider coming out in opposition to any more Syrian refugees coming here to the US or N. Carolina because the FBI says they cannot vet Syrian refugees.”

And what, you might ask, was the source of Steen’s assessment of the FBI’s capacity? Well, amazingly enough, his email to the Governor of the state of North Carolina contained a link to a story in an online rag called World Net Daily. Yes, Steen was referring to that World Net Daily, the one that the Southern Poverty Law Center described as follows in 2012:

WND’s point of view is best described as a cross between the now-defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News, which was famous for reporting on Elvis sightings, and The New American, a monthly magazine published by the far-right, conspiracist John Birch Society. In its 15 years online, it has introduced readers to a smorgasbord of bizarre ideas, specializing in anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and anti-liberal propaganda; antigovernment conspiracy theories; and end-times prophecy.

It featured a six-part series claiming (falsely) that soybean consumption causes homosexuality and promoted Scott Lively’s vile opus The Pink Swastika, which says that gays were behind the Holocaust. It has identified the first ‘leftist’ as Satan, and declared that Muslims have a ‘20-point plan for conquering the United States by 2020.’ It has warned of secret plans to create a North American Union, advised readers to invest all their assets in gold, and promoted myriad, if conflicting, theories about when and how the world will end.

Its most enduring claim, by far, is that President Obama is constitutionally ineligible to serve as president because he supposedly is not a ‘natural-born’ U.S. citizen.”

You got that? The chief lobbyist for the highest elected official in North Carolina is getting material to “inform” his policy recommendations from one of the most scurrilous, dishonest and irresponsible websites on the Internet. It’s as if he were consulting the Governor’s horoscope to make decisions. Indeed, it’s worse than that. Few, if any, horoscope authors premise their “insights” and recommendations on cynical hatred or willful ignorance.

Destructive fearmongering in action

Sadly, as Binker’s story details, Steen’s email was just the beginning. After receiving it, McCrory and his team went on to fashion a public relations campaign in which the Governor made a lengthy public ruckus about the refugees, their supposed threat to public safety in North Carolina and the Obama administration’s alleged callous disregard toward the matter. By November 18 – just five days after the attacks in Paris, France – McCrory and his team were attempting to raise political contributions off of the Guv’s “tough” stance.

This was, to put it mildly, a matter of cynical politics at its worst.

First of all, as Binker’s story goes on to report, the refugees making their way to North Carolina amount to a tiny, thoroughly vetted trickle.

What’s more, even if they were truly serious about protecting the U.S. from terrorist infiltrators, McCrory’s team has embraced precisely the wrong approach. As David Schanzer, Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, wrote in an op-ed he coauthored for Raleigh’s News & Observer last fall, constructing walls against immigrants from particular places (or of particular religions) is something that will actually undermine the global effort against ISIS and its ilk:

The call by politicians across the country, including Gov. Pat McCrory, to halt the admission of refugees from the Syrian civil war is a travesty. This ill-considered decision strengthens the politics of fear that ISIS spreads, undercuts our long-term efforts to combat extremism and abandons long-standing American values of providing safe haven to those escaping the ravages of war.”

Schanzer repeated these and other similar observations in a recent interview with Clayton Henkel of N.C. Policy Watch, which you can listen to by clicking here.

If McCrory was truly serious about protecting North Carolinians

Finally, even if the tiny trickle of Syrian refuges did pose some kind of minute threat to North Carolinians (a highly questionable supposition), it’s worth noting as a practical matter that it would pale in comparison to several genuine threats already present in the state – threats that Gov. McCrory and his allies have actual power to do something about.

In 2016, for instance, thousands of North Carolinians will die prematurely and unnecessarily because of the state’s refusal to close the Medicaid coverage gap. Hundreds more will die as the result of firearm murders and suicides.

Heck, more Americans have died as the result of lightning strikes than domestic terrorist attacks over the last decade – 22 in North Carolina alone.

Sadly, however, it appears that, for now, the Governor and his team will avoid the real threats to public health and safety and double down on the politics of “divide and conquer” demagoguery. If there’s anything the people of the state really have to fear right now, this cynicism has to top the list.


*…It’s a tragic footnote to the courage of 1933 that FDR himself later caved into racist fear and paranoia by allowing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II – a horror that some Islamophobes have actually been defending in recent months.

(Above image of Syrian refugees is in the public domain.)