The Power of Fear

by Tom Paine on June 16, 2012

In the coverage of our current economic crisis we’ve heard much about the importance of investors and their “confidence,” the requirements of the bond market, the necessity of propping up giant transnational financial institutions. We’ve heard about the need for austerity and the telling of “hard truths,” the loosening of regulations on business and the lowering of taxes on the rich. What we haven’t heard much about, until recently with Greece, is any mention of us.

You know. . . We, the people. The majority. The 99 Percent.

Our confidence doesn’t matter. We’re not too big to fail or important enough to bail out. Austerity is our fate alone, not that of those responsible for our economic meltdown, who are rarely forced to hear any truths, hard or otherwise. There’s no lowering our stress of making ends meet or loosening of the rules we’re expected to play by. Our opinions are only occasionally sought, hardly ever considered and virtually never acted upon.

Why is that?

Fear. Or, more precisely, the lack of fear.

The billionaires, the corporations, the lobbyists, the 1 Percent, they fear nothing. Not the government. They’ve bought the government, fair and square. Not the courts, from the Supremes on down. They own them too. Not the media. “News” is just one more commodity to be marketed to suckers like penis-enlargement pills and sub-prime mortgages.

And we, the people? They’re not afraid of us at all.

I’m sure in their private moments, in their gated and guarded mansions, in their second and third homes in the Hamptons or Palm Beach or Aspen, they chuckle over what saps we all are, how easily we’re manipulated, pitted against each other, distracted with buzzwords like “socialism,” “war on terror,” “gay marriage,” “class warfare.” How pathetically simple it is to convince us to accept, even advocate, policies blatantly against our own self-interest.

So what can we do?

We can make them fear.

We can make them fear us more than they fear unnamed “investors” losing unknowable “confidence.” More than they fear the vagaries of the bond market or the nationalization of “too big to fail” banks. More than they fear higher taxes and increased regulation, lower profit margins and annual bonuses.

How do we instill this fear? That’s what America Rising is all about.

We make them fear by refusing to be distracted and divided, by tuning out Fox News and Karl Rove and corporate-funded front groups and the relentless right-wing noise machine. We make them fear by acting massively and collectively, knowing that as the majority of Americans, we truly are all in this together. We make them fear by withholding the one thing they value above all else, the source of their power and influence.

Our money.

Imagine if millions of Americans refused to pay their mortgages until principals were reduced, criminal bank executives sent to jail and too big to fail banks broken into manageable pieces. Imagine if we refused to pay our credit card bills until the Wall Street fraudsters were prosecuted and real reforms were instituted. Imagine if we refused to pay our taxes until the legalized bribery called “lobbying” was banned, until real national health care was established, needless foreign wars ended and the military-industrial complex smashed.

Imagine if every time a local sheriff went to evict a family from their foreclosed home, their neighbors surrounded the house and refused to let it take place. Imagine if we occupied the downtowns of every major American city and brought daily commerce to a standstill. Imagine if the politicians and corporate executives, the lobbyists and consultants and media shills who all collaborated in burning down the American Dream were shunned instead of celebrated, reviled instead of feted, ignored instead of quoted.

They’d fear us then.

Now, no one wants to advocate or incite violence, but to people with nothing to lose, with no hope for a better, fairer, more prosperous future, with the sense that everyone and every institution they trusted has betrayed them, violence may seem their only option. After all, it wasn’t speeches and petitions and sit-ins that kicked Lord Cornwallis and his redcoats out of the colonies and sent them on their way back home.

The Cornwallises and redcoats of today may well want to think about that.