The Things We Feared, 2015
Before we hurtle into 2016, let’s take a look back at everything, and everyone, that terrified us — or was supposed to.
Last year, 2014, was a pretty fearful year. We wrung our hands over Ebola, gnashed our teeth about Central American child refugees and rocked in bug-eyed fright over ISIS at the border. We were contorted with fear. And by the time the War on Christmas came around, we hardly had any energy for it, hoping and praying instead for a more peaceful, more restful 2015. But 2015 has given us no respite; instead it’s doubled down. Where 2014 dropped us from a plane with no instructions on how to pull the ripcord, 2015 booted us, blindfolded, from a tall building with nothing but a wingsuit and a prayer. We’ve yet to meet the ground.
In 2015, we let go of some our phobias (Ebola isn’t airborne after all?), enjoyed many of the same freak-outs as last year and acquainted ourselves with some new ones, too. Still, 2015 may not have been such a banner year without an organizing principle and a principal organizer. The former, the GOP presidential primary, is a contest for who can most efficiently kneecap the angels of our better nature. The latter, Donald J. Trump, gave form to America’s inchoate rage, dumping gasoline on the heaving anxiety over inequality, race, immigration and social change. Mainstream Republicans and pundits now argue whether Trump is a fascist or merely a proto-fascist.
Will the fever subside next year? Highly unlikely. It’s a presidential year, after all, and the clearest pathway to the White House is through the amygdala — light up the lizard brain and the Oval Office may be yours. But before we hurtle into 2016, let’s take a look back at 2015 and the Things We Feared.
Jade Helm 15
What did you do during the Great War to Protect Texas Sovereignty from Obama’s Army?
Like most people, you probably did nothing except perhaps Google “what in the argle bargle is Jade Helm?” Jade Helm 15 was a joint military training exercise conducted in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, mostly on private land. Normally, such exercises receive little attention. The United States military conducting United States military training in the United States is not exactly front-page news… Unless your frontpage is InfoWars.com, the Alex Jones conspiracy site that is apparently a legitimate source of news for the governor’s office, or at least for the people who the governor’s office is supremely worried about keeping in their good graces.
And thus we had the strange scene of extremely agitated citizens in fire-stricken Bastrop accusing an Army colonel of sedition. It was never clear how deep the sentiment went. Even Dan Whitaker of Dan’s Guns and Stuff (“stuff” seems a little suspicious, doesn’t it?) thought the thing was overblown.
Nonetheless, the governor of the nation’s second-largest state and the 12th-largest economy in the world was roused to action by the dozens of weirdos at the Bastrop town hall. The next day, Greg Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on Obama’s special forces, you know, just in case.
Though Abbott’s response was briefly a national embarrassment, he seems to have paid little political price back home, though he did receive a strongly worded letter — accusing him of “pandering to idiots” — from former State Representative Todd Smith. That’ll show ‘im.
Where are they now?
Jade Helm ended with a whimper in September. Apparently Obama got a kick out of the whole dumb episode at least.
Meanwhile, UWEX 16 — another military training — is coming to Texas in 2016. Obama is so incompetent he announces his military incursions in advance. Should give Abbott plenty of time to muster the troops.
It didn’t really matter what you were doing this year, if you were a Muslim in Texas, some people were going to be afraid of you. And rude. And possibly violent. There were so many types of Muslims to fear:
It’s almost like there’s a pattern here.
Where are they now?
Hoping for more of this:
And less of this:
Central American Refugees
Blessed were those few months when the Central American kiddos and families seemed to escape notice. The number of “unaccompanied alien children” and “family units” apprehended at the border had waned since its peak in 2014 and the mad dogs of the right had turned their gaze elsewhere. For a hot minute there, the Central Americans had to make room in the hate-o-sphere for a more … Muslim-y set of people fleeing violence and terror.
But of course that didn’t last. The hate-o-sphere, like our universe, seems to be not only expanding but accelerating in its expansion. There’s room for every marginalized group!
The governor’s office and the arm-chair border guardians of the Texas Legislature declared a war on human migration years ago. And wars on complex socio-economic phenomena that intersect with drug policy, climate change, labor markets and conflict don’t ever end. They just evolve.
So it was in 2015 that we heard less about the diseases the Central American kiddos were bringing (virtually none) and a lot more about a vague security crisis at the border, partially solvable by spending $811 million out of the state treasury.
And yet, it seems the record deployment of Border Patrol agents, drones, patrol boats and surveillance equipment at the border didn’t magically make the kids turn back. So in December, General Abbott put the National Guard troops and DPS officers on a kind of semi-permanent occupation of the borderlands. How and why the state’s “boots on the ground,” which can’t enforce immigration law, would have an effect on asylum-seeking children wasn’t clear.
Where are they now?
Sadly, I’m able to simply repost exactly what I wrote last year:
Reports suggest that many children and their parents have been deported to their deaths. Others are forced through for-profit prisons where attorneys and activists have reported detainees are poorly treated, sometimes sexually assaulted, and denied due process for their asylum claims. Recent data also indicates an uptick again in the numbers of people turning themselves in at the border, suggesting that the U.S. government’s response to the influx may not be enough to overcome the factors driving people out of Central America.
Most people spend little time thinking about bathrooms. Most people do not have their heads stuck in the toilet. But most people are not Steven Hotze, Jonathan Saenz or Dan Patrick, who spent many good hours and days of their lives convincing Houstonians that a non-discrimination ordinance covering 15 different classes of people was really all about men wanting to go into the women’s restroom.
Among most adults, “bathroom humor” gets side-eye. The religious right’s campaign against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance had all of the maturity of a diarrhea joke with none of the funny — unless you found it particularly amusing when Hotze whipped out his sword (literally) to inveigh against the “homofascists.”
And it worked. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — similar to ordinances in at least 225 cities and counties nationwide, including Austin and Dallas — was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent.
Where are they now?
Hotze later suggested that the fight for trans rights was the work of a “satanic movement.” Satan is known to keep a busy schedule — in November, not long after HERO’s defeat, Hotze & Co. learned that Dallas had had a nondiscrimination ordinance covering “gender identity and expression” for 13 years. This, too, they decided was a “Bathroom Ordinance” and the result of “political correctness.” Hail Satan.
Moral of the stories
If we learned one thing this year it’s this: Playing on people’s fears doesn’t require finesse or footnotes: It needs only brute force and repetition. You can’t counter fear with facts.
[Featured image: Home Alone, 20th Century Fox]