Catherine Rampell

Catherine Rampell Washington Post Writers Group

It’s almost funny, in a twisted sort of way. Election after election, Republicans have based their core political appeal on fear.

And yet — as dual gun massacres this weekend starkly illustrate — they refuse to offer solutions to any of the mortal threats Americans actually face.

President Trump’s closing (losing) message in the midterms was “Be afraid, be very afraid”; he and his co-partisans have lately doubled down on it for 2020. Of course, the perils that Republicans promise to rescue us from are often fictional, or of their own making.

We must fear the coming scourge of socialism (no matter that Trump himself so often advocates command-and-control-style economic policies). Trump likewise stokes public anxiety over “a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before” if “anyone but me takes over in 2020” (never mind the market sell-offs triggered by his own trade wars, including on Monday).

Trump and allies urge us to cower in trepidation from helpless parents and children seeking asylum, a threat so grave they needed to be separated from one another and caged. We must also fear the supposed Muslim and Latino hordes, who threaten to wipe out Anglo-European culture and displace white babies with their own.

These are hardly the only foreigners who should inspire existential dread, according to right-wing fever dreams. Rogue nations should, too, thus justifying enormous increases in our defense budget. Of course, all the nukes and jets in the world won’t protect us from the assault our enemies abroad are currently waging against us, and that Republicans resist confronting: the one on our electoral system.

What of the other threats actually endangering American lives?

July was the hottest month on record, and deadly natural disasters worsen. Yet, according to Republicans, climate change is not a hazard but a hoax, or, alternatively, it’s real but not man-made — or perhaps it’s real and man-made but too expensive to do anything about. Whatever the case, move along, nothing to see here. Keep those oil-extraction subsidies and coal bailouts flowing.

Health care likewise tops Americans’ list of worries, and has for the past five years, according to Gallup surveys. But Republicans offer plans that will reduce lifesaving coverage and shift more costs onto sick patients.

Which brings me to the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence, particularly that perpetrated by white supremacists and other far-right terrorists.

This year alone, there have been at least 255 mass-shooting incidents, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Americans cannot worship, dine, shop, browse a food festival or pass notes in homeroom without worrying about being gunned down: As of 2017, four in 10 Americans said they feared being a victim in a mass shooting.

Immigrants and members of other minority populations have heightened reason for fearing firearm violence given the murderous anti-immigrant attacks in El Paso on Saturday that left 22 dead; the slaughters at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., that together took 12 lives; and other recent hate-filled attacks targeting blacks, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community.

But when it comes to addressing this mortal fear — as with the others — Republicans suggest there’s simply nothing to be done.

No, Republicans say: We mustn’t admonish political leaders (ahem) whose fearmongering about immigrant “invasions” and “infestations” is echoed in the manifestos of alleged murderers.

Nor should we try to undertake common-sense gun-reform policies that voters from both parties support, such as universal background checks or bans on high-capacity magazines. Recall that Trump threatened to veto two background check bills that passed the House back in February, and that congressional Republicans overwhelmingly opposed.

The real thing to fear, according to Republicans and the gun lobby that controls them, isn’t gun violence but rather liberty-crimping policies that might curb gun violence.

The best effort Republicans make to address American fears of gun massacres involves appeals to mental health improvements.

Or, as Trump put it in his speech Monday morning: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

But even this suggestion rings hollow, given that Republican officials across federal and state governments are actively working to reduce access to mental health care. A federal suit brought by 20 red states and supported by the Trump administration seeks to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act, which extended behavioral health coverage to millions through Medicaid and the essential health benefits required in individual market plans.

Republicans thrive on imagined menaces. Yet when a real-life menace demands action, they dismiss it. What, pray tell, is the party so afraid of?

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Catherine Rampell is syndicated columnist who appears in The Washington Post.

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