The world is awash in the politics of fear

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the European Parliament on Tuesday in the eastern French city of Strasbourg. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

We Americans aren’t used to hearing European leaders outdoing us in the defense of democracy. But that’s exactly what happened Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, home of the European Parliament, where French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a rousing speech on the virtues of the open society.

He didn’t pull his punches. He spoke of a “European civil war,” one in which “national selfishness and negativity seems to take precedence over what brings us together.” Needless to say, this comment made plenty of headlines.

But we should be paying more attention to another one of his insights. We live, he said, “at a time of great change and transformation, digital revolution, climate change” — all things that “have led to fears and imbalances.” And these anxieties, he noted, are fueling the current authoritarian resurgence we’re witnessing around the world — and even within Europe itself.

He’s right. Our world is awash in the politics of fear. A few hours after Macron spoke, President Trump posted a tweet attacking California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), whom he accused of failing to ensure security “along [the state’s] very porous Border,” adding that, as a result, “The high crime rate will only get higher.”

This was an odd thing to say about a state where crime rates are at historic lows. But Trump wasn’t trying to make a factual point. He was trying to do what he does better than just about any other American politician: Frighten people.

Fear is what got Trump elected. Hillary Clinton — and Trump’s rivals in the Republican primaries — campaigned on traditional bread-and-butter issues. Trump stoked the collective anxieties of millions of Americans by fixating on presumed threats: Islam. Globalization. Rapacious bankers. War-happy neocons. Trade deficits. Scheming reporters. And he’s still at it — though the repertoire of enemies is always expanding. (See…

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