America is a nation built on hope. From the earliest settlers to our most recent immigrants, people have come to this land in hope of a brighter future and a better life for their families. They come to share in the freedom that native-born citizens take for granted. They come to have a steady job, of any kind, so they can feed their children. They come so that they can worship their religion without being arrested or beaten or killed. They come so they can learn and speak out and contribute to a society that gives them something back in return. They come to live in a democracy where the rule of law trumps ideology or prejudice or graft. They come to this land of ours because of the hope we offer to the oppressed people of the world, the hope of happiness and health and honor and freedom. The foundation of that hope rests in our democratic form of government and the individual protections afforded citizens by the United States Constitution.

Hope is an emotion that fosters progress, and it is evident that American hope has served us well as we rose from a small, agrarian country to become the most powerful in the world. Powerful not just militarily, but also economically, technologically, and culturally. Throughout our history, we have had ample opportunities to let that spirit of hope die. But instead of falling victim to melancholy, America rallied back after the Civil War and the Great Depression and Pearl Harbor. We rebuilt our nation time and again and became stronger from our suffering, rising from the ashes of despair because throughout it all, we held on to our national spirit of hope. We were able to hold on to our hope because we had leaders who offered us hope in their words and in their actions. Their words of hope became reality as we worked together to achieve a common goal. We vanquished the enemies of freedom and democracy and carried forth a message of hope for all people. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, those words and deeds transformed the 20th century into the greatest time of prosperity in the history of mankind.

Hope is a powerful motivator. With hope, a person can overcome many obstacles. With hope, a person can foresee a better future. With hope, individual growth benefits the entirety of society.

Sadly, as we begin the 21st century, the predominant emotion in America is no longer hope. It is fear. And fear is a powerful motivator too. Fear makes us give up our freedom. Fear makes us forget our values. Fear makes us lose trust in each other. And fear builds on itself.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks against America, many Americans were surprised to learn about a new enemy who not only hated us, but wanted to destroy our way of life, and had the means to do so, at least incrementally. After years of continued prosperity and peace, combined with a growing attitude of entitlement and cultural isolation, average Americans woke up on that day with a new realization of the world outside our own borders. America was attacked at home, and the terror we had heretofore only read about in the papers was in our backyard. Fear reared its ugly head. But even as ordinary citizens tried to put life back together, to put the fear behind them and rise from the destruction and reclaim a sense of normalcy, the Bush Administration, guided by their neo-con warmongers and evangelical Christian base, found in the attacks an opportunity to pursue their agenda of advancing their prophecies and ideology and exploited our fear.

This is not to say that we do not have a legitimate security concern to pay attention to and deal with. Indeed, America and the entire western world are now firmly locked again in the centuries old conflict between religious cultures and ideology. And in a very real sense, the future of our freedom and democracy hang in the balance as this open-ended conflict rages on. Still, in our atmosphere of non-stop fear, we have lost focus of the real battle being waged, getting sidetracked as the administration seeks to find lateral enemies, expanding the conflict and increasing their fear-based reality. But America has faced fierce enemies before, and our success over them did not come from an endless fear of destruction, but instead from our enduring fount of hope.

Religion and it’s promise of a glorious afterlife is supposed to alleviate the fear of dying, and theoretically, the evangelical base of the administration’s supporters look forward to the apocalypse so that they can be with their god. Actions, though, speak louder than words, and many of the most vocal among the evangelicals make every attempt to avoid the possibility of death for their cause. They would rather someone else did the dying for them as they continue to spread their message of doom. Religion uses fear to increase membership, increase their political power, and create a strict Christian society. And though they don’t submit to violent terrorist acts to advance their goals, they have no problem rolling back the individual protections guaranteed in the Constitution if it helps their cause. Because even though the Christian religion is based on the concept of individual choice (i.e. you can choose whether or not to walk a righteous path), the practice of its followers is to condemn those who choose a path other than Christianity. Our president claims to be an evangelical Christian himself, and the use of fear is familiar to his line of reasoning.

Government is also exploiting our legitimate fear of enemy attacks into an excuse to abridge freedom and bypass the rule of law. If the enemy seeks to destroy our freedom and democracy, and this administration, under the guise of protecting us from our fears, takes away our freedoms and ignores the rule of law, then the enemy wins a small victory without even having to fight. Indeed, the actions of this administration have given the enemy a victory without even realizing it. As it now stands, we have an actual enemy who wants to kill us, and an enemy in our own government that wants to limit our hard fought freedoms in the name of security.

The politics of fear have not made us any safer in our fight against radical terrorism. The politics of fear have not increased the prosperity of this country. If anything, the increased attention paid to fear has caused this country to regress and divide. Fear did not defeat the Nazi’s or the Japanese. Fear did not fix a shattered economy. Fear did not end slavery.

Under the blanket of perpetual fear, we don’t see what we are losing and what is being taken from us. We only hear the voice of the wise leaders telling us not to worry because they are doing what needs to be done to protect us. But they aren’t really doing anything to make us safer from attacks, especially from rogue nuclear attacks. They aren’t protecting the economic well being of this generation or the next. They aren’t protecting our environment or making any efforts to sustain resources for future Americans. They aren’t protecting us from murderers or child molesters or illegal immigration. The only protection this government is offering is to their corporate donors, their political hacks, and their terrorist allies in the world. As much as I recognize and fear the terrorists who would destroy America, I also fear that the politicians of today will do nothing to make things whole again. But I refuse to be paralyzed by those fears. And I operate from a place of hope. Hope that Americans will wake up and discard the politics of fear. Hope that America will face our troubles head on, with honesty and a rational plan to conquer them.

America can’t discard freedom to defeat our fear. America must defeat fear with hope.