A scene on Alamo Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.
Doc Greene hold a Texas flag and joins protesters of the UNESCO World Heritage designation of the Alamo. Photo by Scott Ball.

“You’re going to turn into a raisin.” This was my father’s repeated warning to me after I spent too much time in the bathtub as a five year old. His warning became more dire and descriptive as we drove to his friend’s house, until I began crying, convinced I would wake up the next morning a 60 pound dried fruit. One day, while at a picnic, I asked him how my uncle Stan lost his pinky finger. “A fly bit it off. Yeah it was like that fly there.” He said as he pointed at the insect circling around me. And then he sat back and enjoyed the fun while I tried to escape the carnivorous fly.

Lately I’ve seen adults reenacting my panicked flight from the fly. Their fear? The threat that drives them to hysterics? Blue Bell ice creams trucks turned into carriers of the dead, Walmarts repurposed into staging points for Chinese troops. Yes, 2015’s version of the scary campfire story is that the government is going to take over Texas. Our government. I’ve tried, but failed to explain to friends from around the world how citizens of our nation can fear being overrun by a government that is already in power.

Just the rantings of a few crackpots artificially amplified by the echo chamber that is the Internet? Intelligent people don’t pay attention to these fantastical theories, right? Not worth writing, or reading about. But the conversation is being affected, at times even driven by these fringe imaginings. Watch any of the nightly news shown in the Alamo City these days and you will see stories on Jade Helm ’15. I do not blame the media. It is their mission to report on events and the public’s response to those same events. I am, however, saddened by our very grown up selves’ fascination with boogeymen we’ve fashioned with our own hands.

I don’t fret or wonder about professionals who spend their money at haunted houses, amusement parks or movie theaters, seeking to revisit those thrilling moments of fright from their childhood. These pursuits are advertised and understood to be entertainment. But when news and pseudo-news outlets, and, most concerning of all, personal conversations are filled with wide-eyed warnings of impending calamity, all built on logic more flimsy than the ability of a lengthy bath to turn a little boy into dried fruit, I become concerned. When I see a campaign ad for a politician running for State office that features truckloads of armed ISIS terrorists, with the explicit warning that a vote for his opponent is a red carpet for the purveyors of violence, I become frightened. Frightened by the state of our civic and political dialogue. Fearful of our inability to separate fact from fiction. Disturbed by the reality that those messages must work, because they continue to be replicated.

Ours is not the first generation to emphasize the distant threat while ignoring the present, yet less sexy peril. But that shouldn’t provide us much comfort. We should, as a society, be more mature by now. There comes a time to put childish things, and ways of communicating behind us. If we continue to show our political leaders that we can be so easily distracted by hastily constructed straw men, then we cannot complain when that is the very thing they spend their time doing. It is foolish to believe that we can reward Joseph McCarthy-like campaigns and then expect those newly elected officials to rule with sobriety. Given the perpetual campaign cycle we now live in, why would they change? And can they? Once they’ve proven their skill at creating and manipulating the phantom fears of the populace, should we be surprised when their muscle memory propels them to do more of the same?

To be clear, this article is not about Jade Helm ’15, neither is it about the bad habits of one political party. These habits are ours. We all participate in the conversation. We clearly communicate our preferences to the decision makers with our clicks, viewing and purchasing choices. We have the opportunity to use our great freedoms to support and nurture logic, reason and responsibility in our city, state and nation. It’s not sexy, but it was the hope of those men who birthed this nation.

*Featured/top image: A man holds a Texas flag and joins protesters of the UNESCO World Heritage designation of the Alamo.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Ethan Trout

Ethan Trout was born and raised in San Antonio. After living outside of Texas (including five years in Turkey), he is a life coach in the Alamo City.