On Political Fear

By August 16, 2016 31 Comments

On Political Fear, Part-1

Since March, I’ve only slept through the night a few times.

The reason I’m up at 2 or 3 am is the election. Which is to say, the reason I’m up is: I’m afraid.

I feel sheepish telling you that, like it’s risky. “Aren’t I supposed to be brave and strong?” the thought goes. Or, “Wouldn’t it better serve people to only show the strong part, not the afraid part?” another thought says.

But there’s another part of me that knows the first thing to tell you, as I start to write to you more about this upcoming election, is this: I’m scared.

I’m the daughter of a refugee and Holocaust survivor. I grew up surrounded by the stories of how fast a civilized society unraveled. I’m not naive about the possibilities.

Sure, my fear has lessened a bit in the past few weeks, as more people speak out and the polls move in a direction that comforts me. But I know that a lot can happen in 90 days, and a lot can happen on a single election day, especially regarding turnout. I’m not sleeping through the night yet.

I’ve somehow absorbed the very American idea that heroic equals hopeful and that expressing fear is weak and morally questionable – that’s not what good, strong people do.

I’m not alone in this. No one I know has mentioned to me that they’re also awake in the middle of the night. But when I tell them I’m up, and why, a number of my friends have said right away, “Me, too. Can’t sleep. I’m so scared about what’s happening.”

And did you notice how at the Democratic convention, it was acceptable for the leaders at the podium to talk about the grave danger of an uninformed, vindictive, emotionally out of control candidate? But nobody talked about feeling afraid of that danger.

Look in the Op-Ed pages of most of the major newspapers and you’ll find the same – impassioned, articulate pieces about the risks of a Trump presidency. But nobody talks about being afraid of it. That’s crossing an American taboo.

We don’t want to show fear, perhaps because we still see leadership as a patriarchal act – in the most literal way – and just like a family patriarch would likely hide his fear from his young children, our leaders think they should hide theirs.

I can’t help but feel how it also has something to do with the stereotypes: the brave male hero showing no fear, the frightened female waiting to be rescued. Most of our cultural stories tell us that to express fear is to be womanly, and to be womanly is not leader-ly.

I feel just the opposite – that right now, in the context of this election, feeling afraid and talking about it is for the good. I am afraid because I am awake to what I’m seeing. I’m afraid because the mother spirit in me is fierce, and she is always alert to the dangers on the horizon that threaten those she loves. So I’m going to do something very taboo: I’m going to be proudly afraid.

Fear Takes Us To What We Love

In True Refuge, psychologist Tara Brach writes about her experience slowing down to inquire into and feel her political fear. She writes,

In the weeks before the [Iraq] invasion, I read the newspapers with an increasing sense of agitation… So I decided to start a newspaper meditation… Almost every day, as I’d open to anger and feel its full force, it would unfold into fear—for our world. As I stayed in direct contact with the fear, it would unfold into grief—for all the suffering and loss. And the grief would unfold into caring about all those beings who were bound to suffer from our warlike actions….

Sitting with the feelings that arose in my newspaper meditation left me raw and tender. It reminded me that under my anger and fear was caring about life. And it motivated me to act, not from an anger that focused on an enemy, but from caring.”

Like Tara Brach, I know I can’t feel my fear for long before I start talking, tenderly, about what I hold dear: Peace and safety for all human beings. Leaders who know how to de-escalate. People who believe we are all children of the divine, worthy of kindness, compassion and opportunity.

We can only use fear in this positive way if we understand how to make an important shift from living in our fear response – usually fight or flight – to pausing and feeling what comes before that response, and what lies underneath it: the fear itself. Our fear response will often take us into defensiveness, attack, denial, or avoidance. Leaning into the fear itself – feeling it, speaking about it, investigating it – is something very different.

Let’s Start Here

If we paused right now and felt our fear, looking right into one another’s eyes as we did, that would take us all to the place of caring. It would get us talking about, and feeling, what we collectively cherish. It would give rise to a deeper motivation and passion to protect what we love.

So let’s start with a damn good fear party. I don’t know exactly what a damn good fear party is because I’ve never held or been to one before, but I have an inkling that it has to do with pausing to feel our fear – together – long enough for it to take us to a tearful conversation about what we love and want to protect. Then that leads to passion, creative solutions, and the opportunity for a wise – not kneejerk – response.

Can’t our fear – healthy, conscious, fierce mother spirit fear – lead us into fiery passion for what we cherish? Can’t it give us energy and commitment to take wise action?

I think it can.

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Join the discussion 31 Comments

  • Laura Simms says:

    Consider this my RSVP to the damn good fear party. Thank you for writing about this enormous, historic (but not unprecedented) shift in politics in a human way. You show us how to be brave.

  • Heather says:

    I’m from Canada, but I’d like to show up at your party as well. I started to avoid the news because it is so distressing, but lately I’m trying to just feel what it brings forward in me and let it go. Hard stuff.

  • Ciara Gogan says:

    Proudly Afraid…I love it! To me this means being awake and really seeing what’s going on. If we’re not Proudly Afraid then we are likely ashamed of our fear and we should not be…we should listen to what it is telling us! Thank you Tara.

    I tried to share this last time but I messed up the link…this is my response to the fear & anger http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-to-be-the-boss-of-your-emotions-in-this-political_us_57a90646e4b0a923476704ba?

  • Kris says:

    Tara, I very much appreciate your willingness to admit that you’re afraid. I’m struggling with a similar fear myself, but what I’ve found is that I’m terribly afraid of either major candidate and what their election would mean. But, I also recognize that they are the only candidates likely to win. What do I do with this? Do I vote my conscience and vote for somebody else entirely, even though they won’t win? But this feels a bit like just throwing my vote away. Do I vote for the lesser of the evils between the two major candidates? But then I have to live with the fact that I did that. So difficult to decide. I feel our nation’s integrity, safety, trust, relationships, so much is on the line now. Very frightening.

  • Linda Peckel says:

    Keep talking, Tara. That’s what we all need to do–because this is no longer an election, it’s a takeover! People are not making choices based on issues. Instead, they are listening to the rhetoric of a narcissist who cares about no-one. Just because someone talks plainly doesn’t mean they make sense!

    It’s time to stop the stupidity and THINK!

  • Shelley says:

    This discussion is so important! Looking forward to more of your thoughts on this. But thinking about it, talking about it and actually doing something are distinct things. So I am encouraging friends to become active this election season…even if they never have participated before…don’t just sit on the sofa watching the pundits on TV. DO what you can. Those with a more spiritual approach to life are desperately needed. Volunteer for a candidate…volunteer to work the polls…help register voters…VOTE! Get your friends and family, your neighbors, to the polls. Voting has never been more important. And…this year there really is no such thing as a protest vote.

  • June says:

    Fear forces us to choose from the lesser of 2 evils. Trump is a crazy fascist, terrifying, but our current policies on the environment, trade deals (TPP), unqualified support for an apartheid Israel, drone warfare, support for fossil fuel excavation, militarization and impunity for police and corporate hegemony are also nightmarish. Both major party candidates keep me up at night. More business as usual, in another term for the Clintons, will further erode civil liberties, the planet’s future and the economic security of the 99%. Remember that Gore won! It was the Supreme Court that kept him from being sworn in. Bernie Sanders sold out. Many of his key ideas are in the Green Party platform. This time I have to vote my conscience, not chose an established evil and hope that enough of my fellow citizens will do the same.

  • Ursula says:

    Thank you Tara for voicing this. We forget how fragile what we hold dear to us is. Being from Europe, I have seen peaceful places we would take vacation, enjoying sun and local friendliness, feeling the peace of the world been torn apart in war within months. I am afraid that Trump and his ideas will win, not because of his followers but because voters will not show up to vote for an alternative. The biggest fear is moderate people will believe he can not win and will leave the runway clear for a radically different America. We can not take our liberties for granted, for us or the generations to come.

  • Jill Bell says:

    Thank you as always Tara for your profound words and call to action. Shared in FB. Let’s keep the proud fear party growing!
    With gratitude and admiration,

  • Leah says:

    I still have moments of fear, but I can tell you that I’ve come out better on the other side of fear!

    Months ago I was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks over this, and giving voice to my fears (rational or otherwise), rather than suppress them, was extremely helpful. Processing your thoughts with a therapist is way better than wringing your hands and having political debates at family functions. You’re spot on to say getting through that will lead us to empathy, passion and creative problem solving. I feel better now that more people are waking up to issues and facing them head-on. Having conversations is the first step to making change.

    At the end of the day, I give my worries to God and live each day with a generous heart knowing how fragile life is. If there’s a silver lining to the political unrest, it is this. Keep working through your fears, Tara! Know that God is in control. You have more influence in your daily journey than you know. Hope you’re sleeping better soon!


  • Lexi says:

    Thank you Tara, this is such an important discussion. I too am afraid. I try use my fear (as I use my feelings of stress or anger) as a compass needle that points to the underlying values that are important to me and I try to use this information to make compassionate choices.

    However, we need to be careful. We can see how fear is being fomented by the Trump campaign – and whether he wins or no, he has fanned a very dangerous flame.

    Fear can easily lead people down the path toward anger and hate. How can we help people to understand the importance of sitting with fear mindfully enough to move toward compassion before they act?

  • Christine says:

    While I am terribly concerned over the prospect of a Trump presidency, I have not yet reached the point of fear. I believe there is still a great majority of people who recognize him as a certifiable narcissist with no grasp of the issues and the impulse control of a toddler. Justifiably or not, I still have faith in the American people.

  • Laura says:

    There is nothing wrong with feeling or expressing fear. I feel fear for the very reason your’s is lessening mine is increasing. I think it’s healthy to discuss fear although it doesn’t have to tied into politics. Watching and reading less news is very helpful a’s it is always spinned to spark emotion and fear

  • Kim says:

    Being in Europe, I can’t believe a man like Trump even gets so far in the elections. How on earth is that possible? What is happening there? I am afraid with you, because if that man turns president, the world will be completely lost and us Europeans will be on our own. In the country I live in, voting is mandatory for everyone. It forces people who otherwise aren’t interested in politics to inform themselves and to make a choice. The ones that truly don’t give a damn can always turn in a blank or invalid vote. I really hope enough Americans will bring out their vote… against Trump!

  • selena says:

    Someone once said, “it’s okay to be afraid, but to DO IT AFRAID.” Meaning get up and take consistent, meaningful action even though you are afraid. As an African-American woman who has survived as a descendant of 350 years of forced free labor, rape, torture, hangings, cultural denial, burning blacks alive, beatings, wanton violence by police and white mobs, the transport of drugs into black communities that transformed them into ghettos, economic, academic, judicial, political and social marginalization; I have had to learn how to skillfully and deftly navigate fear. At any moment while driving my car, I could be stopped by a police officer, slammed to the ground, tasered, beaten or killed. There is a special kind of fear, when as an educated, professional African-American who has played by the rules and contributed my talents to America, that I still need to navigate daily through the fear for my physical safety and well-being. It is my reality that everything I have worked hard to accomplish academically, socially and professionally, could be snatched away by racists police or others who could take my life or leave me seriously injured, simply for LIVING while black. I have chosen not to transfer this fear to others. But to find courage and take meaningful political and social action to stand up against America’s atrocities against those who look like me. It’s time to dismantle the cause of the fear. It’s time to dismantle the Frankenstein that America has created by its years of denial. It’s time to tell the TRUTH about everything. Now the monster is out of control and threatens everyone. These are very serious times, indeed. It’s time to act morally and locally.

  • slm says:

    I happened to be in an “esoteric” class when I lived in NYC (33 years and unfortunately Hillary was my Senator during that period, minor in City Government and other areas). In the class we learned versions of emotions that allow for constructive understanding – where most of what we think of them is “like a bad soap opera”. Anger – at a certain distance from the emotional center (orbital) is like a battery – and does not ruminate. (to Boss, I do not appreciate your calling me a “dumb blond”) Too far out – rage, inward self rage destruction. Ditto for fear. Close to a cliff and start to tumble over – that fear with it’s adrenal hormone can lend to “super” human strength to pull one up and over. Or that sound in the middle of the night – danger or not? Again all systems on high alert. Then the non constructive version, imaginary “fear”.

    Hillary verses Trump – both are destructive, but she is more polished and more capable of covering up her crimes (I worked for a Wall St. firm that shielded the uber wealthy, I did not know this as I was doing financial graphics and filled in for the secretary one day and my jaw dropped. Those making 100’s of millions in EACH account paid next to no taxes. And that was in 95. Ditto for major corporations from AAPL to MSFT pay few taxes as well – google Walmart 79 billion shielded in tax shelter Ireland at 1%. Compliments of our trade agreements starting with Pres Bill Clinton (where both sides are harmed ie the citizens.

    Read Below on Bill repealing Glass Stegall act and the impact it had on YOUR money.

    The law was done away with in 1999 by Congress and President Bill Clinton.

    The reality was that many American banks were merging and forming bigger and bigger banks. Some were able to use a loophole in Glass-Steagall to to do both Main Street and Wall Street type banking. So Washington decided to level the playing field and formally get rid of many Glass-Steagall Act restrictions.


    Long ago this information was hidden due to most major papers and media outlets being controlled by “a few at the top”. Prior to the sub prime crash whereby crud products ruined entire nations, and the American tax payer “bailed” out our corrupt banks (major banks not the smaller ones) our little trading group working with the lower SEC gave a subpoena to a major TV personality “sell sell sell” as he was a front for hedge funds (now dissolved) that did the opposite. I was extremely good at research and found that major media outlets were all owned by a few people – who have an agenda. The head of the SEC (after the TV personality tossed it back at the TV stating ‘Nothing will be done” (bankers go on to work for Government) and he was correct.

    Your votes rarely count anymore, and if they become all electronic then this hidden agenda will make sure your votes do not – where is the PAPER trail!

    Re: Hillary, her office staff was clueless about the issues her office was to act on laws/codes/acts towards her constituency. I even spelled out Title’s under the ADA and nothing was done (tossed in the trash).

    In 95 my health collapsed due to illegal renovations in our building (and NOT one person in any office did much beyond sending “form letters” rather then act to have MSDS, OSHA and other standards enforced.) Since a young age I used holistic means (mother in traditional medicine I went the natural route). I was stunned to learn that I could not choose my own therapies due to their being NO medical freedom act in NYC at the time. When it changed (along with Oregon my home state) I could have my natural MD’s apply oxygen and other therapies and here I am. Few states have such “freedom”. I remember thinking (back in 95) we live in some sort of “police state” whereby the idea of true freedom in a Democratic Republic is an “illusion” (doctors can be disbarred if they do not follow Rx (pharmaceutical) dictates.)

    Our truth and labeling laws – what happened there. Do you know most all fragrance products (most all made by Rx companies) are made from left over petroleum sludge (back ground in science and arts chemistry). Search toxins in perfumes (all synthetic fragrance products).

    Well I had my “wake up call” in 95 – perhaps all of America will as either candidate is highly dangerous to the common person. His bluster btw does not bother me, one would have to have lived in NYC to understand why a builder (up against mafia, unions so on) would be so.

    I can’t believe actually how far Hillary has gotten – it is not to vote or not but to educate one selves (and that means research beyond the media) and “work” which most I am “afraid” do not wish to do so. One would have to research her placing people who contributed to her “charity” – people with no experience in the field (one who quite after scientists balked – head of nuclear position) or even to influence foreign policy!!! for donating millions to the fund – a crime btw!

    One example:


    Businessman Rajiv K. Fernando seems to have no obvious qualification to serve on the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), which, according to its charter, provides the State Department with “independent insight and advice on all aspects of arms control, disarmament, nonproliferation, international security, and related aspects of public diplomacy.”

    Fernando’s position on the board came with top secret security clearance and provided him with access to highly sensitive U.S. government information.


    It reminds me again when I lived in NYC and the Occupy Wall street protestors marched along the sidewalk around the corner where I lived. It was late at night and I was buying a few last minute items at a local CVS before my final departure from this city. I wanted to mention many times to the organizers (where the parks they camped out were turned to filth) but no one would listen.

    Few if any had any clue about Wall street and the banks that are Wall Street – or politicians/Congress, banks connections to it (all major banks have trading platforms btw).

    During the sub prime meltdown where issues such as “naked shorting” (illegal) and the “uptick rule” was reinstated for the major banks (but not any one else). If anyone wants JUST ONE major reform (Hillary says she will) then reinstate this “uptick” rule meaning one (hedge funds) can not short a stock, unless it ticks up (a natural break instituted long ago, and again Bill as President did much to change laws that were meant to precooked YOUR money). And that is why you see these massive up’s and down’s as computers make money both ways.

    They guy marching by – a big man, almost turned to slug me for trying to gain his attention (I pointed to the local police lining the sidewalk). So much for change – one has to understand the issues first for there to be any real change.

    Bill Clinton and the Glass Stegall act:

    CNN’s Anderson Cooper gave the Cliffs Notes version: “Just for viewers at home who may not be reading up on this, Glass-Steagall is the Depression-era banking law repealed in 1999 that prevented commercial banks from engaging in investment banking and insurance activities.”

    In plain English

    The law prevented banks like JPMorgan and Bank of America from dealing with both Main Street and Wall Street. Banks either had to cater to Main Street by taking deposits and doing mortgages and small business type loans or they could cater to Wall Street by buying and selling stocks and bonds or helping big companies merge.

    The thinking was that the Wall Street component of banking was too risky and would put regular Americans’ savings and loans at risk.

    The law came into being after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed.

    The official name of the law was the Banking Act of 1933, but it became known as Glass-Steagall because it was championed by Senator Carter Glass, a Virginia Democrat, and Congressman Henry Steagall, an Alabama Democrat and former Treasury secretary.

    Related: Wall Street has made Hillary Clinton a millionaire

    It was repealed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton

    The law was done away with in 1999 by Congress and President Bill Clinton.

    The reality was that many American banks were merging and forming bigger and bigger banks. Some were able to use a loophole in Glass-Steagall to to do both Main Street and Wall Street type banking. So Washington decided to level the playing field and formally get rid of many Glass-Steagall Act restrictions.

    The result was that more banks joined forces and got even bigger.


    Along with forcing (our President and Congress – other acts passed) the same banks to give out loans to people who did not qualify (no income even) then the results was the housing crash of the sub prime market with the responsible people being force to pay for both.

    What frightens me. The sheer laziness of most people to not do real due diligence when it comes to casting their vote.

    Thanks for allowing this discussion.

  • Lee says:

    Amidst all this fear and confusion of this election cycle…I wonder…is it possible to bring respect for the opinions and choices of others as being equally valid and true for them as we believe ours are for us – even as we disagree vehemently?

    Is it possible to honor and respect someone who does not share your opinion or world view?

    Is it possible to respect that a woman may actually be considering voting for Trump over the disaster that is Hillary? And to give respect to a choice, an opinion, that differs from your own?

    Is it possible that Progressives are not on the ‘right side of history’ and that Democrats do not “own the truth” – they simply have their ‘opinion’ of it?

    Is it possible that someone considering voting for Trump is not a right wing wack job? What about including in the term “othering” those voters who do not share your opinion or views on all issues? Is that not “othering” as well?

    I believe being “right” and believing one is “on the right side of history” is simply an opinion and a personal viewpoint. It is not the truth. Hence, the great divide. The polarization of American politics.

  • Catherine says:

    Don’t worry. It will be alright in the end. You survived 9/11 although people thought that was the end of the world.

    Britain has been a mess for thousands of years and we’re still around. I thought the EU referendum would start a civil war due to the passion and grudges friends, relatives and colleagues had about the subject. So far it hasn’t, but we’ve survived two civil wars in the past and bounced back.

    You will survive xx

  • Ruth says:

    I recently wrote about my fears and my constant question “What if…” From my childhood days of the Cuban missile crises to my senior years caring for my husband’s advanced Parkinson’s, I knew I had to come to grips with my fears.


  • Susan Ellenbecker says:

    I’m more afraid of Hillary as president than Trump. Hillary is evil. Trump is stupid. I’ll vote stupid over evil any day. Fortunately we have the Senate and Congress to somewhat keep things in balance. Either way, as a Christian I know that I am secure in my eternal future, even if our immediate future as a nation is going to be rocky at best with either president.

  • Mary Coleman says:

    Beautifully thoughtful as always. Thank you for sharing your insights into your own experience. I think we all carry concern and fear regarding any change. The question remains – how we will direct our fear – through anger – or through measured and appropriate action. Thank you for starting this conversation!

  • Yvonne Treen says:

    Tara – your blog on political fear deeply moved me. Looking at the situation from another country I and my friends and family also feel this fear – that it’s like a train wreck in slow motion and how can this be happening? The Pope recently warned of a WW3 in piecemeal fashion, saying humanity needs to weep. I’m hoping that America will turn away from hatred and division before it is too late.

  • Carol Cox says:

    Thank you for your post, Tara. Keep writing, keep speaking up. I’m proudly supporting Hillary and am channeling my worries about this election by doing some volunteer work for her campaign. Maybe you could have a damn good fear phone banking party!

  • Hi Tara…What goes down must come back up…Complicated times but an awakening about a system with some flaws. As the new President of the League of Women Voters in my community I can assure you that there are some awesome people working hard to correct the problems. You take care:):):)

  • Ellen Newman says:

    Thanks Tara for sharing your fear with us. I too felt that fear for quite a while. I am a bit comforted now, but like you worry about a fall surprise that might change things. What worries me now, what I’m afraid of now, is that even if Hilary wins, an ugliness has been unleashed throughout the country. How can we take back civility and graciousness? It’s so necessary now.

  • Rene says:

    People outside America fear for you too. To have the choice of only two totally unsuitable candidates is a terrifying prospect. The mind boggles.How wonderful it would be for Americans to have a candidate that is above reproach.

  • Ivy says:

    Tara, this is brilliant. Thank you.
    I am feeling this same fear about this year’s election. It’s been coming out as impotent outrage, which isn’t helping me or anyone else!

    I am feeling possibly even more fear and grief over climate change. Every flood, fire, drought, and melted ice cap feels like an emergency, an act of war, to me, but the sirens and alarm bells aren’t ringing in our world.

    Thank you for encouraging us to sit with fear and come out the other side, ready to act. Action is way better than sitting at home reading one scary article after another.

    I am fortunate today that some of what I do for a living can impact climate change. Thank you for encouraging me to continue sitting with my fear, to get through to the place where I can pour my heart and my love for our natural environment into this work.

  • Cissy says:

    I’m a Canadian but nevertheless scared about the US election. However, your post resonated with me for a different reason. I live in Turkey and the coup attempt last month took place right over my head. Now, I’m scared to stay but people all around me, Turkish and foreign alike, are back to normal.

  • Audrey says:

    Thank you Tara for a very thoughtful post.I am not American but am very concerned about what is happening in the US election. I especially worry about the next US election because of the anger and hostility and seemingly inability of some to engage in any meaningful dialogue to find a way forward. May we all keep talking and connect with each other.

  • […] some of you have read about here, for the past several months I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, worried about […]

  • Eleanor Bell says:

    Thank you for this. Wish I had read it earlier, and I have been dealing with fear related to my personal life, that seems to mirror the uncertainty of the external world. I have also found the work of Tara Brach to be very helpful support.

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