2021 City Of Buffalo Mayoral Race-Another Perspective Part 2: Fear As A Political Strategy

By Joan L. Simmons

The answer to the question; Why do political candidates and politicians use fear and exploit it to influence and manipulate voters’ behavior? The answer is both simple and complicated. They use fear because it works. The universal trigger for fear is the threat of harm, real or imagined. Historically, it has worked for both Democrats and Republicans, at least in the short term.

“Fear is arguably as old as life. It is deeply ingrained in the living organisms that have survived extinction through billions of years of evolution. Its roots are deep in our core psychological and biological being and, it is one of our most intimate feelings. Danger and war are as old as human history, and so are politics and religion. Demagogues have always used fear for intimidation of the subordinates or enemies and shepherding the tribe by the leaders. Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.” (1)

Demagogues defined as those politicians who seek to further their own personal agenda by arousing peoples’ emotions to some danger real or imagined, exaggerating those dangers to stoke fear, and lying for emotional effect. For the demagogue the end justifies the means-to win at any cost. Demagogues exploit a basic weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, it is possible for people to give that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population. This strategy worked very well for Donald Trump, who took this strategy to an obscene and dangerous new level.     

The Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan used/use it. 

 I am disappointed yet not surprised that Mayor Brown chose to use “fear” as a strategy in his bid to change the results of the democratic primary that he lost. He took a page out of Trump’s playbook. Use fear and if that does not get the desired result, resort to name calling, insulting  and disrespecting your opponent and calling into question their integrity and honesty. I was also not surprised when Republicans, Pro-Trump Republicans, and other members of their political power structure leaped to aid Mayor Brown, verbally and financially. After all, he has earned their support and loyalty, even if that loyalty is about their self-interests. They have benefited greatly from his administration’s largess and benevolence. For the Republicans, Byron Brown is as close to having a Republican in the Mayor’s office as they have had in over fifty years, when the last Republican, Chester Kowal, served as Buffalo’s Mayor from 1962-1965. What do “they” fear? I think it is safe to conclude that they fear losing the privileged and preferential status they believe would be lost under an India Walton administration. 

    One does not have to be an Economist to understand the ramifications of not having a healthy, vibrant ever expanding business community. However, it must be one that works to improve the quality of life for all of the citizens of the City of Buffalo and not be  at their expense. I submit that Buffalo corporate welfare far exceeds the monies individual citizens receive in public assistance.

Lastly, in all honesty, I am sick and tired of the divisiveness, hyperbole, lies, misinformation, distortions and dishonesty. I readily admit that the last five plus years has taken their toll on my belief in the sustainability of our representative democracy. It has exposed just how fragile it is and that is scary. Are we truly at the point where if a politician does not like the results of a fair election they can just try to change the outcome? That is not a democracy that is an autocracy.

Mayor Brown attributes his loss in the primary to how he ran his campaign. Is it ego, arrogance, pride or a combination that prevents him from even considering the possibility that it may be instead, how he has run his administration for the past 16 years?

 He needs to be reminded that he was elected, not anointed.

(1) Excerpts from: Arash Javanbakht M.D. A Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist. “The Politics of Fear”. Posted in Psychology Today, March 2019. Reference the full article was originally published on The Conversation.