Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Fear itself

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Those words by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his presidential inauguration 87 years ago were spoken during a time of national — and worldwide — crisis. A shattered economy terrified citizens who were staring at the real possibility of a future without work and income. Institutions, which had sustained them in a free society, were crumbling in plain sight.

Fear of the future brought out the worst in many people; demagogues on the left and the right exploited them to join in movements that led to war and unimaginable suffering.

The pandemic of 2020 hasn’t produced conditions anywhere near that scale, but there are stirrings from some who would take advantage of the health crisis and bend it toward political ends.

For those people, uncertainty and stress provides a chance to act out harebrained notions of society and government.

Witness the men who have problems with their masculinity dressed in fatigues, carrying assault weapons and flying Confederate flags (in Michigan!) protesting a loss of liberty over public health directions that were instituted to save lives.

These reactionary morons have been supported by President Trump, whose leadership style has always been chaos, contradiction, name-calling, denial of the truth, division and scapegoating.

But one of many signs of hope during these days of a death toll of 55,000 Americans — and the prediction of many more — is how most of us are challenging the politics of denial and misinformation by listening to cool-headed professionals.

We’ve said it before in this spot, that Shelter Island, spared the worst of the pandemic so far, has town officials who are transparent with facts and information, and have put in place practices to protect Islanders. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has used his influence to get much-needed personal protective equipment to Suffolk County hospital staffs and first responders, and state and county officials of both parties have mobilized to provide services and reliable information.

Volunteers and food service providers have stepped up to make life better for all of us. The medical professionals who live on the Island and go to work each day, exposing themselves to infection to help those who are sick, will always deserve our profound gratitude.

The nonsense coming out of the White House can be safely ignored with all of the other parts of government functioning.

Fear must be fought with courage, which comes from understanding what’s worth fighting for, and rejecting what we know is not true.