Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Voting inspired by fear and hatred has serious social consequences

REUTERS/Randall Hill
Donald Trump waving to the crowd at a Pearl Harbor Day rally aboard the USS Yorktown Memorial in Mount Pleasant, S.C., in December.

The forwarded email read: “If you need a reason to vote for Donald Trump, here it is: A quote from ‘Rev.’ Al Sharpton: ‘If Donald Trump is elected president, I am moving back to Africa’.”

I don’t know who wrote the email, or if it is true. But it must not go unanswered.

As it relates to the solemn responsibility of voting, fear and hate-inspired voting has serious social consequences. I think that is a good reason for some to not vote at all. The risk of fearful and hateful governing gives me a newfound respect for fearing and hating nonvoters.

By imitating Trump’s hatred, not of Sharpton but of others, the email-writer makes Sharpton into his own “scapegoat,” and unknowingly becomes a “possessed disciple” of the two models he is imitating: Trump (fear and hatred of others) and Sharpton (fear of Trump). And those voters who act on such reasoning are scapegoat voting, and have also unknowingly become disciples of their fearing and hating models.

Scapegoat campaigning is deliberately deceptive

While scapegoat voting is great for desperate candidates, scapegoat campaigning is deliberately deceptive. It confuses and distorts the basis on which some voters make their decisions. Sharpton, by the way, has the qualities of a fine scapegoat: a polarizing, minority-advocating, minority minister with a halting speech and a fascinating face that takes some getting used to.

Sharpton once ran for president, and Trump is currently running for president. Neither has been elected previously to any public office. Both men also have important differences. Noncandidate Sharpton models love, tolerance, forgiveness and sometimes fear, while candidate Trump models fear, hate and intolerance and advocates fence-building and religion-based freedom limitations.

Further, Trump doesn’t seem to understand that “political correctness” is a simple and effective means to help reduce your potential adversary’s hatred for you; to reduce his desire to have what you have, and that he doesn’t have. It is a form of diplomacy that seeks to minimize the perceived differences between those who “have” and those who “don’t have.” Nor does Trump seem to understand or care about the awesome, war-size costs in treasure and blood that result from blindly provoked fear or hatred.

But Trump, a prolific accuser, seems to know that fear and hate are socially contagious and that when they are aroused or infected, fearful haters bind together powerfully, especially fearful and hating voters. He also seems to know that the easiest way to forge internal cohesion is to create an external enemy. In contrast, Sharpton seems to know that a common desire for something that can’t be shared divides desirers from each other, and creates rivals. The problem is that united and fearful haters are far more likely to cause mischief than are separated desirers. In other words, Sharpton is harmless, perhaps even beneficial to America and to the world, while Trump is dangerous to both.

Our overwillingness to blame others

Dale A. Anderson
Dale A. Anderson

The other problem has to do with a defect common in democracies: the inability of many of its citizens to find and employ their irrational fear and hate filters. Scapegoats appear during times of polarizing and coarsening social-political crisis. But Trump is not the cause of our crisis; he is evidence of it. The cause is our collective unwillingness to assume responsibility for ourselves and our overwillingness to blame others for our unhappiness. When we can’t engage our own fear and hate filters we often end up soiling ourselves and others. Scapegoats were invented to permit humans to unconsciously hide from themselves their fears, hatreds, intolerable truths, and violence.

Our democracy will be best served if its citizens are well informed and if they vote responsibly in their own genuine interests. It will be ill served if they vote for clowns or for fear and hate-baiters, who are really imitation-seekers modeling themselves for others to imitate. For better or for worse, it is the quality of the followers that determines the quality of their leaders.

‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’

Sometimes the qualities of poetry and song can help penetrate the consciousness of others. Luckily, I found a couple of songwriters who knew about scapegoating and imitated fear and hatred. The following are the lyrics to “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Dale A. Anderson is a retired banker, a member of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (an international organization of scholars and theologians), and a teacher of the late Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory and Scapegoat Mechanism at the University of Minnesota’s OLLI program.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/11/2016 - 09:56 am.

    The More Fearful I Am

    The worse decisions I make. The same goes for anger.

    • Submitted by miki polumbaum on 03/22/2016 - 05:39 am.

      If United States history is any indication,

      This kind of demagoguery and voting out of fear has been occurring for the longest time. The McCarthy Period, for example, was ushered in by the fear of Communism. The Salem witch hunts were ushered by fear of the unknown, in general. This kind of thing still goes on, even today. If United States history is any indication, this has been a long time coming, and it finally came.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 03/11/2016 - 10:14 am.

    Not racism/hate but fear influencing this primary

    Folks are scared of what our country has become the past 25 years and no one will take on the problems. That is why folks are afraid for their future not to mention the future of their children/grand children.

    We have a broken system that has been pushed upon us by the very folks we have elected. 1st example-Tax system- it is set up to have loopholes that can/are being used to fund the very elected officials who voted it in. With every loophole, carve out or special exception there are lobbyists/special interest groups giving huge money to elected officials campaigns or pet projects of elected official. Folks, our politicians are being bought and paid for by lobbyists/special interest groups either straight up or by giving or holding back campaign funding. Easy fix politicians won’t do- flat tax for both individuals and business- no exceptions at all!!! Take money out & influence peddling out of tax code.

    2nd issue no one will address, 19Tplus in debt as a country. How did we get there? Reckless spending by elected officials!! Ask yourself who has done well as we have bankrupted our country? You, me, average Joe or the elites (both political elites and business elites). The answer is given to you daily by Bernie, the elites, they have either bought, manipulated or used the current system to gain wealth at an astounding rate as middle class shrinks. Our country is like the guy living in a big house driving the Mercedes Benz who makes $500,000 a year but owes $20,000,000 to the banks. His salary will soon go to just covering the interest of his loans (Fed printing money to artificially keep interest rates at 0% can’t last forever). His day of reckoning is coming just like ours as a country is coming. Fix-balanced budgeting mandated by law enforced by the vote of the people.

    Won’t even go into banking system (totally broken made worse by Dodd/Frank), Wall Street influence on politicians, fixing America losing manufacturing jobs to other countries, actually trying to fight the war on poverty (past 50 years we have spent over 20 trillion in the “fight” and poverty is worse today- you think it is working???) by fixing broken educational system…. On and on it goes…

    Regular folks are scared, they want change. Take a look at the outsiders vote in this primary season, Bernie, Trump and Cruz are getting 75% of total votes, all outsiders. The voters are not scared of a person’s skin color, hair or eye shape- they are afraid of a broken system, they are afraid of career politicians and want change. To turn this into a race/hate issue is wrong and only distracts from the real problem of crony capitalism run amuck.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 03/11/2016 - 11:19 am.

      If you say so.

      Funny that the people getting beat up at Trump rallies are black. Funny that he spends more time praising himself and attacking immigrants with lies. I don’t hear him talking about your points though.

    • Submitted by Jim Halonen on 03/11/2016 - 02:05 pm.

      You’re spot on, Joe!

      Hard to disagree with any of the analysis here.

  3. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 03/11/2016 - 10:23 am.

    NIce try at the old both sides do it..

    ..but you’ve based you argument on something Sharpton never said. “If Donald Trump is the nominee … I’m also reserving my ticket to get out of here if he wins. Only because he’d probably have me deported anyhow,”

    That is what he said, the back to Africa bit was added by Rightwing hate mongers because it fits in so nicely with their racist hate filled memes.

    Anyone whose been paying attention for the last 2 or three decades knows that if you take fear and hatred out of the equation, Republican don’t have anything to offer their voters. For Republicans its been Gays, Guns and God for a long time. Fear/Hatred of Gays, Fear of Taking Guns away and hatred of those that would require even the tiniest bit of regulation and Fear of taking God out of the public square and hatred of anyone who isn’t a Right Wing Conservative “Christian.” No there is no equivalency on the Democratic side, fear and has been a Republican/Conservative construct for a long long time. Southern Strategy anyone?

  4. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/12/2016 - 06:58 am.

    The Great Oxymoron:

    “Political Correctness”

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/12/2016 - 09:31 am.

    Fear and hatred are unfortunately very powerful tools in the hands of politicians so Mr. Anderson is correct in this. What he is missing is that Democrats are using this as much as Trump – fear of evil Republicans, fear of losing government support, fear of deportation, hatred of the wealthy, etc.

    Mr. Tobias, how about this approach: Republicans are promoting three loves: love for a woman, love for guns to defend themselves, and love for God. Doesn’t sound scary, does it? Nothing to fear and hate anymore…

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 03/13/2016 - 04:25 pm.


      One would have to be delusional to view Republicans pedaling fear as actually pedaling love. Its funny, really, your examples of Democrats use a fear are all examples of right wing framing. Democrats don’t hate the wealthy. What the heck is losing Government support? Is that like losing tax breaks or price supports or a million other ways Gvoernment supports business? Fear of deportation, seriously? Here’s a clue, people who aren’t here legally can’t vote. No matter how much you and yours squawk about it, they don’t and there aren’t any, none, no one case of an undocumented person voting.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/14/2016 - 06:47 am.

    Since we’re playing amateur psychologist here

    It’s not uncommon for political dissenters, especially on the Left, to protest outside the venue where someone with whom they disagree is giving a speech. What does it say about the level of fear and hatred of people who would go out of their way to actually enter the arena to disrupt the speech and rally of a political candidate?

    What does it say about the level of fear and hatred when mobs of college students protest the mere appearance on their campus of a speaker with whom they disagree?

    They used to call the people who did those things “brown shirts” because that’s what Hitler’s goons did to squash the opposition. Now the press defends them.

Leave a Reply