Do you remember Harold Camping? He was that guy from Family Radio who predicted that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. Remember? The billboards were everywhere.
Now as we all know, evidenced from our continued existence on Earth, the world did not, in fact, end last year. We knew it was never going to. We just needed Mr. Camping to see that. Yet on the morning of May 22, instead of admitting he was wrong, Mr. Camping decided to double-down on his prediction and said that the world did indeed end on May 21, only we couldn’t see it. It was the Secret Invisible Apocalypse. We would have to wait five more months until we got to see the raining fire and the Four Horsemen and all that noise. Then October 21 came and went, and lo and behold, we’re still here. A week later, Harold Camping issued an apology…sort of. He said he was embarrassed. He said it was a lesson from God. But he did not say he was wrong. He said he would check his notes more carefully than ever, assuring his followers that the truth is out there. Thanks for the tip, Mulder.
It’s safe to say that a very, very, VERY tiny segment of the population actually believed Harold Camping in the first place. I mean, come on, the guy was claiming that he came up with some kind of mathematical equation, hidden in the Bible in code, that calculated to the date of the end of the world (Dan Brown, eat your heart out). I would refer you to go somewhere for more specifics, but Family Radio pulled all references to the end of days off of their website. There were reports of some people who bought into the whole thing, literally, and gave waves and waves of money to Mr. Camping to promote his message. Of course, the atheists, the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Scientologists, et. al. all scoffed at such reports. Even most mainstream Christians thought he had been snorting incense or something. Harold Camping was nothing more than the big bad wolf, trying to blow our brick houses down. Wait, I take that back. He was a small annoying coyote throwing spitwads at our steel-reinforced fortresses.
Why didn’t we believe him? Common sense. It was just common sense. We used our hearts, we used our minds, and some of us used the tenets of our own faiths. We knew that the world was not going to end and this guy was huffing and puffing about nothing. Even with all the publicity that he managed to rack up, the vast majority of the population did not believe him. He was a sideshow gimmick.
So why is Harold Camping a gimmick but others are not? Have you heard the kind of rhetoric coming from some politicians and their fans these days? Harold Camping wasn’t supposed to be an example of PR success – he was supposed to be a cautionary tale of “look what happens when you run your mouth with crazy talk.” Still, more and more politicans in this rabid election year seem hell bent on proclaiming the imminent demise of the United States if the other guy wins. From how they talk, you would think we are on the brink of World War III or in the middle of the Cold War Redux. This isn’t limited to one party – both ends of the political spectrum are guilty of this kind of talk. Worse still, it seems to actually excite their supporters (followers?) to transform a flippant remark into a platform against their opponent.
Again, as I said, this isn’t the work of a single party. Take a look at some examples:
Arizona GOP Debate on February 22, 2012. I could cite a number of examples but let’s look at Newt Gingrich’s response to the question of arming Syrian rebels. Question starts at 00:27, his response starts at 2:30. Listen for him to say “With this administration, as long as you are America’s enemy, you are safe.”
I don’t know if people are just trying to stir up drama or if they really and truly believe that the country is on the verge of annihilation. I’m not talking about so-called media bias. I’m not talking about published editorials or op-eds. I am talking about individuals making outrageous and untrue statements. We have seen the big names do it but us “regular Joe” types are guilty of it, as well. Have you ever seen the comment section of a given online newspaper article? The security of anonymity really brings out the absolute worst in us. Trust me when I tell you these are the kinder things that I’ve seen:
From the comment section of the New York Times:
“The only freedoms the Republican Party truly believes in are: The freedom to pile up more money than you could ever spend in a hundred lifetimes and the freedom to pile up more guns than you could ever shoot.”
From the comment section of AZCentral.com:
“And how could anyone with more than vapors for brains think that a bunch whose economic guru was a social dilettante who sponged off her friends to live and later the government has any kind of economic sense. Their economic guru kinda encapsulates the whole right and Republican experience right there – talk about not relying on government while pigging out at the trough. The right and Republicans, the cancer that is killing America.”
Then there are those who are willing to forsake anonymity and scream that “The End is Nigh” offline:
From Slate.com, quoting a Rick Santorum supporter:
“I’m inspired by this man,” said Harig, a retired nurse and English teacher. “This is a critical election, too. A third of the hospitals in this country are Catholic hospitals. If we don’t reverse what Obama’s done, in four years people will walk into hospitals and be unable to get care.”
Also from Slate.com, quoting a Newt Gingrich supporter:
“But if you’re a Democrat, you are my enemy. Democrats piss me off. They’ve gotten extremely socialistic.” … “Every time they get in, they raise taxes. They screw things up. I’ve got a jeep I’ve had for ten years; I pay $100 a year on the license plate. We just got a new Dodge; $600 to license it. You pay your money, they pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people. Free education, handouts, all of that.”
This kind of talk is everywhere. Why are we all so afraid of “the other guy?” I get having an opinion. I get expressing that opinion. It’s our First Amendment right, after all. But why go so far? It’s as though we want to believe that the other side is so villainous, so vile, that they will literally destroy the United States of America. It’s another gimmick. It draws attention quickly and with little work. Playing off of fear is quick and easy but it has a cost. Just take a look at Congress with its less than 13% approval rating. Remember when it took them six months to pass a budget last year? Can you name a significant piece of legislation that was passed since then? We’re creating a divide so huge that compromise isn’t even in the realm of possibility. Because why would we want to work with them? They want to destroy America. So we dig in our heels and we don’t budge from our corners because we have to save America from them. And thus by our fear of the doom that does not exist, we accomplish nothing.
Believe it or not, we have common ground. Simply by virtue of living in the same country, we have commonality. We have the same vested interest in keeping this country smart, safe, and strong – though we may not agree on the best way to do it. We can disagree without being mortal enemies. We can disagree on valid points without resorting to name calling or lies. We can disagree without being afraid of each other. Look at Harold Camping. Was anyone really afraid of him or what he had to say? We dismissed him because we knew better. So let’s do that again. Dismiss the gimmick. Dismiss the end of days rhetoric. Demand better from politicians. Because the world isn’t going to end after the next election. No matter who wins, you’re still going to have to live with them for awhile. So you better find a way to make it work. Enough with the huffing and the puffing. Tra la la la la.