It’s time to get a grip, America

Remember the last half hour of the movie “Titanic”?

They’ve hit the iceberg, the ship is soon going to sink into the icy waters of the North Atlantic and fear has stripped away the thin veneer of civilization. Wild-eyed men shove aside women and children for a spot on a lifeboat. The third-class passengers are locked down below. Lifeboats swamp because they are overcrowded; others shove away half-empty. One officer raises a pistol to his temple and pulls the trigger rather than face what’s coming. It’s a brilliant depiction of the human animal in mass panic.

That’s kinda what it felt like watching this week’s Republican debate. You could practically smell the stench of fear through your television set, and as the minutes went by, it became more and more clear that among this crowd at least, the terrorists have already won a smashing victory. They’ve succeeded in creating so much fear that rationality and a sense of proportion have disappeared, replaced by …

“Shut down the Internet! Call out the National Guard! Ban all Muslims! Ban all immigrants! Carpet-bomb ’em! Screw the Geneva Conventions! Let the government spy on us — hell, MAKE the government spy us, Constitution be damned!”

And on and on it went:

“Are you willing to give a bombing order that you know will kill hundreds if not thousands of innocent women and children?” the candidates were asked, and they practically stomped on each other in their eagerness to prove their bloodthirst. “Are you willing to risk World War III with Russia?” and again, with one or two exceptions, the stampede was on.

I know this might be a hopelessly unfashionable thing to say, but we are NOT passengers on the RMS Titanic. We’re here at home, on dry land, protected by the Atlantic on one side, the Pacific on the other and with Canada and Mexico as neighbors. We have the most powerful military ever known and a rapidly declining rate of violent crime.

In fact, no American at any previous point in our nation’s history has ever been more secure against threats of all kinds than you are today. It’s not even a debatable point. So if you’re nonetheless running around with deep fear in your heart, maybe you should think about who put it there and why you let them do it.

Nobody thought it worth mentioning in the debate — it might have destroyed the mood of the evening — but in the 14 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, a grand total of 45 Americans have been killed by jihadists in this country. It’s easy to say that’s too many, and it is. But it is also fewer than four a year. In an open society threatened by fanatics willing to strap suicide bombs to their chests, that number does not represent failure, and the steps that it would take to ratchet the number down from four to zero would turn this into a country that you would not recognize.

For comparison’s sake, we lost some 430 Americans in auto accidents over the recent Thanksgiving holiday alone. Twenty-six Americans have been killed by lightning this year, a number that takes us only through August. So while terrorism is a threat, so is this strange new American eagerness to wallow in fear, to demand a government large and intrusive enough to provide perfect security, eliminating all risk.

Get a grip, America.