Elaine Tyler May is the author of the new book Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy. Her other books include America and the Pill and Homeward Bound. She is Regents Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Minnesota, and she lives in Minneapolis.
Q: How would you compare the level of fear at the start of the Cold War to the level we see today?
A: The fear is different and difficult to measure. In the early days of the Atomic Age, citizens believed there was little or nothing they could do to protect themselves, and the government gave the message that everyone was responsible for their own protection.
That last message has prevailed over the decades, even though the perceived danger is different.
Now it is about crime, with exaggerated fear far out of proportion to any real threat, but citizens still feel they need to protect themselves, with locks, security systems, guns, gated communities, and a bunker mentality that leads to mistrust and more fear.
Q: How would you define the idea of "Fortress America"?
A: A bunker mentality for the nation, in terms of building walls and keeping people out, and among citizens, who live in their own self-made fortresses.
Q: You write, "The factors that propelled Trump to the White House...had been brewing for half a century." What are some of those long-standing factors?
A: Exaggerated fears of crime and danger, far out of proportion to any real threat, and a distraction from the true harms facing Americans, particularly vast inequality of wealth and lack of opportunities for true security in terms of a comfortable standard of living.
Q: What do you see looking ahead?
A: Hopefully a revitalized democracy.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Promoting my new book, Fortress America.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Please tell citizens to become actively engaged in the political process so that we can take back our country!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb