Real-world phantoms haunt America this fall

This has been a spooky season. And it’s got nothing to do with haunted houses or lurching zombies with missing lips.

As demonstrated by the popularity of horror flicks and TV series, Americans enjoy getting frightened out of their socks – as long as it’s all in fun. This year, though, a lot of us are genuinely anxious about real-life threats like Ebola and terrorists.

Really anxious. A Politico poll done earlier this month found that 64 percent of the respondents agreed that “things in the U.S. feel like they are out of control right now.” Not merely “headed in the wrong direction” or some lesser state of misadventure.

Objectively, “out of control” seems a little excessive.

Aside from dropping some bombs on Middle Eastern fanatics, America is fundamentally at peace. No country is dropping bombs on us, though terrorists carry out pinprick attacks from time to time.

By historical standards, America is also reasonably prosperous. We’re five years into recovery from the Great Recession, and joblessness is creeping back down to pre-recession levels.

And so far, the country has fended off Ebola despite repeated stumbles by public health agencies. A Liberian man and a New York doctor brought the virus to our shores from West Africa. Two nurses acquired the disease from the Liberian in Dallas. The two nurses have both been treated successfully and released. We can expect more cases, but public epidemics appear very unlikely.

Considering the flaws these cases exposed in America’s public health “protocols,” this – so far – has been a remarkably light impact.

And yet the public feels a sense of menace. That’s understandable, given the number of threats converging at one time.

While Ebola hasn’t gained traction in the United States, it continues to be an unfolding horror show in much of West Africa. There’s nothing hypothetical about this virus. Even for people in countries with advanced, effective medical system, the immediacy of television makes the African outbreaks feel too close.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State in Syria poses a clear and present danger to the stability of the Middle East. It is training disaffected Americans and other Westerners to be jihadists. Its leaders are tech-savvy enough to get inside our minds by beheading innocent Americans on video.

This is happening on the other side of the planet, but it definitely feels out of control. In the same Politico poll, 84 percent rated ISIS as either a serious or very serious “threat to our homeland.”

At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been swallowing and digesting neighboring territory in the Ukraine, reviving memories of the old, bellicose and very dangerous Soviet Union.

To top it all, we discover that the Secret Service itself wasn’t up to stopping a berserker from breaking into the White House and running through its halls before finally getting tackled. While Americans may have soured on Barack Obama as a politician, nobody who loves this country wants to see the nation’s executive branch – embodied in one man – guarded with even a hint of sloppiness.

There’s some substance in all these threats. An excess of anxiety itself is something to worry about. But the United States has faced far more terrifying poltergeists in the past. It will get past this crop of goblins as well.