Poltergeist or patriot? You decide.

Republican candidate Herschel Walker, during the Georgia US Senate debate on October 14, showed off an honorary deputy sheriff badge he had received, as if that made him a real law enforcement officer. Actor George Takei had the best response: “In fairness to Herschel Walker, I sometimes pull out my Star Fleet badge to get past security at Star Trek conferences.”

It is October of an even-numbered year, which means an election is approaching in addition to Halloween. Both occasions inspire trickery; but Republicans denying the 2020 election results have me far more spooked than a child disguised as Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons.

Halloween derives from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, in which people dressed in costumes in order to ward off ghosts and ensure a successful harvest. From a modern perspective, that seems like a dubious approach to agriculture. On the other hand, a little whistling past the graveyard is harmless enough — unless, say, you’re setting up a gallows on the east lawn of the Capitol to hang elected officials you’ve demonized.

Most of us realize that strange noises inside your walls are likelier to be from a raccoon than the ghost of an axe murderer that your real estate agent neglected to warn you about. You might reasonably be scared if you were alone in your room and saw someone next to you in the mirror. But there is a greater chance of aliens from space lurking among us than ghosts, and frankly they would make more reliable members of Congress than people who look at Democrats and see Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.

Imagine a Trump voter in a small boat a couple miles offshore on a moonlit night. It’s a pleasant evening and she thinks of taking a swim. Then she remembers megalodons and the legendary Kraken, and decides to stay in the boat.

Oh, please. There is much greater risk from an otherwise friendly modern-day shark taking a test bite, or an orca inadvertently knocking the poor MAGA minion unconscious with a swat of a fin. It’s better to have someone else along, because if worse comes to worst she only has to outswim her companion, not the monster. Never mind the fact that she is much more endangered by a microscopic coronavirus, which Republicans are less willing to be inoculated against.

A friend of mine from El Salvador once accompanied me on a nighttime visit to Rock Creek Church Cemetery, where many political figures are buried. The main gates were closed and padlocked, but the pedestrian gate was still open. My friend said that in his culture they were afraid of going to cemeteries at night. I told him not to worry, that it had been years since the last report of someone being grabbed from below ground by the undead. (I am very helpful in this way.) He was a lovely fellow and I was hoping he would cling to me for comfort. I did not, however, intend anything satanic, unlike what Christian mom Jamie Gooch of Texas warns will happen to anyone who watches Disney’s “Hocus Pocus 2.”

It quickly became evident that my friend was no more inclined to make love with me on the graves of Henry and Clover Adams or Alice Roosevelt Longworth than in any other place. Since then, author Gore Vidal was buried in the same graveyard. He once saw Henry Kissinger closely examining Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Gates of Hell, and quipped that Kissinger was apartment hunting.

One person’s hell is another’s heaven. We tend to be scared by the unfamiliar or by people and things we’ve been taught to fear. The cult of know-nothingism exploits this impulse, causing occasional surges as at present with the increase in book banning. Personally, I am more scared of a weak and unprincipled politician like Kevin McCarthy becoming Speaker of the House.

Here are a few questions to ask people who appear susceptible to such manipulations: Are you aware that the banned books are a few clicks away on the mobile phones to which you and your teenagers are addicted? Do you think your kids will be less likely to go behind your back to read books that you’ve treated like dangerous pornography? And will they be likelier to take your advice after you’ve shown that you don’t trust them with “All Boys Aren’t Blue”?

In the long run, we can only prepare our children for the world, not protect them from it. We do that best by helping them develop informed minds and habits of cooperation. A spirit of wonder is more empowering than a culture of fear.