Fear has always been a tool of the vested interests to retain power, make money, and keep the masses under control. But now things may be veering off the rails.
The old fears deployed by the nation's power centers during and after the Cold War—commies and terrorists—are reliably set, with the levers of power fueling and cooling down as needed. There's always been an element of manipulation at work, as evil and insidious as that is (think Condoleezza Rice's "mushroom cloud"), but it's been one that's maintained a strategic balance. You want enough fear to make people compliant, but not so much that they end up chasing each other—or their leaders—with pitchforks or driving cars through crowds of protesters.