In November, 1964 Harper’s Magazine published Richard Hofstadter’s now-classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics which discusses how paranoia not only was, but has always been, a part of US politics, going back to the founding of the country.
The article is more than half a century old, but seems all to relevant for the current times.
Reading the article, it focuses on the paranoia that was around back then: anti-communism, and before that anti-masonry and anti-Catholism, but one can’t help think that one could just as well substitute with anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and anti-Muslim paranoia, and have a fitting description of the current political environment in the US, exemplified by the Tea Party and the Trump candidacy.
At a recent Trump rally, the paranoia showed itself fully:
Before Trump came on stage an announcer asked – as is customary at Trump rallies – that supporters identify any protesters to security and shout “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until the dissenters were removed.
There were protesters, and their presence was particularly obvious in the smaller, dimly lit venue. When security escorted them out through the emergency exits, the opened doors shot rays of sunlight across the theater.
The suspicion of protesters reached a point at which Trump supporters were informing on each other for not being “real” supporters. One woman pointed security toward a couple sitting quietly in their seats. “Them,” she mouthed.
The couple seemed baffled and denied to a security agent that they were anything but genuine Trump admirers. He waved them toward the exit and said, “Let’s go.”
Afterward the informer, who declined to give her name, grinned as onlookers congratulated her. “I heard one of them say ‘Never Trump’,” she said. “And one held up three fingers, like this.”
She held up her hand in a Boy Scout salute.
What did the three fingers signify?
“I have no idea,” she said.
It is easy to find it hilarious that Trump supporters are turning on each other, but let’s not forget that this is not a healthy political environment, since it allows people like Trump to move to the front.
I hope and believe that Trump will be soundly defeated by Hillary Clinton come the election, but I also think it is important to take a long, hard look at the situation that could allow Trump to become a candidate.
Hofstadter focuses a lot on McCarthyism in the article, and I think there are some very good parallels about how that was addressed and how one should address the GOP (Trump) base. McCarthyism failed for several reasons, but the most important seems to be the overreach, when Senator McCarthy took on the US army. Trump and his irk is likely to overreach in similar ways (e.g. Trump’s accusation that US soldiers stole money in Iraq) – when such episodes happens, it is important that the non-political parts of the establishment stand up against him, and denounce him.
In other words, they should shut him down, similar to how Joseph N. Welch shut down Senator McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings with his famous “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” reply.
Not that I believe they will have the chance to do so quite so effectively, but I’d believe that a rebuke from the leadership of the US military would carry some weight among certain parts of the GOP base. These people might stop up, and think about what was said, and step away a little away from the paranoid style, moving the country ever-so-slightly towards a more reasonable discourse.