The New Paranoid Style in American Politics

Count me as someone who is not that moved, surprised, or offended by the trove of DNC emails Wikileaks has broadcast.  Reading through what many have isolated as the most alarming, I just don’t see anything that eyebrow-raising that one wouldn’t imagine being said or written in the hustle and bustle of a campaign run by ideologues committed to a candidate or a political party.  Take the suggestion to exploit Bernie Sanders’ religion.  We’ve known for years the Democrats have exploited issues of race, is it a leap to believe they’d also exploit religion?  We’ve known of the DNC and Clintons treating donors like ATM machines with favors and strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff–what new and surprising comes now?  And, of course, every major party with an entitled, establishment candidate is going to have itself suffused with supporters of that candidate.  What strikes me is something else:  The blaming of the Russians.

commie_plot_comics_1And here we are, full circle, with the Democrats and the left embracing (albeit unwittingly) the 1964 thesis of Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics, complete with “the enemy being a projection or imitation of the self.”  Of course, at the time, Hofstadter was using his thesis against the extreme right, i.e., the Birchers and others who saw communism (and sometimes Catholicism and sometimes Masonry),  in all facets of elite America–or even just those parts of American life they mistrusted (In the 1950s it was Eisenhower, later it was Martin Luther King and even fluoride).  Hofstadter then tried to graft that “paranoia” and extremism on to the general support for Barry Goldwater’s campaign.  At the very same time, Fact magazine published an article claiming over 1,000 psychiatrists had diagnosed Goldwater as psychologically unfit to be President.  Talk about paranoid.  The rise of respectable conservatism, intellectual conservatism, or the new right–in 1964–had to be quashed; tying its rise to the paranoids and extremists was but one way.

The left, today, has unwittingly taken on that projection and imitation.  As recently as 1996, John Kerry was still blaming William Weld for not investigating claims that the government was putting drugs in the inner-cities.  (Weld was challenging Kerry for his Senate seat and Kerry brought this up based on Weld’s days as a prosecutor in Reagan’s Department of Justice.  Weld’s great response was:  “Senator, when you have me chasing will-o-the-wisps, I can’t do the meat and bones of serious work.”).  Versions of this proliferate:  Palestinians claim–reminiscent of the great fluoride conspiracy in America–Israelis poison their water.  Drugs put in the inner cities, when it’s not AIDS, remains.  Police target African Americans (see the line up of speakers at the Democratic convention Tuesday night). The Koch brothers run the RNC.  Racism is systemic–so prevalent and sub-conscious we don’t even recognize it in ourselves.  And, right out of Hofstadter and Fact magazine, “Trump is dangerously incoherent” and “temperamentally unfit to be President.”

Today, the Russians want Trump to be President, as if he is some sort of foreign agent or Manchurian candidate.  Too hard to believe?  Then it’s that the Russians have infiltrated the DNC to embarrass Democrats.  Professor Hofstadter was right, to a point.  Conspiracy theories do abound.  But societies, or at least our society, succeed in part by dismissing them as the frivolous Reichstagian legatees that they are, or should be. Once upon a time Martin Luther King and fluoride were Russian plots.  Once upon a time Barry Goldwater was mentally unfit to be President.  Today, it’s the Russians doing the Republicans’ bidding against the Democrats and Trump who is mentally unfit.  In his essay, Hofstadter stated the ultimate characteristic of the paranoid style was that it, “produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed.”  Democrats meet Richard Hofstadter.

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4 responses to “The New Paranoid Style in American Politics

  • Well I, for one, am glad the Russians are back in the plot business. No one else’s plots could stand up to theirs.

    • “but Trump has a history of making outlandish claims that get lots of attention. As Yale professor Jason Stanley told NPR’s Sarah McCammon earlier this year, Trump’s embrace of innuendo and controversial statements sends a direct message to his followers.”

      Yeah, that guy probably even thinks there is a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy!

      • I’m sure at one time, Trump did believe that before he became a Republican. Now he just thinks Obama was born in Kenya, the Cruz family was involved in the JFK assassination, and vaccines cause autism.

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