The Hysterical Style in American Politics

The post-Joe McCarthy era and the candidacy of Barry Goldwater once prompted liberal political scientist Richard Hofstadter to chronicle a supposedly long-standing right-wing “paranoid style” of conspiracy-fed extremism.

But far more common, especially in the 21st century, has been a left-wing, hysterical style of inventing scandals and manipulating perceived tensions for political advantage.

Or, in the immortal words of Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

The 2008 economic emergency crested on September 7, with the near collapse of the home mortgage industry.

Obama took office on January 20, 2009, more than four months after the meltdown. In that interim, the officials had finally restored financial confidence and plotted a course of economic recovery.

No matter. The Obama administration never stopped hyping the financial meltdown as if it had just occurred. That way, it rammed through Obamacare, massive deficit spending, and the vast expansion of the federal government. All that stymied economic growth and recovery for years.

In 2016, Donald Trump was declared Hitler-like and an existential threat to democracy.

Amid this derangement syndrome, any means necessary to stop him were justified: the Russian collusion hoax, impeachment over a phone call, or the Hunter laptop disinformation farce.

Eventually, the left sought to normalize the once unthinkable: removing the leading presidential candidate from state ballots and indicting him in state and local courts.

Nothing was off limits—not forging a federal court document, calling for a military coup, rioting on Inauguration Day, or radically changing the way Americans voted in presidential elections.

In October 2017, allegations surfaced about serial sexual predation by liberal cinema icon Harvey Weinstein.

The #MeToo furor immediately followed.

At first, accusers properly outed dozens of mostly liberal celebrities, actors, authors, and CEOs for their prior and mostly covered-up sexual harassment and often assault.

But soon, the once legitimate movement had morphed into general hysteria. Thousands of men (and women) were persecuted for alleged offenses, often sexual banter or rude repartee, committed decades prior.

#MeToo jumped the shark with the left-wing effort to take down conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Would-be accusers surfaced from his high school days, 35 years earlier, but without any supporting evidence or witnesses for their wild, lurid charges.

#MeToo hysteria ended when too many liberal grandees were endangered. Most dramatically, former Joe Biden senatorial aide Tara Reade came forward during the 2020 campaign cycle with charges that front-runner Joe Biden had once sexually assaulted her—and was trashed by the liberal media.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States during the winter of 2020 prompted an even greater hysteria.

Without scientific evidence, federal health czars Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins were able to convince the Trump administration to shut down the economy in the country’s first national quarantine.

Suddenly, it became a thought crime to question the wisdom of six-foot social distancing, of mandatory mask wearing, of the Wuhan virology lab’s origin of the COVID virus, or of off-label use of prescription drugs.

Left-wing politicians and celebrities, from Hillary Clinton and Gavin Newsom to Jane Fonda, all blurted out the political advantages that the lockdowns offered—from recalibrating capitalism and health care to ensuring the 2020 defeat of Donald Trump.

The COVID hysteria magically ended when Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Suddenly, the lies about the bat or pangolin origins of the virus faded. The damage from the quarantines could no longer be repressed. And herd immunity gradually mitigated the epidemic.

The lockdown caused untold economic chaos, suicides, and health crises.

One result was the 120 days of looting, arson, death, destruction, and violence spawned by Antifa and Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd while in police custody in May 2020.

Suddenly, a hysterical lie took hold: American police were waging war against black males.

The details around Floyd’s sudden death—he was in the act of committing a felony, resisting arrest, suffering from coronary artery disease and the after-effects of COVID, and being high on dangerous drugs—were off limits.

The riot toll reached $2 billion in property damage, over 35 deaths, and 1,500 injured law enforcement officers. A federal courthouse, a police precinct, and a historic church were torched.

Police forces were defunded. Emboldened left-wing prosecutors nullified existing laws.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion commissars spread throughout American higher education as meritocracy came under assault.

Racial essentialism triumphed. Racially segregated dorms, campus spaces, and graduations were normalized.

Everything from destroying the southern border to dropping SAT requirements for college admission followed.

Sometimes real, sometimes hyped crises lead to these contrived left-wing hysterias—like the January 6 violent “armed insurrection” or the “fascist” “ultra-MAGA” threat.

Otherwise, the progressive movement cannot enact its unpopular agendas. So it must scare the people silly and gin up chaos to destroy its perceived enemies—any crisis it can.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: People with placards and posters on global strike against racism. Woman speaking in megaphone in front of crowd.

Notable Replies

  1. In other words, get ready for more crap thrown at the American people and the world. These people will do anything, absolutely anything to keep their power.

  2. Mis- & disinformation are going to be the next crisis. Of course, what constitutes either of those existential threats will be defined by the uber-elite, who definitely don’t like the serfs getting uppity & thinking for themselves. The quest for accurate, unbiased information will be reframed as intolerable radicalization. Purveyors of ideas outside the approved narratives will be subjected to fascistic pograms intended to remove their capacity to fund themselves and to greatly reduce their abilities to reach an audience. And the saddest part is that 30% of the American public ( very likely the same people who think the Brandon administration is doing a great job) will welcome it as salvation while the rest of us wait for a gangland-style mafia hit on our lives, our livelihoods and our Constitutional right to free speech.

  3. The only thing Joe and Kamala have to peddle is fear. They certainly cannot run on their record. So every speech and appearance will ratchet the fearmongering to higher levels. Kamala’s appearance on the View is just the beginning of what we can soon expect. And many will fall for it.

    As example—a reporter asked Trump if he planned to become a dictator if elected to office. He jokingly replied, “only on day one.” The media immediately ran with the headline that Trump admits he intends to become a dictator!!! Joy Behar’s head exploded on the View. Joe Scarborough lectured once again on the dangers of a Trump presidency. Rachel Maddow spent the entirety of one program pontificating on one scary theory after another. And this is only the beginning.

    As more and more minority voters abandon the Democrat Party, we can also expect more rhetoric like, “They gonna’ put ya’ll back in chains” to start making the rounds.

    There is little we can do from the sidelines other than make our views known on various commentary sites. I’ve been spending more time at Mediaite trying to counter the nonsense. And believe me, Mediaite is a cesspool of Left Wing lunacy. I hope more conservatives begin monitoring sites such as that to see the lunacy abound and push back where appropriate.

  4. Dr. Hanson nails it, again. The readers would do themselves and others a great favor by forwarding this to all of your friends and acquaintances.

  5. The Left’s play book: foment as much public disaffection with every aspect of society: feed on and stoke the fears people have; create alienation and divisions between groups and races: manufacture crises and milk them mercilessly for all they’re worth, never letting them go to waste; selectively practice the law and democracy; apply a liberal dose of hysterics and histrionics, accompanied by as many catchy slogans as possible (hey, hey, ho, ho the NRA has got to go).

    Any discerning observer will discover that the leftist cupboard is bereft of ideas.

Continue the discussion at community.amgreatness.com


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