From adamant opposition to any new gun regulation to support for foster kids to be placed with parents who refuse to vaccinate their own kids, the paranoid element in America seems to be more influential than ever.
To our detriment.
We are based, of course, on a healthy suspicion of government. That’s entrenched in our Declaration of Independence and in our collective DNA.
But as historian Richard Hofstader pointed out years ago, bubbling beneath that skepticism is the paranoid element.
He wrote an essay on it, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” back in 1964. He was writing about the Goldwater influence in politics then, but his characterization cuts across the spectrum:
“I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”
At times, the leftist paranoia reigned, as in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, fed in part by government misbehavior, in part by the left-leaning media.
The current tilt, however, comes from the right. It looks for the politician who represents their every fear, every conspiracy: “He [the politician] wills, indeed, he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced.”
For our time, for the paranoid, Obama fits that description perfectly.
And so, those who obsess over internet conspiracy sites, who believe that any restriction on their pet freedom is the beginning of the end of our country, increasingly dominate our politics.
So when gun control became an issue after Sandy Hook, the paranoid among us saw it as the first step in “taking our guns.” Their reaction? Buy more guns “before the government comes after them.”
And some theory about how childhood vaccinations lead to autism and other conditions, even when the so-called “studies” and “experts” have been debunked or shown to be fraudulent? We have politicians who create laws that allow unvaccinated kids to attend our schools, and even introduce the previously mentioned foster parent bill.
Add to that a part of the media that plays up the various conspiracy theories, gins up paranoia. Add to that the internet’s influence, where even the looniest theories gain some traction (for example, that Obama somehow influenced the massacres in Colorado and Connecticut. Why? To “confiscate our guns,” of course).
The Tea Party is the most vocal of these groups. That’s not to say, of course, that most or even much of those who identify with that movement are paranoid extremist. But the movement does attract them, and the Tea Party politicians stoke the fires, in part for votes, in part because some of them share those views.
How else to explain the Birther movement but to connect it to the paranoid element in our country, who actually believe that President Obama is some kind of Manchurian Candidate whose goal is to undermine the very foundations of our country?
So what do we do? Of course, we respect their right to present their views, but we should fight those views whenever we can. Particularly at the ballot box. In the meantime, the paranoia element has gained strength, and in the East Valley, anyway, has taken control of some parts of government. Which might be the biggest irony: those paranoid about government now running it. We’ll see how that works out.