Favorite

Richard Hofstadter and today's paranoid politics 

Richard Hofstadter died way too soon because, more than anyone today, the great historian of American political thought would have a keen fascination with the wacky politics of the day.

Hofstadter's most popular work was a collection of essays on the flaky intellectual currents in American history. It was published in 1965 under the title of one of his essays, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

It was his notion that a small minority of people of any society, not just the United States, is susceptible to suggestions that the country is being victimized by a giant conspiracy of secret forces that have a plan to take over the country and undermine its values and institutions. The secret agents have variously been Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Freemasons, immigrants, international bankers, socialists, communists, European potentates and the United Nations. (Add unions to the list today.)

The animosities and passions of the small quotient of true believers, Hofstadter said, can occasionally leverage big changes in the political order, but only once, in the mid-1890s, did it nearly wrest power from the centrist parties that have always governed by compromise and consensus.

That is, only one time until today, when the tea-party forces have commandeered the Republican Party and are close to being the governing power. There are eerie similarities between today and the 1890s, when a latter-day Arkie, William Hope "Coin" Harvey, sent much of the South and West into a frenzy over the free coinage of silver. The nutty and paranoid silverites captured the Democratic Party from the centrists in 1896 and nearly elected William Jennings Bryan, who expected to be crucified on a cross of gold. But that is another column. Remind me.

The latent paranoia, Hofstadter concluded, is usually triggered and reaches a crescendo after fierce economic traumas like a depression or intense social conflicts like racial integration (and gay rights perhaps?). Daniel Bell, the great sociologist, who died the other day at the age of 91, once described the mindset better than Hofstadter, at least insofar as paranoids were not left-leaning populists like Coin Harvey but right-wingers.

The true believers down through history, Bell wrote in 1963, believe that America has been taken away from them and their kind, and they are determined to repossess it and prevent the final subversion of the country. American values have been eaten away by intellectuals and elitists; capitalism is being undermined by socialist schemers; our minds are being softened up for socialism or communism by chemical agents like fluoride in our water supplies; national security is being undermined by agents of foreign interests; and a tide of immigrants who are hostile to free institutions and our values are mongrelizing the country, running up our taxes, filling the jails and poorhouses, multiplying violence and filling the voter rolls so that they can lay their inexperienced and ignorant hands upon the helm of government.

How many of those sound familiar? Remember the screams "Give us back our country!" at the town-hall meetings across the state in 2009 when people were yelling about the health-insurance reform bill and taxes?

The 88th Arkansas General Assembly makes a wonderful laboratory for the study of the paranoid style. The fluoridation scare entered the dialogue this year for the first time since Arkansas leaders of the National States Rights Party raised it in 1960. Back then, fluoridation and integration were the twin socialist plots to bring down America. Now it seems to be water and bike trails, and the provocateur is the United Nations.

A committee of the House of Representatives killed the fluoridation bill or else it might have got traction in the full body, which now has 44 Republicans, most of whom are committed to stick together on capricious legislation to punish the people who are trying to do the country in and their unwitting agents, the children. The anti-immigrant caucus has swelled to a near majority in both houses, but so far good committees have kept the legislation bottled up.

Mike Huckabee has jumped in front of this mob, as he is wont to do. He used to praise the illegal immigrants for their hard work, called for the government to allow them to pay a reasonable fine and wanted to let them attend college on in-state tuition. His latest book, which came out last month, ridicules Democrats for holding such ideas.

The dispossessed believe that the critical moment for the nation has arrived, and if the subversion is to be halted draconian steps must be taken.

The financial crash of 2008, the bailouts and the election of a silver-tongued black president with mixed parentage triggered the current hysteria.

Last week, a Republican congressman from Georgia who had said the president was a socialist who intended to set up a Gestapo security force and a Marxist dictatorship held a town-hall meeting and invited questions. The first one was from an elderly man who asked, "Who's going to shoot Obama?"

Rep. Paul Broun laughed heartily along with the rest of the crowd and said he understood the frustration with Obama. When the incident went viral, he repudiated the question.

Despite the dramatic 2010 election, the paranoids are a distinct minority. But scary? You bet.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Trusting

    It is a Fourth of July ritual to appraise where we are in meeting the Declaration of Independence's promise to institute a government that would, unlike King George, secure human rights equally for everyone who sets foot on American soil.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Ethics upended

    Every week, Donald Trump finds another way to upend conventional ethics in government and politics. Here's one that has been in the making since the campaign but is reaching maturity in the Russian investigation: He is turning the heroes of government scandals into the villains.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated itsĀ 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • The ACA can be fixed

    Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened his 51 disciples in the Senate and his party with the gravest injury imaginable.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Trusting

    It is a Fourth of July ritual to appraise where we are in meeting the Declaration of Independence's promise to institute a government that would, unlike King George, secure human rights equally for everyone who sets foot on American soil.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Turn to baseball

    • leave the rules the way they are. teach players how to hit, don't legislate no…

    • on July 20, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • The beautiful new 12th St. Precinct is full of empty rooms: Why not create a…

    • on July 20, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Religious charlatans have been around for centuries. They prey on the weak, sick, poorly educated…

    • on July 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation