Political Hysteria in America

I picked up a few books from my local library last week:

Don’t they look interesting!

I just finished the first book, America Hysteria: The Untold Story of Mass Political Extremism in the United States by Andrew Burt, and boy was it good! The book was published last year and is very timely with the upcoming Presidential election. I’ve been asking, as I’m sure many others asking: What the F is going on in this country?!

Burt, a former reporter at U.S. News & World Report and Visiting Fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project, describes in this book the definition of political hysteria and the circumstances that have historically contributed, explores five examples of political hysteria in U.S. history, and gives us ideas on how to respond.

Political hysteria are political movements that stem from fear that a secret network has “infiltrated American society and threatens destruction from the inside.” These are paranoid mass movements involving average American people, politicians and, yes, educated intellectuals. Sacrifices, even of Constitution rights, are considered in order to protect the country from some chosen enemy. These movements, according to Burt, typically happen during economic booms and always involve the majority’s prestige losing hold.

Burt’s list of American political hysterias are thought-provoking in that by studying our country’s history we are able to identify common themes and hopefully use this information to combat current and future ignorance. Burt lists examples of the anti-Illuminati of the late 1700s, anti-Free Mason of the 1820s, the Red Scare/anti-Russian socialism of the 19teens, McCarthyism/anti-Communism of the 1950s, and anti-Sharia law after the 9/11 attacks. I find it interesting that you can still see evidence of conspiracy theories involving these hysterias even today. Once a political hysteria has been stirred up it’s almost as if it resides in the collective unconscious until just the right time when the people are losing their power in society go looking for someone to blame. I see a lot of terminology on the ‘net about the Illuminati in Hollywood and those “pagan socialist heathens.” It’d give me a chuckle if the paranoia wasn’t so terrifying.

One of Burt’s solution to political hysteria is to accept that it’s happening and not dismissing it as some political fringe. In the U.S. the primary group having their majority status threatened are Caucasians. We now have more non-white babies being born than white babies. Our fertility rate has become quite low in that population-wise we have dipped below the replacement rate required for population growth. Yet, our population continues to grow, and it’s because of immigration. 26% of the population are immigrants, with the majority of immigrants coming from Mexico (followed mostly by India, China, and the Phillipines). White America is having trouble adjusting to the fact that it is becoming more racially diverse. The U.S. Census predicts whites will lose their majority status by 2043.

Additionally Christians have been losing their status since the “good ole days” of the 1950s, however the perceived threat is much greater than the actual threat as 70.4% of the U.S. population still identifies as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center. The thing that seems to be driving this threat is the fear of “moral decline” due to the increase of LGBT rights and an insistence on secularization by the nonreligious.

When you combine these factors of a decline on the status of white Christians with our fear of radical Islam due to the 9/11 attacks…well, it has created this perfect storm of political hysteria that, in my opinion, has made the Trump campaign so successful. Rather than name-calling people as “bigotted idiots” I choose to see them through the eyes of social psychology and as victims of political hysteria.

What can be done about it? Burt explains how political hysteria thrives off of this idea of the Other(s). Okay, I’m totally paraphrasing now and taking this idea from Lost.  What Burt has to say is that we naturally only trust people in our group/clan/tribe and that this explains how otherwise smart people can reject things like evolution and climate change. If the “experts” are one of those Others it doesn’t matter what they say. Educating the ignorant is important but the only way to even get their trust is so talk about common values.

In America as a country our values are not religious, they stem from the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. In my own words: that we have a right to worship as we please (or not) without state interference or establishing a religion, that we are to be treated equally under the law, that we have a right and freedom to pursue happiness as we see fit, and that we welcome people into our country who share these values. The key, according to Burt, is to emphasize inclusion. Acknowledge the majority’s fears and remind them what really makes America great.

Next up I’ll review Kingdom Coming and let you guys know my thoughts. Should be interesting!

11 thoughts on “Political Hysteria in America

  1. Sometimes I really want to treat the latest political hysteria as fringe, but it’s got hold of my parents. They are convinced godless liberals are trying to stamp out Christianity. It’s all I can do to ignore some of the stuff they read off their Facebook feeds. I’ll try to see if this book is in my local library and have a look at it.

    Also, I thought “Kingdom Coming” was going to be a book about the drastically higher porn consumption rate in the most religious states as opposed to the less religious states.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, jeez. I used to think that godless liberals were trying to stamp out Christianity as well. If I can be “converted” to godlessness it must mean the heathens are winning!

      “Kingdom Coming” 😂 You know, I hadn’t considered that it could be about sex statistics, but that would have made a much more interesting read. Now whatever is in this book is likely to be disappointing in comparison. So, thanks SB!

      Do you think that the porn consumption rate is higher in religious states because of the guilt surrounding sex in Christianity? Check this out: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/atheists-best-sex-lives-claims-kansas-psychologists-survey/story?id=13679076

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have no evidence as to why it’s the case, but if I could venture a guess it’s because sex is a taboo subject in a lot of churches. Sure, churches want people to pop out kids, but they don’t care if the process is enjoyable or not. That, and some churches talk about anything other than missionary as being sinful.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Quixie, I think we see here a reflection of human nature. Among other things, it is very difficult for most of us to focus on one issue at a time. Thus it is natural to have one main threat as our focus. So one can imagine the stress as we juggle in the mind what is our biggest current bogey. Is it Islam, is it climate change, is it the economy, is it race relations, is it changing social norms.

    The other aspect of human nature is that we tend to look at the past more positively than is warranted and the future more negatively. I recall a few years ago reading about an older lady talking about ‘the golden years of the 1930’s’. I thought to myself really, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism – well in retrospect I suppose many folk say ‘we were poor but happy’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely. I agree with all you said here. Human nature explains it all and I’m fascinated with social psychology. Ha – I love your example about an older lady calling the 1930s the “golden years.” You are right, when we look at the past we tend to remember things differently (usually more positively) than they were.

      What especially interests me is the question that Americans and especially non-Americans keep asking which is, How did we get to this crazy place in American politics? This is my 5th Presidential election and in the short(ish) amount of time I’ve seen the country become more and more polarized, and I’ve seen more of what can be characterized as political hysteria. A lot of the reasons for this I believe will be covered in a future post, where I review the book Kingdom Coming (about dominionism: the goal to make America a Christian nation).


      1. Quixie the trend in American politics is reflected elsewhere in the world. So I am guessing it is primarily a consequence of the new digital age.

        Of course things are never so simple as to be the result of only one factor.

        One thing I do see is a desire of people on both sides of the political spectrum for simple solutions to complex problems.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m afraid we are finding hysteria at all levels, all parties, all ages, etc. The political climate has become so hostile that no sane person would want to be President. Consequently, look at our options – a bunch of crazies! God help us.


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About Quixie

Hi! I go by "Quixie." Quixie is a shortened version of "quixotic," which means: "exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical." It's how I described my evangelical Christian faith when I started blogging 7 years ago. Now I'm an agnostic atheist who is trying to find a balance between idealism and reality. I write about my mental health journey with bipolar disorder, my loss of faith (deconversion), parenting teens, reading, exercise/health, work-life, and my marriage separation/divorce.