By Mark Stein
“Political panic, the irrational fear that one’s government is in danger, is by no means unique to any country. In America, it dates back to the 1692 Salem witch hunt … “Witch hunt” remains a phrase in the American vernacular, ensconced in our dictionaries as an investigation of disloyalty based on unverified assertions and public fear.” - Mark Stein
In the past week I have been searching for meaning, explanation, comfort, and hope. As always, I look for wisdom from others who have more expertise, and range through the library catalog following leads and subject headings like breadcrumbs in the forest.
This is how I found American Panic, a sober discussion of past upheavals experienced by Americans through the media, political factions, public violence, and personal persecution. Mark Stein is also the author of How the States Got Their Shapes and The People Behind the Borderlines.
I was not surprised to find the history of some of today’s controversies have deep roots. The author selected twelve persons or groups at the center of major panics over the past 300 years: Native Americans, African Americans, Freemasons, Catholics, Asian Americans, Jews, Communists, Corporations i.e. Capitalists, Women- specifically women’s right to vote, Homosexuals, Illegal immigrants, and Islamic people.
I did find surprising insights about conspiracy theories and the common origins of targeted assaults on the “other”. Unverified assumptions are part of the “fill in the blank” formula for assigning blame to whole groups of people in an attempt to assuage rising hysteria over social and economic conditions.
Recognizing the core of fear that fuels a public panic may be disheartening, but it helps me to humanize an atmosphere that threatens; it also offers strategies of prevention and intervention. So, what have you been reading since November 9, 2016?