The first episode took place in the early 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan emerged seemingly out of nowhere like a deadly virus--the political equivalent of Ebola. Unlike the nineteenth century Klan, which was focused solely on racist terrorism, the Klan of the 1920s had a broader agenda. The Klan spewed bigotry against Jews, immigrants, blacks, and--most especially--Catholics. And the KKK of the twenties went far beyond rhetoric: the Texas Klan kidnapped Catholic priests and tortured several people.
Our nation's second bout of political hysteria was McCarthyism. Senator Joe McCarthy used the press and his power as a U.S. Senator to accuse his enemies of being closet communists. McCarthyism infected Hollywood, and a lot of good people lost their careers due to irrational and unfounded charges of treason.
And now we have our third epidemic of mass political hysteria--wild-eyed accusations from the political left that the Trump administration is in collusion with the Russians. James Howard Kunstler is documenting this ongoing witch hunt in his masterful Clusterfuck Nation blog essays. Kunstler is not a political conservative and he criticizes Republicans and Democrats alike. But he was correct when he wrote recently that there is no evidence of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians, while there is plenty of evidence suggesting that federal agents "surveiled" Trump during the 2016 political campaign.
Donald Trump has plenty of faults--I repeat, plenty of faults. But I disturbed by the Left's obsessive and unhinged attacks on the Trump administration.
And I am alarmed as I watch the mainstream media--New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, etc--cheerfully jettison journalistic ethics in order to whip up sentiment against our lawfully elected President. I find myself wondering whether we are headed toward some sort of Munich beer-hall putsch to overthrow the government.
I am reassured by the fact that our nation's first two episodes of political hysteria ended quickly. The KKK was powerful for a few years and even controlled a few state governments. But by 1926, the Klan era was over--brought down by clear-eyed and courageous civic leaders--including newspaper editors, brave criminal prosecutors, and the Knights of Columbus.
Likewise, McCarthyism collapsed under the withering scorn of one private citizen--Joseph Welch, an attorney who famously challenged McCarthy in a Senate hearing by asking, "At long last, have you no sense of decency?" That famous confrontation occurred in June 1954. Three years later, Joe McCarthy was dead, and so was McCarthyism.
I hope the current episode of leftist McCarthyism dies as quickly as the Klan revival of the 1920s and McCarthyism of the 1950s. But I am pessimistic. Mass political hysteria can only be destroyed by a critical mass of civic-minded, cool-headed and decent individuals--journalists, lawyers, legislators, small town political leaders, and academicians.
As I scan America's political landscape, I don't see many people with the poise, balance, and courage of Joseph Welch, who stared down McCarthy in a Senate hearing room or the civic leaders who beat back the Klan in the 1920s.
I think is is highly likely that the paranoid hysteria unleashed by leftist politicians, journalists and academic intellectuals will continue to smolder until it explodes in a wildfire of political mayhem that drags down and destroys our long tradition of civic democracy
Our future will not be quite like what happened to Germany in the 1930s when Hitler came to power, but it will be bad enough.
Richard Fossey (2015). Lions for the Faith: The Knights of Columbus Battle the Bogus Oath in Texas During the Second Rising of the Ku Klux Klan. Catholic Southwest, 26, 3-36.
Richard Fossey & Stephanie Morris (2010). Courage under fire: Saint Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Confront the Texas Ku Klux Klan. Catholic Southwest, 21, 7-22.
James Howard Kunstler. The Swamp Drains Trump. Clusterfuck Nation, March 24, 2017/ http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/swamp-drains-trump/