Sunday, July 22, 2018

Curb the paranoia, anti-Trumpers

By Andrew J. Bacevich 

Few histories age well. Fewer are said to retain relevance decades after they first appeared. Yet Richard Hofstadter’s famous rumination on “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” first published in 1964, has of late become something akin to essential reading. Hofstadter’s essay seemingly offers a persuasive explanation for what happened in November 2016: Incited by Donald Trump, mass paranoia triumphed over reason and enlightenment.

I am not persuaded that Trump’s election signified the triumph of paranoia. Trump did not create the contempt for establishment politics that accounts for the rise of Trumpism. He merely exploited the opportunity presented to him.

Yet I am increasingly persuaded that Trump’s election has induced a paranoid response, one that, unless curbed, may well pose a greater danger to the country than Trump himself. This paranoid response finds expression in obsessive attention given to just about anything Trump says, along with equally obsessive speculation about what he might do next — this despite the fact that most of what he says is nonsense and much of what he does is reversed, contradicted, or watered down within the span of a single news cycle.

Note, for example, the events of the past couple of weeks, which have featured an endless sequence of Henny Penny prognostications about the sky falling. Yet today the G-7 still exists (and won’t be readmitting Russia anytime soon). The United States remains committed to NATO. And international sanctions imposed on the Kremlin for offenses real and alleged are still firmly in place. For all of Trump’s bluster, insults, and diplomatic gaffes, in other words, nothing much has changed.

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