Let’s revisit Richard Hofstadter, the noted historian who, half a century ago, wrote insightfully about what he famously called “the paranoid style in American politics.” I’m referencing him for a very contemporary reason.
Hofstadter said that “the modern radical right” was particularly suffused with paranoids who believed that the domestic enemy was “a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman – sinister, ubiquitous, powerful.” Paranoids don’t believe that events are random; instead, they assume that events are staged and orchestrated “as the consequences of someone’s will…betrayal from on high.”
Alas. If only Hofstadter had lived long enough to stroll among the trolls.
Yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, I was hit with a blizzard of emails from fellow citizens who demanded to know why I hadn’t “written a single word” about the Rose Garden incident on Monday, when a pregnant woman with Type 1 Diabetes standing behind President Obama swooned in the sun on the verge of fainting. Obama, who was in the midst of delivering remarks about health care, half-turned and steadied her, joking that he had clearly spoken too long.
But the emailers had a different take on the episode. They said the whole thing was faked, that the woman had been coached by the White House to faux-faint at that precise moment, so that Obama could catch her and look like a hero. Shame on me, they said, for not exposing this scandal. As one correspondent (clearly many years removed from grammar class) scolded me, “You are pig disgusting how you so at your convenience cover up what really happened at the kings castle when he set up the whole thing with that bad actress woman what a bunch of frauds and fakes like bad theatre and we saw right through it!!!”
I wanted to know what had inspired such impromptu eloquence, so naturally I checked my Twitter feed…and, sure enough, there it was. One hour before my email box lit up, the right-wing Drudge Report had crayoned this little ditty: “Did WH fake woman’s Rose Garden faint?” At which point, apparently, the denizens of Trollville had flocked en masse to a blog called Lady Patriot, where the conspiracy was first unmasked.
Over to you, Lady Patriot (whose real name is Dr. Sharon Schuetz, holder of a PhD in “clinical Christian counseling”):
“It took me a little while to watch the video of the President rescuing the damsel in distresss…As it turned out, it floored me. I couldn’t believe how phony it was. As soon as I watched it I went to youtube to check it out from different directions. It was just as fake as any of them…It was obvious that there are quite a few people involved in this latest fraud put out by the Whitehouse. Why did Obama think it was necessary to ‘catch’ a fainting woman just when he said the words ‘To free families from the persuasive fear that one illness.’ And down she went…
“She smiles a nervous smile for the camera because she has done her part in this extremely poorly orchestrated drama. Why would they come up with this transparent attempt to manipulate the low information voters?”
Well. You know what happened next.
Town hall in Trollville is the online comment board, where the anonymous gather for sustenance. Lady Patriot got everybody thinking, as it were. Website boards far and wide carried the big news. For instance: “Did you notice the girl in burgandy dress looking as if she was taking signals from someone? Then she whispers to the ‘fainter’ before the staged event? Goodness gracious, if the media doesn’t catch this charade, then they are useless.”
And this: “How is it that Obama is looking forwards and turns just in time to catch that lady? Look at the person behind her who prevented her from falling backwards but carefully didn’t grab a hold of her so that Obama could pretend to save her. Obama is a lying phony.”
And this: “Staged B.S. Right in the middle of running his pie hole, he turns AROUND? I DON’T THINK SO.”
People started running the video over and over, like it was the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination. I found this scholarly back-and-forth:
“Watch it again. Watch the woman in the dark red dress (to the right of the ‘fainting’ woman, or on our left) very closely. It looks as if she is looking at someone for direction/instruction. She shakes her head no at about 7 seconds, she shakes her head yes at about 18 seconds, then right at 23/24 seconds, she taps the girl in question and she ‘faints’ right on cue.”
“Great observation! The entire thing so neatly executed.”
“Wow, you are dead on! What a sh–ty actress!”
“Yeah how did he see something BEHIND him???? He only knows how to READ what’s in FRONT of him.”
“The teleprompter said, ‘Look behind you now. She’s going to do the fake fainting thing.'”
OK, I think it’s time to bring Hofstadter back into the discussion. The American paranoid “produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed….The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions…that the world of power is sinister and malicious….(T)he paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”
Or, as Lady Patriot typed (with a dearth of self-awareness), “There are a lot of idiots out there.”
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