Discussion of and Call for Papers Anxiety in our Digital World and The Paranoid Tradition in American History and Politics

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Apr 8, 2021, 9:27:09 AM4/8/21
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It would be very good if we could have some discussion of these important issues, let's see what happens.

Best.

Paul 

We at Clio’s Psyche would like you to write one or two psychoanalytic/psychohistorical commentaries on Paul Elovitz’ “Coping with Anxiety in Our Fearful Digital World” and or Ken Fuchsman’s “A Psychohistorical Examination of the Paranoid Style” or write a longer paper on either subject.  Commentaries should be no more than 1,200 words including 7-10 keywords and your brief biography ending in your email.  We also encourage you to write longer papers on these subjects, which should be limited to 2,000 words including up to a 25-word abstract, 7-10 keywords, and your brief biography.  Commentaries are due no later than May 31, 2021, and the paper deadline is June 15, 2021

            Anxiety has abounded in liberal circles during the chaotic Trump presidency and especially with  our fear of COVID-19 and severe economic disruption.  The 45th President’s attack on the media as a purveyor of “fake news” and propensity to blame others has heightened interest in Hofstadter’s study of the paranoid tradition.  We welcome historical and contemporary studies on both these subjects. 

In addition to the two symposia, we would also like papers for a Festschrift in honor of David R. Beisel’s outstanding contributions as an author (The Suicidal Embrace, etc.), editor (almost a decade for the Journal of Psychohistory), networker (he has brought so many together), psychohistorical leader (founding IPA convention chair, twice IPA president, etc.), and teacher (taught psychohistory to over 8,000 students).  The Festschrift would be published in the Fall 2021 or Winter 2022 issue.  Comments should be up to 1200 words except for assessments of his particular scholarship which may be 2,000 words. 

Write to me at cliospsy...@gmail.com should you have questions and go to cliospsyche.org/archives to view back issues of our journal.

Best regards,

Paul

Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, Historian, Research Psychoanalyst, Professor, Director of the Psychohistory Forum, and Editor, Clio’s Psyche  

Author of The Making of Psychohistory: Origins, Controversies, and Pioneering Contributors (2018)

           

Coping with Anxiety in Our Fearful Digital World

Paul H. Elovitz—Psychohistory Forum

Abstract: The author proposes that anxiety is intensified in our society because of our digital communication and historical inclination to look for danger.  He explores the coping mechanisms society uses to deal with the incredible anxieties created by the pandemic and its resultant economic dislocation as well as by the Trump presidency. 

Keywords: anxiety, coping-mechanisms, digital-communication, Freud, modern-technology, NEWS, threats-to-democracy, United States of Anxiety

Anxiety, stress, and fear plague our modern world, especially during the pandemic, our deep recession, and polarizing politics.  While materially humankind has never been so well off, our modern technology has brought the anxieties and problems of the entire world to our screens, newspapers, and collective consciousness.  During the Trump presidency, liberal anxiety was enormous, resulting in the weekly podcast, The United States of Anxiety (2016-Present).  Anxiety is universal and can easily be traced back to ancient times, even back to the religious myth of our expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  The renunciation of instinctual desires that civilization requires, as Freud pointed out, inevitably results in increased anxiety.  Therapists help people manage their anxieties, which young people can find overwhelming.  People attempt to lessen their anxieties by losing themselves in activities and movements.  As an Eriksonian participant observer, the author discusses this coping mechanism in himself as well as observing it among others, including the followers of Donald Trump.  He acknowledges his own anxiety about the future of American democracy.

News is mostly about bringing the dangers and fears from around the world to our doorstep, leading to endless anxiety.  NEWS represents North East West South, which I trace back to our ancestors wiping the sleep from their eyes as they looked out from the safety of their tree or cave in all directions to check on the dangers of the world.  Our news media, seeking to attract eyeballs to its news, heightens our fears as a way of justifying their existence to stockholders; “If it bleeds it leads” is a regional newspaper, radio, and television station mantra.

The threat of Trump’s possible and then actual presidential election led to the establishment of a weekly National Public Radio (NPR) podcast hosted by Kai Wright called The United States of Anxiety, “a show about the unfinished business of our history, and its grip on our future.”  Its first episode’s image was of the nation divided and splintered between blue and red.  The anxieties of liberals were greatly increased by the Trump presidency, and this podcast struggles to understand the nature of what is happening to the sharply divided country.  The episode “Who Owns the Deed to the American Dream?” reflects this division.  President Trump and his movement enormously increased the anxieties of liberal and academic America.

Anxiety is universal.  Ancient society certainly had a sense of anxiety.  In the early 16th century, the English adopted the word from the French anxiété or Latin anxietas.  In the 19th century, anxiety came into the language of medicine.  Common synonyms are angst, anguish, fear, sorrow, and worry.  Aristotle wrote about it in the ancient world, and I suspect that in an inchoate form we may even experience it in utero.  Although we humans are drawn to the idea of a place where there is no anxiety, fear, knowledge, or work, as represented in the Biblical Garden of Eden, this is merely a hope rather than a reality. 

The colleague who introduced me to psychoanalysis and psychohistory argued that the Garden of Eden was a dream of returning to the womb where there was no need to labor or know anything.  You may recollect from Bible class that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were expelled from their heavenly garden.  (Note that, in keeping with the male tendency to blame women, Eve is held responsible for giving Adam the idea of breaking God’s commandment to not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.)  The severe anxiety of pregnant women impacts the fetus, so it is likely that in utero the unborn child experiences anxiety.  Peter Petschauer emailed me on March 28, 2021, that at the recent 2021 German psychohistorical conference there were several papers on the “trauma and anxiety of fetuses.” 

There is no life without fear and the anticipation of fear—that is anxiety.  Some anxiety can be a nice motivator to action, but why must we have so much of it?  Freud’s answer, with which I agree, is because renouncing instinctual impulses is part of the cost of civilization.  Today we are digitally connected with the fears and problems of the entire world. 

Therapists are aware of the enormous anxieties their patients often feel as they strive to heal.  Perhaps these are the miseries of everyday life that Freud wrote about—miseries that are compounded by our modern technological connectedness.  Freud was acutely aware of the anxieties occasioned by living in civilized society, as reflected in Civilization and its Discontents (1930).  When I reached for my copy of the Concordance of the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1983), I found that “anxiety” was referenced 1,709 times and “anxious” 113 times, but “fear” and its related words were referenced only 788 times.  Thus, the anticipation of fear (that is anxiety) is 2.17 times as prevalent in the founder of psychoanalysis’ thinking than the perhaps more realistic danger.  Therapists make their living in considerable part by helping their patients come to terms with the reality of their fears and anxieties. 

As a therapist, I had helped lessen or eliminate the anxieties of a variety of patients.  Some examples include: a middle-aged paranoid man who wanted to punch the mailman for allegedly staring at him; a young man who was afraid of intimacy and thought that his facial characteristics made him unlovable; a young woman who obsessively fantasized about redoing her college education to make it perfect; and so many others.  Unlike many of my academic colleagues and members of the Psychohistory Forum, they managed to mostly avoid anxieties about the future of our democracy.  Focusing on one’s immediate anxieties is certainly a way to protect yourself from larger anxieties that are so much more difficult to control. 

In twice teaching a pre-COVID course called Self-Growth, I was amazed by reading the weekly diaries of my students, as well as by the in-class discussion, at just how fearful most of them felt.  To escape, some threw themselves into working long hours for pay or playing video games.  Most found mindfulness, meditation, or medically prescribed tranquilizers to at least temporarily calm them.  A few referenced therapy as beneficial.  There were occasional references to the commonplace methods of self-medication that are alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal).  While I don’t think these students were completely typical of my college’s population, they left me more concerned about how their generation handles anxiety.

Anxiety over our inevitable death is the ultimate concern.  COVID-19 is the primary focus of anxiety at the moment.  Will I get it?  Will I die from it or is that only for the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions?  How will it affect me?  There is currently a lot of anxiety as to what the reaction will be to the second COVID-19 shot.  A 24-year-old medical worker just told me that while suffering from his second shot he was sure that COVID-19 couldn’t be as bad as what he was experiencing.

            In the 2020-2021 worldwide pandemic, realistic fears and unrealistic anxieties are on steroids.  Families, businesses, communities, economics, and social relations have all been severely disrupted.  Fearing for their own lives, families have had to allow their loved ones to die alone without the comfort of their touch and presence at their bedside.  Even if people are willing to take that risk, they have been prohibited from doing so by law.  Depression and mood swings, significant in normal times, have become greater due to the threat of COVID-19.  So how can people manage to cope with their anxieties while in isolation from one another?  Psychohistorian Mel Goldstein (1945-2012) used to talk about “shopping therapy,” “travel therapy,” and “boyfriend/girlfriend therapy,” to which I would add activity therapy, party therapy, work therapy, and writing therapy—the latter two work well for me. 

            We humans are prone to running away from our fears by losing ourselves in some activity.  Our anxieties and fears are simply pushed to the back burner rather than dealt with.  Love and work, which Freud called “the cornerstones of our humanness,” are most helpful in dealing with the pandemic and other anxieties, such as scrupulously wearing a mask and struggling to maintain proper social distancing while doing essential shopping.  Of course, some “shopping therapy” can be conducted online, although it is not nearly as satisfying as the window shopping and in-person purchasing we are mostly denied presently.  Although this is not entirely true since in the name of individual rights some governors, especially of red states, are precipitously lifting prohibitions on dining together, attending sporting events, and generally congregating in close spaces.  

We humans need each other!  Despite all our talk about individualism, humankind is very social.  Last night’s NPR television news focused on a teenager who committed suicide.  His mother is now focused on a crusade to avert the tragedy of teen suicide.  Throwing herself into a movement is her way of warding off some of the overwhelming feelings of guilt that she couldn’t avert her hyperactive and troubled son’s self-destructive act.  In this period of limited activity, we may have to face our own severe mood swings, depressive tendencies, and worst fears.  Suicide, which causes so much pain to others, is a tragic way of stopping the pain within.  One way of escaping our anxiety is to get lost in a movement.  The Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement has given purpose to millions of Americans who can go to rallies of the “good people” where they can share their savior president and denounce their shared enemies.  By merging a part of themselves with their “can-do-no-wrong leader,” they come away feeling better in a country that they fear is becoming less like them, which is threatening their sense of identity and economic well-being.

Capitalism is the most revolutionary economic system as it almost continuously disrupts society while providing more goods and services to most people.  Rapid change creates new opportunities while causing anxiety.  After World War II, American capitalism became the model for much of the world and was copied in many ways outside of the U.S., threatening the ordinary American worker’s standard of living and self-image while providing lots of less-expensive goods made abroad.  To add insult to the injury of comparative economic decline, the economy’s need for immigrant talent and inexpensive labor has led to White America facing the prospect of a multi-racial majority in this century.  Although Trump and many of his followers are racist, they are perfectly happy to admire and even associate with Blacks and other races who are celebrities, great athletes, or rich (Paul H. Elovitz, “Trump Profiteering, Racism, and Biden’s Gaffes,” Psychohistory News, Fall 2020).

 While capitalism disrupts our lives as it brings lots of less expensive goods, movements help us form our identities.  I love my identities as an American (without the flag-waving), author, college professor, father, historian, husband, political psychobiographer, and psychohistorian.  These give direction and meaning to my life as they shape my reality and influence the reality of the world around me in certain ways.  Of course, their impact is tiny in comparison to the MAGA movement, but they are grounded in my reality, not in identification with a grandiose leader. 

As a psychohistorian, I’ve long been fascinated by humankind’s increasing ability to turn fantasy into reality.  Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, Americans turned the fantasy of flying like the birds into an everyday reality; we went from projecting “the man in the moon” to actually getting men on the moon; and the democracy we advocated, which was previously shared by only a handful of countries, has now spread to about 15% of the world, with the semblance of democracy through elections (however rigged) everywhere else.  The attack on January 6th of some 800 rioters who felt they were carrying out President Trump’s wishes is a reminder that democracy is a very fragile instrument of government that is relatively rare in history.  When democratic citizens feel sufficiently threatened, they incline to favor security (as represented by seemingly strong leaders) rather than freedom, as CNN host Jake Tapper controversially said in 2014.  While opinion polls indicate the contrary, these surveys measure what people think more than what they actually do.  Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience reflect the enormous gulf between the ego ideals of society versus the reality of how people act.  Even in the most stable, well-established democracies, a certain level of political anxiety is inevitable.

As an Eriksonian participant observer, it is useful to examine how I handle my own anxieties, beyond losing myself in movements I greatly value.  My anxieties are diminished by focusing on and caring for loved ones and, to a much lesser extent, students (this involves tough love).  By setting work for myself, there are concrete actions to take, including turning fear into action rather than anxiety whenever possible.  Humor is such a wonderful way of temporarily laughing away some of the anxiety provoked by the troubles of the world, so I embrace and share humor with my friends and colleagues.  Anxieties about health are lessened by taking proactive steps involving exercise, medical care, and weight management.  Simply thinking through and writing about the problems of our democracy and the world help to diminish my personal anxiety. 

A great deal of the non-COVID anxiety of our readers revolves around the political dangers to our democracy.  Trump’s end of presidency threat to our constitutional system of government was thwarted in part because he was such an erratic leader and, in his typical dissociative stochastic manner, he failed to lead the followers he told to “stop the steal” of the election and undo the votes of the 81,009,468 who voted for Biden (7,059,741 votes more than for Trump) and the 306 electoral votes he received (74 more than for Trump).  How could Trump come even that close, and what does this mean for more well-organized and courageous authoritarians who would personally risk overthrowing the Constitution to gain or hold on to power?  Prior to January 6th, I used to think that the fears of some of my colleagues about threats to our Constitution were simply a matter of their unrealistic anxieties.  Now, I’m not so sure.  

Conclusion
            This essay is rather wide-ranging because on our digitally connected planet we have threats and therefore fears and anxieties coming at us from every direction in our over 200 countries and approximately 7.8 billion people.  Of course, the focus is overwhelmingly on the dangers faced and worries of people most like us within our own American society.  Methods of dealing with our anxiety include alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal) as well as focusing on love relationships, movements, work, and/or therapy.  There’s also the reaction of the denial of what is feared the most, as when in March 2021, Texas officials decide to open their coronavirus-ridden state to business as usual, lacking even a mask mandate.  At the moment, the new Biden administration is working to lessen fear and pandemic-related anxiety through a massive program of vaccination and by pumping money into the flagging economy.  This will probably lessen some of our current anxieties, but we will always have to cope with anxiety.  However, with a good, responsible government, the task is less formidable.  

Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, is editor of this journal who may be reached at cliospsy...@gmail.comq

The Paranoid Style in American History and Politics: A Psychohistorical Examination

Ken Fuchsman—University Connecticut

Abstract: The paranoid style in American politics has a long history of ebbs and flows dating back to the revolutionary period.  It has flourished once again since the onset of the 2008 Recession in our current era.  This paper describes the components of the paranoid style, shows how this style manifests itself among those on the Right, what conditions activate this conspiratorial style, and how it has surged during the Obama and Trump eras.  

Keywords: American-political-history, Barack Obama, conspiracies, Donald Trump, nativism, paranoid-style, political-liberty, projection, racism, the-radical-Right     

            Many Americans became unmoored during the Trump era.  Among those with an aversion to this former President, some developed what psychiatrist Steven Buser called Post-Trumpmatic Stress Disorder (A Clear and Present Danger, 2017).  Yet there was also the flourishing of radical Right hate groups that demonized others.  These discontented, often paranoid activists took their cue from a candidate and President who at rallies talked of being violent, found good people among anti-Semites and White supremacists, and described those who invaded the Capitol as special people whom he loved.  Courting the ultraright was a staple of the Trump presidency.  These phenomena are part of a paranoid style that has been around since the American Revolution.  This essay focuses on the psychology and history of this sensibility, which occur throughout the political spectrum, but those on the political Right will be the focus here.

            It was historian Richard Hofstadter who coined the phrase the paranoid style in American politics in a 1964 essay in Harper’s Magazine.  Others have adapted his assessment.  By early 2021, the paranoid style had 24,900,000 hits on Google.  In 1962, Hofstadter wrote of the “wildest fancies… the most paranoid suspicions” and “the most bizarre apocalyptic fantasies” present in American politics.  He called these phenomena “projective politics” (Radical Right, 2008, 99-100).  In 1964, when using the term paranoid style, Hofstadter said he was “not speaking in a clinical sense,” but of “the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people.”  The “paranoid style” is used because it evokes “the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that recur in our politics (Richard Hofstadter, Paranoid Style, 1964, 3-4).  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) describes paranoia as involving “pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others” and that “their motives are interpreted as malevolent” (2013, 649).  Historian David Brion Davis saw “the paranoid style” as “a psychological device for projecting various symbols of evil on an opponent.”  It enabled fears and anxieties to be “exorcised through projection to a negative reference group” (David Brion Davis, The Slave Power Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style, 1969, 4, 58-59).  

            “Projection,” according to psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams, “is the process whereby what is inside is misunderstood as coming from the outside….  In its malignant forms, projection breeds dangerous misunderstanding.”   This is particularly so “when what is projected consists of disowned and highly negative parts of the self.”  She also says that when projection and introjection “work together,” it can be “called projective identification.”  McWilliams saw “similar processes at work” in projection and projective identification (Psychoanalytic Diagnosis, 1994, 107-108).  It is a belief in conspiracies, stereotyping and/or demonizing opponents, and projections that characterize the paranoid style. 

            These phenomena appear in the revolutionary period (1775-1783).  A recurring theme in American politics is that unjust authority seeks to impose tyrannical rule.  Historian Bernard Bailyn said “that the fear of a comprehensive conspiracy against liberty… lay at the heart of the Revolutionary movement” (Pamphlets of The American Revolution I, 1965, x).  Similarly, another historian, Gordon Wood, found a “prevalence of conspiratorial fears among the Revolutionaries.”  This included a “paranoiac obsession with a diabolical crown conspiracy… in the thinking of Adams and Jefferson themselves” (Gordon Wood, Idea of America, 2011, 83, 47).  The Declaration of Independence finds a “design to reduce” the American colonists “under absolute despotism,” for the “present King of England” has as a “direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny.”  This quote is characteristic of the paranoid style with its projection of evil onto malevolent political authorities and assigning virtue to the rebels.

            American liberals, conservatives, and radicals draw inspiration from the Declaration.  Among conservatives, there are at least three political traditions, which may or may not have paranoid elements.  These three traditions are personal liberty, associating capitalism/freedom, and racism/nativism.  In the early 21st century, conservatives consist of traditional Republicans, libertarians, free-market capitalists, the Tea Party, and White supremacist groups, among others.     

            Regarding the first political tradition, personal liberty, psychoanalyst Erik Erikson claimed that the male “descendants of the Founding Fathers… continued to cultivate the role of freeborn sons.”  They were “in fear of ever again acquiescing to an outer or inner autocracy” (Childhood and Society, 1963, 295-296, 291).  Among these freeborn aspirants were libertarians who maintained that the government had little or no right to place restrictions on individual freedoms. 

            The second conservative variety is the association of capitalism and freedom.  What is considered to be free enterprise has become an essential component of the American civic religion.  To some conservatives, whatever is seen as restricting economic liberties is un-American.  Often these concerns that business is being unjustly fettered have paranoid and projecting elements to them.  Liberals and leftists are seen as at fault for what may be failures within big business.

            The third conservative tradition involves what Gunnar Myrdal in 1944 called the American dilemma.  The Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal” with natural rights to life and liberty, but still there is much racism and nativism in American history.  Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Latinos, and Asians have been stereotyped and targeted. 

            If we look at our history, it will be evident that there are periods when the paranoid style surges and times when it is less prominent.  The surges have occurred following significant recessions and depressions, increased racial and ethnic tensions, radical Left prominence, and when there are changing realities in foreign affairs.  The intensity of a paranoid style in White racism, particularly in the South, is persistent, yet does ebb and flow.  In 1928, historian Ulrich B. Phillips wrote, “the central theme of southern history” is that “it shall be and remain a white man’s country.”  For “the white men’s ways must prevail” (Ulrich B. Phillips, Political Economy of Slavery, 1968 [1928], 274, 276). 

            Many strands go into preserving White supremacy.  National Book Award and Bancroft Prize-winning historian Winthrop D. Jordan found sexual reasons among them.  During the slave period, it was common for southern White men to perceive Black female slaves as passionate and male slaves as sexually potent.  These images of the highly sexual “Negro was rooted… firmly in deep strata of irrationality.  For it is apparent that White men projected their own desires onto Negroes.”  White male sexual longing for slave women was not acceptable and so it was often turned around and projected onto the enslaved.  “Imputing” these sexual desires onto slaves “in some measure” helped to ease the White man’s “anxiety and guilt.”  The “White men” were also “anxious over their own sexual inadequacy.”  Some imagined that “the Negro better performed his nocturnal offices than the white man.”  These anxieties and fears were manifest in the dread of slave conspiracies that would lead to violent revolts.  Any slave insurrection “threatened the White man’s dominance, including his valuable sexual dominance.”  It was easier for the White southerner to “impute” his own “sexual aggressiveness” to “others” (Winthrop D. Jordan, White Man’s Burden, 1974, 80-81).  

            Restricting the access of African-American men to White women was a priority.  Around 1700, according to Jordan, a Pennsylvania court told a Negro male “‘never more to meddle with any White woman more upon paine of his life’” (White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812, 1968, 139).  After Reconstruction, if a southern Black man was thought to desire a White maiden, hanging him from a tree was a common result.  Parallel stereotyping and projections applied to other scapegoated ethnic and religious minorities.  

            White supremacy groups are increasing in the 21st century.  Changing demographics have added to their worry and surge.  According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1970, 16.5% of the population were minorities; by 2010, it was 36.3%, and the projection is that in 2042, 50.1% of us will be minorities (2019).  Ezra Klein reports that 2013 was the first year more than half of Americans under a year old were non-White (Why We’re Polarized, 2020, 103-104). 

            For libertarians, whose prevalence increased after the 1989 end of the Cold War, the focus moved from the dangers of communism to the threats emanating from the powers of the U.S. government.  Some individuals of this persuasion believed the state was conspiring to deny them personal choice, and in turn, they bought guns or joined militias to protect themselves.  Today, many refuse to wear face masks during the pandemic.  Malevolent motivations are regularly projected onto authorities perceived as desiring to deny personal choice. 

            Then there is capitalism.  The paranoid style surge here occurs in times of economic troubles.  During U.S. industrialization after the Civil War, there emerged a worship of wealth and an intellectual championing of laissez-faire capitalism.  The government could enhance business prospects, but restricting the natural functioning of the free market was un-American.  This was a period when prominent Social Darwinists proclaimed that natural selection should not be derailed by government regulation of business. 

            Something seems to crack in the political psyche of many conservatives following economic catastrophes.  Many in this camp displace failures in American capitalism by demonizing liberals and leftists.  In our history, stereotyping reformers and radicals targeted the populists following the 1893 depression.  During the Great Depression, “un-American” leftists were often blamed rather than the faults within large banks’ corporations.  Following the 2008 Great Recession, President Obama was demonized, thus displacing the massive failures of big business.  Trump exploited these common political projections.  His antics were the most recent manifestations of embracing the paranoid style following severe economic downturns. 

            Meanwhile, the foreign affairs arena arouses conservative conspiratorial suspicions.  As the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR unfolded in the 1940s, the Red Scare of this period, assertions of a worldwide communist conspiracy became common.  The House Un-American Activities Committee became one venue promulgating communism’s ominous threat.  In 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed that card-carrying communists held positions in the State Department.  While McCarthy never actually exposed any actual communists in the government, he became a media sensation for four years.  During his ascendancy, a paranoid style fear of communist subversion in the U.S. became a national political preoccupation. 

            Following the Great Recession in 2008, another conspiratorial surge emerged.  Not surprisingly, bi-racial President Obama was blamed and caricatured.  All sorts of anger and projections were directed at him by paranoid rightists.  Martin Parlett documented that some media commentators accused Obama of being a Marxist-Leninist and a fascist.  Radio host Rush Limbaugh said Obama was like Hitler.  TV commentator Glenn Beck used photos to reveal Obama’s communist family tree.  In 2008, the year Obama was elected, there were 149 hate groups and armed militias in the U.S.  By 2012 that number had jumped to 1,360 (Martin A. Parlett, Demonizing a President: The “Foreignization” of Barack Obama, 2014, 25, 164-169).

            In the Trump era, the Democratic Party remained the venue for the projection of anxieties and fears of many conservatives.  The former President often characterized the opposing party as radical, socialist, and a danger to American values.  According to Gary Wills, in our history, we have often created “two classes of citizens – those loyal and pure in doctrine, and those who, without actually breaking any law, are considered un-American” (Scoundrel Time, 2000, 18-19).  On December 11, 2020, Democrat Chris Murphy said on the Senate floor, “The majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives apparently believe that if a Democrat wins an election, it's illegitimate by definition.”  Given this, it was not surprising to Murphy that “Republicans, including the President, have just come to the conclusion that Democrats must have cheated because Democrats are evil.”  The prevalence of this paranoid assessment of Democrats by many, though not all, Republicans, has contributed to the significant political divisions in the United States.  From 2009 through early 2021, the U.S. has witnessed a political polarization that is only rivaled by the period prior to the Civil War. 

            Contributing to these divisions are the resentments and discontent of White supremacists and many among the radical Right.  Starting in 1968, every successful Republican presidential candidate, except the second George Bush, followed a southern strategy of playing the race card during their campaigns.  In both the Obama and Trump years, the number of White supremacist and radical Right groups grew substantially.  The number of U.S. hate crimes also jumped 31% from the year before Trump announced his run for the presidency through his first year in the White House.  This is the largest four-year increase since the FBI started posting hate crime reports in 1996 (FBI, “Hate Crime Statistics,” 2018).    

            Domestic terrorism in the U.S. was also on the rise.  Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy, and Andrew Ba Tran reported that of the politically motivated terrorist attacks in this country between 2010 and 2017, 92 were perpetrated by right-wing individuals, Islamic terrorists committed 38 attacks, and left-wingers 34 (“In the United States, right-wing violence is on the rise,” Washington Post, November 25, 2018).  Seth G. Jones, Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington found that “Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020” (“The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States,” CSIS Briefs, June 17, 2020). 

            Much of this conspiratorial activity developed following the severity of the 2008 Great Recession.  Robert D. Atkinson reported that 33% of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost in the first decade of the 21st century; this percentage was higher than in the 1930s depression (“Magical Manufacturing Thinking: Manufacturing NOT the Bright Spot in the U.S. Economy,” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, January 6, 2012).  Eduardo Porter found that during this recession, Whites ages 25 to 54 lost 6.5 million jobs more than they gained (“Where Were Trump’s Votes? Where the Jobs Weren’t,” New York Times, December 13, 2016).  It was less educated males who were most vulnerable to layoffs (Laurent Belsie, “Explaining the Growth of the Alternative Workforce,” National Bureau of Economic Research, No. 12, December 2016).  Many of these displaced White men voted for Trump in 2016.

            A rightist political movement with tinges of the paranoid style also appeared, which displaced blame from capitalism’s flaws to big government.  The Tea Party movement also emerged during Obama’s first term.  While initially this loose set of groups was critical of both major political parties, they ended up being part of the Republican Party (GOP).  Later, Donald Trump put together a coalition that drew in discontented Whites from the manufacturing sector, Tea Partiers, and many traditional Republicans, White supremacists, and other radical rightists.  The paranoid style found a home in the resentful and rage-filled New York businessman.  He mesmerized the American public as hardly any other political figure has.  He intensified the polarization that had been plaguing the nation.  With the possible exception of Nixon, no other American president has been as susceptible to suspecting plots against him and the country as Trump.

            Trump also has long had an affinity for each of the three components of American conservatism described in this paper.  First, Trump distrusts the authorities in Washington.  In his own business career, he resented the ways governments and banks have restricted him.  He had an ideological disdain for mobilizing the federal government in economic matters.  This became quite clear during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.  Trump could have mobilized federal resources under existing statutes to combat the pandemic, but he did not.  In March 2020, Trump said he resisted a coordinated national plan and was reluctant to utilize the Defense Production Act because “We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business….  The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept” (Ayesha Rascoe, “Trump Resists Using Wartime Law To Get, Distribute Coronavirus Supplies,” NPR, March 25, 2020).  Trump confused having the government direct the coronavirus fight with nationalizing the means of production.  Given this refusal, the U.S. ended up having 20% of the world’s COVID-19 cases with just 4% of its population.  Capitalist ideology trumped public health. 

            Second, Trump rebels against any attempt to restrain personal choice.  During the pandemic, for instance, he usually refused to wear a mask.  During the height of the epidemic, he called on states to be liberated from COVID-19 restrictions.  Liberty over lives.  Third, his racist history dates back at least to the 1970s when the federal government sued him and his father for refusing to rent to African-Americans in Trump properties.  His acts as President reflect his racial preferences.  He played the race card in response to the racist Charlotte Unite the Right Rally in 2017, and once again in response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.  His first appointees to the Cabinet were Whiter and more male than any President since Reagan (Jasmine E. Lee, “Trump’s Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet,” New York Times, January 13, 2017, updated March 10, 2017).  Trump was the first President since Nixon to make no appointment in the first term of a Black judge to the federal appeals court (Madison Alder and Jasmine Ye Han, “Trump Nears Post-Nixon First: No Black Circuit Judges [Corrected],” Bloomberg News, June 24, 2020, updated June 25, 2020). 

            Trump has also stereotyped and demonized other minorities.  During his June 2015 announcement of his presidential candidacy, he talked of Mexico sending their rapists and criminals to the U.S.  Later, during the 2016 campaign, he proposed a Muslim immigration ban.  Trump’s racist and nativist allegations are a prime example of the American paranoid style. 

            Trump’s conspiratorial sensibility is evident in his attributing fraud in American presidential elections.  After Obama was re-elected in 2012, Trump tweeted that the results were “a total sham,” and “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”  In October 2016, he proclaimed the election was being “rigged” for Hillary Clinton (Terrance Smith, “Trump has history of calling elections 'rigged' if he doesn't like the results,” ABC News Radio, November 11, 2020).  Following his defeat by Biden in 2020, Trump often repeated that the election was stolen from him.

            In 2021, Trump called for flocking to Washington to prevent the results, and at the January 6, 2021 rally, he proclaimed that we won’t have a country anymore if the stolen election results were not overturned.  He directed the crowd to march on the Capitol.  Trump sees plots whenever he perceives things not going his way.  Others with similar mindsets stormed the Capitol that day and wreaked havoc.  During the Capitol invasion, there were chants to hang Vice President Mike Pence.  There was also the hunting of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, bringing the Confederate flag into the halls of Congress, and a man wearing a Camp Auschwitz shirt.  Organized members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were no longer standing by but taking action.  It was as if the Capitol insurrection was a convention of the conspiratorial Right. 

            But Trump loyalists go beyond the ultraright.  On January 6, 2021, 65% of House Republicans voted to decertify the 2020 Pennsylvania election tally (Andrew Solender, “Majority Of House Republicans Vote To Reject Pennsylvania, Arizona Electors,” Forbes, January 7, 2021).  As late as February 2021, 67% of Republicans thought the 2020 election results were invalid (Jonathan Easley, “Majority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll,” The Hill, February 25, 2021).  These actions and sentiments are consistent with a 2016 poll that found that 72% of registered Republican voters doubted Obama’s U.S. citizenship (Josh Clinton and Carrie Roush, “Poll: Persistent Partisan Divide Over ‘Birther’ Question,” NBC News, August 10, 2016).  Despite the decisions of 60 court cases and declarations by Trump’s Attorney General that there was no significant election fraud, these widespread Republican tendencies to believe false statements remain.  They recall Senator Chris Murphy’s statements that Republicans doubt the legitimacy of any actual Democratic presidential victory.  Many Republicans cannot handle uncomfortable truths and embrace conspiratorial fictions.  These Republican beliefs are reflections of how many rightists have become unmoored and removed from factual realities since the Great Recession.  There is a widespread Republican and ultraright susceptibility to believe dire things about the opposition, including that domestic conspiracies are corrupting our nation.  Politics has become even more of a venue for projections.  That these paranoid political fears have engulfed so many is worrisome. 

            Again, it is following economic catastrophes and significant foreign affairs alterations that the paranoid style flourishes.  Attacks on Democrats as un-American occurred in the late 1930s, then again during the McCarthy era.  They faded some in the late 1950s and came back in full force after the 2008 economic collapse.        

            American political life has often been characterized by cycles.  The paranoid style has had its ebbs and flows.  The Obama and Trump years witnessed a flourishing of often vile and malevolent mental paranoid states.  Hofstadter said American politics have been characterized by uncommonly angry minds (Paranoid Style, 3).  Anger is one thing; threats, violence, domestic terrorism, and storming the U.S. Capitol is another. 

            Examining the paranoid style and its history gives us some understanding of how we arrived at this contemporary state of polarization.  Beyond these unsettling phenomena are questions: To what extent is this partisanship a reflection of a serious erosion of faith in republicanism?  To what extent is there a residual belief in a government of, by, and for the people?  Subsequent papers will explore this crucial topic. 

            Ken Fuchsman, EdD, is emeritus University of Connecticut faculty as well as a past president of the International Psychohistorical Association.  This prolific author can be contacted at kfuc...@gmail.comq

 

Brigitte DEMEURE

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Thank you Paul, I have just ordered Hofstadter's study, Beisel's book is unavailable, and wish I had read your, and Ken Fuchsman's paper about these topics..

Best

Brigitte

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Paul Elovitz

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Apr 8, 2021, 10:32:30 PM4/8/21
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Hi Brigitte,
  It is a shame David's book is not available.  Will you write on our anxiety or paranoid thinking?
Best regards,
Paul 
Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, Historian, Research Psychoanalyst, Professor, Director of the Psychohistory Forum, and Editor, Clio's Psyche
Author of The Making of Psychohistory: Origins, Controversies, and Pioneering Contributors (Routledge Publisher) 
 




Ken Fuchsman

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Apr 8, 2021, 10:52:49 PM4/8/21
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Paul,

I just checked on Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris, and EBay and Beisel’s Suicidal Embrace is not for sale by any of these dealers. It is available on Worldcat at some college libraries, but these may not be ones that would be accessible for Brigitte. 

Ken

Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 8, 2021, at 10:32 PM, Paul Elovitz <cliospsy...@gmail.com> wrote:



Denis J. O'Keefe

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I believe there was a store near Harvard Square/Cambridge which prints The Suicidal Embrace on demand….at least when I was using it as a required text for my class a few years ago.  I can’t seem to find information about it at the moment.  -Denis

The colleague who introduced me to psychoanalysis and psychohistory argued that the Garden of Eden was a dream of returning to the womb where there was no need to labor or know anything.  You may recollect from Bible class that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were expelled from their heavenly garden.  (Note that, in keeping with the male tendency to blame women, Eve is held responsible for giving Adam the idea of breaking God’s commandment to not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.)  The severe anxiety of pregnant women impacts the fetus, so it is likely that in utero the unborn child experiences anxiety.  Peter Petschauer emailed me on March 28, 2021, that at the recent 2021 German psychohistorical conference there were several papers on the “trauma and anxiety of fetuses.” 

            The third conservative tradition involves what Gunnar Myrdal in 1944 called the American dilemma.  The Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal” with natural rights to life and liberty, but still there is much racism and nativism in American history.  Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Latinos, and Asians have been stereotyped and targeted. 

            If we look at our history, it will be evident that there are periods when the paranoid style surges and times when it is less prominent.  The surges have occurred following significant recessions and depressions, increased racial and ethnic tensions, radical Left prominence, and when there are changing realities in foreign affairs.  The intensity of a paranoid style in White racism, particularly in the South, is persistent, yet does ebb and flow.  In 1928, historian Ulrich B. Phillips wrote, “the central theme of southern history” is that “it shall be and remain a white man’s country.”  For “the white men’s ways must prevail” (Ulrich B. Phillips, Political Economy of Slavery, 1968 [1928], 274, 276). 

            Many strands go into preserving White supremacy.  National Book Award and Bancroft Prize-winning historian Winthrop D. Jordan found sexual reasons among them.  During the slave period, it was common for southern White men to perceive Black female slaves as passionate and male slaves as sexually potent.  These images of the highly sexual “Negro was rooted… firmly in deep strata of irrationality.  For it is apparent that White men projected their own desires onto Negroes.”  White male sexual longing for slave women was not acceptable and so it was often turned around and projected onto the enslaved.  “Imputing” these sexual desires onto slaves “in some measure” helped to ease the White man’s “anxiety and guilt.”  The “White men” were also “anxious over their own sexual inadequacy.”  Some imagined that “the Negro better performed his nocturnal offices than the white man.”  These anxieties and fears were manifest in the dread of slave conspiracies that would lead to violent revolts.  Any slave insurrection “threatened the White man’s dominance, including his valuable sexual dominance.”  It was easier for the White southerner to “impute” his own “sexual aggressiveness” to “others” (Winthrop D. Jordan, White Man’s Burden, 1974, 80-81).  

            Restricting the access of African-American men to White women was a priority.  Around 1700, according to Jordan, a Pennsylvania court told a Negro male “‘never more to meddle with any White woman more upon paine of his life’” (White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812, 1968, 139).  After Reconstruction, if a southern Black man was thought to desire a White maiden, hanging him from a tree was a common result.  Parallel stereotyping and projections applied to other scapegoated ethnic and religious minorities.  

            White supremacy groups are increasing in the 21st century.  Changing demographics have added to their worry and surge.  According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1970, 16.5% of the population were minorities; by 2010, it was 36.3%, and the projection is that in 2042, 50.1% of us will be minorities (2019).  Ezra Klein reports that 2013 was the first year more than half of Americans under a year old were non-White (Why We’re Polarized, 2020, 103-104). 

            For libertarians, whose prevalence increased after the 1989 end of the Cold War, the focus moved from the dangers of communism to the threats emanating from the powers of the U.S. government.  Some individuals of this persuasion believed the state was conspiring to deny them personal choice, and in turn, they bought guns or joined militias to protect themselves.  Today, many refuse to wear face masks during the pandemic.  Malevolent motivations are regularly projected onto authorities perceived as desiring to deny personal choice. 

            Then there is capitalism.  The paranoid style surge here occurs in times of economic troubles.  During U.S. industrialization after the Civil War, there emerged a worship of wealth and an intellectual championing of laissez-faire capitalism.  The government could enhance business prospects, but restricting the natural functioning of the free market was un-American.  This was a period when prominent Social Darwinists proclaimed that natural selection should not be derailed by government regulation of business. 

            Something seems to crack in the political psyche of many conservatives following economic catastrophes.  Many in this camp displace failures in American capitalism by demonizing liberals and leftists.  In our history, stereotyping reformers and radicals targeted the populists following the 1893 depression.  During the Great Depression, “un-American” leftists were often blamed rather than the faults within large banks’ corporations.  Following the 2008 Great Recession, President Obama was demonized, thus displacing the massive failures of big business.  Trump exploited these common political projections.  His antics were the most recent manifestations of embracing the paranoid style following severe economic downturns. 

            Meanwhile, the foreign affairs arena arouses conservative conspiratorial suspicions.  As the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR unfolded in the 1940s, the Red Scare of this period, assertions of a worldwide communist conspiracy became common.  The House Un-American Activities Committee became one venue promulgating communism’s ominous threat.  In 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed that card-carrying communists held positions in the State Department.  While McCarthy never actually exposed any actual communists in the government, he became a media sensation for four years.  During his ascendancy, a paranoid style fear of communist subversion in the U.S. became a national political preoccupation. 

            Following the Great Recession in 2008, another conspiratorial surge emerged.  Not surprisingly, bi-racial President Obama was blamed and caricatured.  All sorts of anger and projections were directed at him by paranoid rightists.  Martin Parlett documented that some media commentators accused Obama of being a Marxist-Leninist and a fascist.  Radio host Rush Limbaugh said Obama was like Hitler.  TV commentator Glenn Beck used photos to reveal Obama’s communist family tree.  In 2008, the year Obama was elected, there were 149 hate groups and armed militias in the U.S.  By 2012 that number had jumped to 1,360 (Martin A. Parlett, Demonizing a President: The “Foreignization” of Barack Obama, 2014, 25, 164-169).

            In the Trump era, the Democratic Party remained the venue for the projection of anxieties and fears of many conservatives.  The former President often characterized the opposing party as radical, socialist, and a danger to American values.  According to Gary Wills, in our history, we have often created “two classes of citizens – those loyal and pure in doctrine, and those who, without actually breaking any law, are considered un-American” (Scoundrel Time, 2000, 18-19).  On December 11, 2020, Democrat Chris Murphy said on the Senate floor, “The majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives apparently believe that if a Democrat wins an election, it's illegitimate by definition.”  Given this, it was not surprising to Murphy that “Republicans, including the President, have just come to the conclusion that Democrats must have cheated because Democrats are evil.”  The prevalence of this paranoid assessment of Democrats by many, though not all, Republicans, has contributed to the significant political divisions in the United States.  From 2009 through early 2021, the U.S. has witnessed a political polarization that is only rivaled by the period prior to the Civil War. 

            Contributing to these divisions are the resentments and discontent of White supremacists and many among the radical Right.  Starting in 1968, every successful Republican presidential candidate, except the second George Bush, followed a southern strategy of playing the race card during their campaigns.  In both the Obama and Trump years, the number of White supremacist and radical Right groups grew substantially.  The number of U.S. hate crimes also jumped 31% from the year before Trump announced his run for the presidency through his first year in the White House.  This is the largest four-year increase since the FBI started posting hate crime reports in 1996 (FBI, “Hate Crime Statistics,” 2018).    

            Domestic terrorism in the U.S. was also on the rise.  Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy, and Andrew Ba Tran reported that of the politically motivated terrorist attacks in this country between 2010 and 2017, 92 were perpetrated by right-wing individuals, Islamic terrorists committed 38 attacks, and left-wingers 34 (“In the United States, right-wing violence is on the rise,” Washington Post, November 25, 2018).  Seth G. Jones, Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington found that “Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020” (“The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States,” CSIS Briefs, June 17, 2020). 

            Much of this conspiratorial activity developed following the severity of the 2008 Great Recession.  Robert D. Atkinson reported that 33% of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost in the first decade of the 21st century; this percentage was higher than in the 1930s depression (“Magical Manufacturing Thinking: Manufacturing NOT the Bright Spot in the U.S. Economy,” Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, January 6, 2012).  Eduardo Porter found that during this recession, Whites ages 25 to 54 lost 6.5 million jobs more than they gained (“Where Were Trump’s Votes? Where the Jobs Weren’t,” New York Times, December 13, 2016).  It was less educated males who were most vulnerable to layoffs (Laurent Belsie, “Explaining the Growth of the Alternative Workforce,” National Bureau of Economic Research, No. 12, December 2016).  Many of these displaced White men voted for Trump in 2016.

            A rightist political movement with tinges of the paranoid style also appeared, which displaced blame from capitalism’s flaws to big government.  The Tea Party movement also emerged during Obama’s first term.  While initially this loose set of groups was critical of both major political parties, they ended up being part of the Republican Party (GOP).  Later, Donald Trump put together a coalition that drew in discontented Whites from the manufacturing sector, Tea Partiers, and many traditional Republicans, White supremacists, and other radical rightists.  The paranoid style found a home in the resentful and rage-filled New York businessman.  He mesmerized the American public as hardly any other political figure has.  He intensified the polarization that had been plaguing the nation.  With the possible exception of Nixon, no other American president has been as susceptible to suspecting plots against him and the country as Trump.

            Trump also has long had an affinity for each of the three components of American conservatism described in this paper.  First, Trump distrusts the authorities in Washington.  In his own business career, he resented the ways governments and banks have restricted him.  He had an ideological disdain for mobilizing the federal government in economic matters.  This became quite clear during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.  Trump could have mobilized federal resources under existing statutes to combat the pandemic, but he did not.  In March 2020, Trump said he resisted a coordinated national plan and was reluctant to utilize the Defense Production Act because “We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business….  The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept” (Ayesha Rascoe, “Trump Resists Using Wartime Law To Get, Distribute Coronavirus Supplies,” NPR, March 25, 2020).  Trump confused having the government direct the coronavirus fight with nationalizing the means of production.  Given this refusal, the U.S. ended up having 20% of the world’s COVID-19 cases with just 4% of its population.  Capitalist ideology trumped public health. 

            Second, Trump rebels against any attempt to restrain personal choice.  During the pandemic, for instance, he usually refused to wear a mask.  During the height of the epidemic, he called on states to be liberated from COVID-19 restrictions.  Liberty over lives.  Third, his racist history dates back at least to the 1970s when the federal government sued him and his father for refusing to rent to African-Americans in Trump properties.  His acts as President reflect his racial preferences.  He played the race card in response to the racist Charlotte Unite the Right Rally in 2017, and once again in response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.  His first appointees to the Cabinet were Whiter and more male than any President since Reagan (Jasmine E. Lee, “Trump’s Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet,” New York Times, January 13, 2017, updated March 10, 2017).  Trump was the first President since Nixon to make no appointment in the first term of a Black judge to the federal appeals court (Madison Alder and Jasmine Ye Han, “Trump Nears Post-Nixon First: No Black Circuit Judges [Corrected],” Bloomberg News, June 24, 2020, updated June 25, 2020). 

            Trump has also stereotyped and demonized other minorities.  During his June 2015 announcement of his presidential candidacy, he talked of Mexico sending their rapists and criminals to the U.S.  Later, during the 2016 campaign, he proposed a Muslim immigration ban.  Trump’s racist and nativist allegations are a prime example of the American paranoid style. 

            Trump’s conspiratorial sensibility is evident in his attributing fraud in American presidential elections.  After Obama was re-elected in 2012, Trump tweeted that the results were “a total sham,” and “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”  In October 2016, he proclaimed the election was being “rigged” for Hillary Clinton (Terrance Smith, “Trump has history of calling elections 'rigged' if he doesn't like the results,” ABC News Radio, November 11, 2020).  Following his defeat by Biden in 2020, Trump often repeated that the election was stolen from him.

            In 2021, Trump called for flocking to Washington to prevent the results, and at the January 6, 2021 rally, he proclaimed that we won’t have a country anymore if the stolen election results were not overturned.  He directed the crowd to march on the Capitol.  Trump sees plots whenever he perceives things not going his way.  Others with similar mindsets stormed the Capitol that day and wreaked havoc.  During the Capitol invasion, there were chants to hang Vice President Mike Pence.  There was also the hunting of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, bringing the Confederate flag into the halls of Congress, and a man wearing a Camp Auschwitz shirt.  Organized members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were no longer standing by but taking action.  It was as if the Capitol insurrection was a convention of the conspiratorial Right. 

            But Trump loyalists go beyond the ultraright.  On January 6, 2021, 65% of House Republicans voted to decertify the 2020 Pennsylvania election tally (Andrew Solender, “Majority Of House Republicans Vote To Reject Pennsylvania, Arizona Electors,” Forbes, January 7, 2021).  As late as February 2021, 67% of Republicans thought the 2020 election results were invalid (Jonathan Easley, “Majority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll,” The Hill, February 25, 2021).  These actions and sentiments are consistent with a 2016 poll that found that 72% of registered Republican voters doubted Obama’s U.S. citizenship (Josh Clinton and Carrie Roush, “Poll: Persistent Partisan Divide Over ‘Birther’ Question,” NBC News, August 10, 2016).  Despite the decisions of 60 court cases and declarations by Trump’s Attorney General that there was no significant election fraud, these widespread Republican tendencies to believe false statements remain  They recall Senator Chris Murphy’s statements that Republicans doubt the legitimacy of any actual Democratic presidential victory.  Many Republicans cannot handle uncomfortable truths and embrace conspiratorial fictions.  These Republican beliefs are reflections of how many rightists have become unmoored and removed from factual realities since the Great Recession.  There is a widespread Republican and ultraright susceptibility to believe dire things about the opposition, including that domestic conspiracies are corrupting our nation.  Politics has become even more of a venue for projections.  That these paranoid political fears have engulfed so many is worrisome. 

            Again, it is following economic catastrophes and significant foreign affairs alterations that the paranoid style flourishes.  Attacks on Democrats as un-American occurred in the late 1930s, then again during the McCarthy era.  They faded some in the late 1950s and came back in full force after the 2008 economic collapse.        

            American political life has often been characterized by cycles.  The paranoid style has had its ebbs and flows.  The Obama and Trump years witnessed a flourishing of often vile and malevolent mental paranoid states.  Hofstadter said American politics have been characterized by uncommonly angry minds (Paranoid Style, 3).  Anger is one thing; threats, violence, domestic terrorism, and storming the U.S. Capitol is another. 

            Examining the paranoid style and its history gives us some understanding of how we arrived at this contemporary state of polarization.  Beyond these unsettling phenomena are questions: To what extent is this partisanship a reflection of a serious erosion of faith in republicanism?  To what extent is there a residual belief in a government of, by, and for the people?  Subsequent papers will explore this crucial topic. 

            Ken Fuchsman, EdD, is emeritus University of Connecticut faculty as well as a past president of the International Psychohistorical Association.  This prolific author can be contacted at kfuc...@gmail.com.  q

 

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Paul Elovitz

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Thanks for checking Ken, this is a real problem, because it is such a valuable book.

Denis J. O'Keefe

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Regarding Beisel’s Suicidal Embrace, apparently it still can be ordered through the publisher Richard (Circumstantial Press).  He may be contact at rc8...@aol.com

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It would be very good if we could have some discussion of these important issues, let's see what happens.

Best.

Paul 

We at Clio’s Psyche would like you to write one or two psychoanalytic/psychohistorical commentaries on Paul Elovitz’ “Coping with Anxiety in Our Fearful Digital World” and or Ken Fuchsman’s “A Psychohistorical Examination of the Paranoid Style” or write a longer paper on either subject.  Commentaries should be no more than 1,200 words including 7-10 keywords and your brief biography ending in your email.  We also encourage you to write longer papers on these subjects, which should be limited to 2,000 words including up to a 25-word abstract, 7-10 keywords, and your brief biography.  Commentaries are due no later than May 31, 2021, and the paper deadline is June 15, 2021

            Anxiety has abounded in liberal circles during the chaotic Trump presidency and especially with  our fear of COVID-19 and severe economic disruption.  The 45th President’s attack on the media as a purveyor of “fake news” and propensity to blame others has heightened interest in Hofstadter’s study of the paranoid tradition.  We welcome historical and contemporary studies on both these subjects. 

In addition to the two symposia, we would also like papers for a Festschrift in honor of David R. Beisel’s outstanding contributions as an author (The Suicidal Embrace, etc.), editor (almost a decade for the Journal of Psychohistory), networker (he has brought so many together), psychohistorical leader (founding IPA convention chair, twice IPA president, etc.), and teacher (taught psychohistory to over 8,000 students).  The Festschrift would be published in the Fall 2021 or Winter 2022 issue.  Comments should be up to 1200 words except for assessments of his particular scholarship which may be 2,000 words. 

Write to me at cliospsy...@gmail.com should you have questions and go to cliospsyche.org/archives to view back issues of our journal.

Best regards,

Paul

Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, Historian, Research Psychoanalyst, Professor, Director of the Psychohistory Forum, and Editor, Clio’s Psyche  

Author of The Making of Psychohistory: Origins, Controversies, and Pioneering Contributors (2018)

           

Coping with Anxiety in Our Fearful Digital World

Paul H. Elovitz—Psychohistory Forum

Abstract: The author proposes that anxiety is intensified in our society because of our digital communication and historical inclination to look for danger.  He explores the coping mechanisms society uses to deal with the incredible anxieties created by the pandemic and its resultant economic dislocation as well as by the Trump presidency. 

Keywords: anxiety, coping-mechanisms, digital-communication, Freud, modern-technology, NEWS, threats-to-democracy, United States of Anxiety

Anxiety, stress, and fear plague our modern world, especially during the pandemic, our deep recession, and polarizing politics.  While materially humankind has never been so well off, our modern technology has brought the anxieties and problems of the entire world to our screens, newspapers, and collective consciousness.  During the Trump presidency, liberal anxiety was enormous, resulting in the weekly podcast, The United States of Anxiety (2016-Present).  Anxiety is universal and can easily be traced back to ancient times, even back to the religious myth of our expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  The renunciation of instinctual desires that civilization requires, as Freud pointed out, inevitably results in increased anxiety.  Therapists help people manage their anxieties, which young people can find overwhelming.  People attempt to lessen their anxieties by losing themselves in activities and movements.  As an Eriksonian participant observer, the author discusses this coping mechanism in himself as well as observing it among others, including the followers of Donald Trump.  He acknowledges his own anxiety about the future of American democracy.

News is mostly about bringing the dangers and fears from around the world to our doorstep, leading to endless anxiety.  NEWS represents North East West South, which I trace back to our ancestors wiping the sleep from their eyes as they looked out from the safety of their tree or cave in all directions to check on the dangers of the world.  Our news media, seeking to attract eyeballs to its news, heightens our fears as a way of justifying their existence to stockholders; “If it bleeds it leads” is a regional newspaper, radio, and television station mantra.

The threat of Trump’s possible and then actual presidential election led to the establishment of a weekly National Public Radio (NPR) podcast hosted by Kai Wright called The United States of Anxiety, “a show about the unfinished business of our history, and its grip on our future.”  Its first episode’s image was of the nation divided and splintered between blue and red  The anxieties of liberals were greatly increased by the Trump presidency, and this podcast struggles to understand the nature of what is happening to the sharply divided country.  The episode “Who Owns the Deed to the American Dream?” reflects this division.  President Trump and his movement enormously increased the anxieties of liberal and academic America.

Anxiety is universal.  Ancient society certainly had a sense of anxiety.  In the early 16th century, the English adopted the word from the French anxiété or Latin anxietas.  In the 19th century, anxiety came into the language of medicine.  Common synonyms are angst, anguish, fear, sorrow, and worry.  Aristotle wrote about it in the ancient world, and I suspect that in an inchoate form we may even experience it in utero.  Although we humans are drawn to the idea of a place where there is no anxiety, fear, knowledge, or work, as represented in the Biblical Garden of Eden, this is merely a hope rather than a reality. 

The colleague who introduced me to psychoanalysis and psychohistory argued that the Garden of Eden was a dream of returning to the womb where there was no need to labor or know anything.  You may recollect from Bible class that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were expelled from their heavenly garden.  (Note that, in keeping with the male tendency to blame women, Eve is held responsible for giving Adam the idea of breaking God’s commandment to not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.)  The severe anxiety of pregnant women impacts the fetus, so it is likely that in utero the unborn child experiences anxiety.  Peter Petschauer emailed me on March 28, 2021, that at the recent 2021 German psychohistorical conference there were several papers on the “trauma and anxiety of fetuses.” 

There is no life without fear and the anticipation of fear—that is anxiety.  Some anxiety can be a nice motivator to action, but why must we have so much of it?  Freud’s answer, with which I agree, is because renouncing instinctual impulses is part of the cost of civilization.  Today we are digitally connected with the fears and problems of the entire world. 

Therapists are aware of the enormous anxieties their patients often feel as they strive to heal.  Perhaps these are the miseries of everyday life that Freud wrote about—miseries that are compounded by our modern technological connectedness.  Freud was acutely aware of the anxieties occasioned by living in civilized society, as reflected in Civilization and its Discontents (1930).  When I reached for my copy of the Concordance of the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1983), I found that “anxiety” was referenced 1,709 times and “anxious” 113 times, but “fear” and its related words were referenced only 788 times.  Thus, the anticipation of fear (that is anxiety) is 2.17 times as prevalent in the founder of psychoanalysis’ thinking than the perhaps more realistic danger.  Therapists make their living in considerable part by helping their patients come to terms with the reality of their fears and anxieties. 

As a therapist, I had helped lessen or eliminate the anxieties of a variety of patients.  Some examples include: a middle-aged paranoid man who wanted to punch the mailman for allegedly staring at him; a young man who was afraid of intimacy and thought that his facial characteristics made him unlovable; a young woman who obsessively fantasized about redoing her college education to make it perfect; and so many others.  Unlike many of my academic colleagues and members of the Psychohistory Forum, they managed to mostly avoid anxieties about the future of our democracy  Focusing on one’s immediate anxieties is certainly a way to protect yourself from larger anxieties that are so much more difficult to control. 

In twice teaching a pre-COVID course called Self-Growth, I was amazed by reading the weekly diaries of my students, as well as by the in-class discussion, at just how fearful most of them felt.  To escape, some threw themselves into working long hours for pay or playing video games.  Most found mindfulness, meditation, or medically prescribed tranquilizers to at least temporarily calm them.  A few referenced therapy as beneficial.  There were occasional references to the commonplace methods of self-medication that are alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal).  While I don’t think these students were completely typical of my college’s population, they left me more concerned about how their generation handles anxiety.

Anxiety over our inevitable death is the ultimate concern.  COVID-19 is the primary focus of anxiety at the moment.  Will I get it?  Will I die from it or is that only for the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions?  How will it affect me?  There is currently a lot of anxiety as to what the reaction will be to the second COVID-19 shot.  A 24-year-old medical worker just told me that while suffering from his second shot he was sure that COVID-19 couldn’t be as bad as what he was experiencing.

            In the 2020-2021 worldwide pandemic, realistic fears and unrealistic anxieties are on steroids.  Families, businesses, communities, economics, and social relations have all been severely disrupted.  Fearing for their own lives, families have had to allow their loved ones to die alone without the comfort of their touch and presence at their bedside.  Even if people are willing to take that risk, they have been prohibited from doing so by law.  Depression and mood swings, significant in normal times, have become greater due to the threat of COVID-19.  So how can people manage to cope with their anxieties while in isolation from one another?  Psychohistorian Mel Goldstein (1945-2012) used to talk about “shopping therapy,” “travel therapy,” and “boyfriend/girlfriend therapy,” to which I would add activity therapy, party therapy, work therapy, and writing therapy—the latter two work well for me. 

            We humans are prone to running away from our fears by losing ourselves in some activity.  Our anxieties and fears are simply pushed to the back burner rather than dealt with.  Love and work, which Freud called “the cornerstones of our humanness,” are most helpful in dealing with the pandemic and other anxieties, such as scrupulously wearing a mask and struggling to maintain proper social distancing while doing essential shopping.  Of course, some “shopping therapy” can be conducted online, although it is not nearly as satisfying as the window shopping and in-person purchasing we are mostly denied presently.  Although this is not entirely true since in the name of individual rights some governors, especially of red states, are precipitously lifting prohibitions on dining together, attending sporting events, and generally congregating in close spaces.  

We humans need each other!  Despite all our talk about individualism, humankind is very social.  Last night’s NPR television news focused on a teenager who committed suicide.  His mother is now focused on a crusade to avert the tragedy of teen suicide.  Throwing herself into a movement is her way of warding off some of the overwhelming feelings of guilt that she couldn’t avert her hyperactive and troubled son’s self-destructive act.  In this period of limited activity, we may have to face our own severe mood swings, depressive tendencies, and worst fears.  Suicide, which causes so much pain to others, is a tragic way of stopping the pain within.  One way of escaping our anxiety is to get lost in a movement.  The Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement has given purpose to millions of Americans who can go to rallies of the “good people” where they can share their savior president and denounce their shared enemies.  By merging a part of themselves with their “can-do-no-wrong leader,” they come away feeling better in a country that they fear is becoming less like them, which is threatening their sense of identity and economic well-being.

Capitalism is the most revolutionary economic system as it almost continuously disrupts society while providing more goods and services to most people.  Rapid change creates new opportunities while causing anxiety.  After World War II, American capitalism became the model for much of the world and was copied in many ways outside of the U.S., threatening the ordinary American worker’s standard of living and self-image while providing lots of less-expensive goods made abroad.  To add insult to the injury of comparative economic decline, the economy’s need for immigrant talent and inexpensive labor has led to White America facing the prospect of a multi-racial majority in this century.  Although Trump and many of his followers are racist, they are perfectly happy to admire and even associate with Blacks and other races who are celebrities, great athletes, or rich (Paul H. Elovitz, “Trump Profiteering, Racism, and Biden’s Gaffes,” Psychohistory News, Fall 2020).

 While capitalism disrupts our lives as it brings lots of less expensive goods, movements help us form our identities.  I love my identities as an American (without the flag-waving), author, college professor, father, historian, husband, political psychobiographer, and psychohistorian.  These give direction and meaning to my life as they shape my reality and influence the reality of the world around me in certain ways.  Of course, their impact is tiny in comparison to the MAGA movement, but they are grounded in my reality, not in identification with a grandiose leader. 

As a psychohistorian, I’ve long been fascinated by humankind’s increasing ability to turn fantasy into reality.  Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, Americans turned the fantasy of flying like the birds into an everyday reality; we went from projecting “the man in the moon” to actually getting men on the moon; and the democracy we advocated, which was previously shared by only a handful of countries, has now spread to about 15% of the world, with the semblance of democracy through elections (however rigged) everywhere else.  The attack on January 6th of some 800 rioters who felt they were carrying out President Trump’s wishes is a reminder that democracy is a very fragile instrument of government that is relatively rare in history.  When democratic citizens feel sufficiently threatened, they incline to favor security (as represented by seemingly strong leaders) rather than freedom, as CNN host Jake Tapper controversially said in 2014.  While opinion polls indicate the contrary, these surveys measure what people think more than what they actually do.  Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience reflect the enormous gulf between the ego ideals of society versus the reality of how people act.  Even in the most stable, well-established democracies, a certain level of political anxiety is inevitable.

As an Eriksonian participant observer, it is useful to examine how I handle my own anxieties, beyond losing myself in movements I greatly value.  My anxieties are diminished by focusing on and caring for loved ones and, to a much lesser extent, students (this involves tough love).  By setting work for myself, there are concrete actions to take, including turning fear into action rather than anxiety whenever possible.  Humor is such a wonderful way of temporarily laughing away some of the anxiety provoked by the troubles of the world, so I embrace and share humor with my friends and colleagues.  Anxieties about health are lessened by taking proactive steps involving exercise, medical care, and weight management.  Simply thinking through and writing about the problems of our democracy and the world help to diminish my personal anxiety 

A great deal of the non-COVID anxiety of our readers revolves around the political dangers to our democracy.  Trump’s end of presidency threat to our constitutional system of government was thwarted in part because he was such an erratic leader and, in his typical dissociative stochastic manner, he failed to lead the followers he told to “stop the steal” of the election and undo the votes of the 81,009,468 who voted for Biden (7,059,741 votes more than for Trump) and the 306 electoral votes he received (74 more than for Trump).  How could Trump come even that close, and what does this mean for more well-organized and courageous authoritarians who would personally risk overthrowing the Constitution to gain or hold on to power?  Prior to January 6th, I used to think that the fears of some of my colleagues about threats to our Constitution were simply a matter of their unrealistic anxieties.  Now, I’m not so sure.  

Conclusion
            This essay is rather wide-ranging because on our digitally connected planet we have threats and therefore fears and anxieties coming at us from every direction in our over 200 countries and approximately 7.8 billion people.  Of course, the focus is overwhelmingly on the dangers faced and worries of people most like us within our own American society.  Methods of dealing with our anxiety include alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal) as well as focusing on love relationships, movements, work, and/or therapy.  There’s also the reaction of the denial of what is feared the most, as when in March 2021, Texas officials decide to open their coronavirus-ridden state to business as usual, lacking even a mask mandate.  At the moment, the new Biden administration is working to lessen fear and pandemic-related anxiety through a massive program of vaccination and by pumping money into the flagging economy.  This will probably lessen some of our current anxieties, but we will always have to cope with anxiety.  However, with a good, responsible government, the task is less formidable.  

Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, is editor of this journal who may be reached at cliospsy...@gmail.com.  q

The Paranoid Style in American History and Politics: A Psychohistorical Examination

Ken Fuchsman—University Connecticut

Abstract: The paranoid style in American politics has a long history of ebbs and flows dating back to the revolutionary period.  It has flourished once again since the onset of the 2008 Recession in our current era.  This paper describes the components of the paranoid style, shows how this style manifests itself among those on the Right, what conditions activate this conspiratorial style, and how it has surged during the Obama and Trump eras.  

Keywords: American-political-history, Barack Obama, conspiracies, Donald Trump, nativism, paranoid-style, political-liberty, projection, racism, the-radical-Right     

            Many Americans became unmoored during the Trump era.  Among those with an aversion to this former President, some developed what psychiatrist Steven Buser called Post-Trumpmatic Stress Disorder (A Clear and Present Danger, 2017).  Yet there was also the flourishing of radical Right hate groups that demonized others.  These discontented, often paranoid activists took their cue from a candidate and President who at rallies talked of being violent, found good people among anti-Semites and White supremacists, and described those who invaded the Capitol as special people whom he loved.  Courting the ultraright was a staple of the Trump presidency.  These phenomena are part of a paranoid style that has been around since the American Revolution.  This essay focuses on the psychology and history of this sensibility, which occur throughout the political spectrum, but those on the political Right will be the focus here.

            It was historian Richard Hofstadter who coined the phrase the paranoid style in American politics in a 1964 essay in Harper’s Magazine.  Others have adapted his assessment.  By early 2021, the paranoid style had 24,900,000 hits on Google.  In 1962, Hofstadter wrote of the “wildest fancies… the most paranoid suspicions” and “the most bizarre apocalyptic fantasies” present in American politics.  He called these phenomena “projective politics” (Radical Right, 2008, 99-100).  In 1964, when using the term paranoid style, Hofstadter said he was “not speaking in a clinical sense,” but of “the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people.”  The “paranoid style” is used because it evokes “the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that recur in our politics (Richard Hofstadter, Paranoid Style, 1964, 3-4).  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) describes paranoia as involving “pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others” and that “their motives are interpreted as malevolent” (2013, 649).  Historian David Brion Davis saw “the paranoid style” as “a psychological device for projecting various symbols of evil on an opponent.”  It enabled fears and anxieties to be “exorcised through projection to a negative reference group” (David Brion Davis, The Slave Power Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style, 1969, 4, 58-59).  

            “Projection,” according to psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams, “is the process whereby what is inside is misunderstood as coming from the outside….  In its malignant forms, projection breeds dangerous misunderstanding.”   This is particularly so “when what is projected consists of disowned and highly negative parts of the self.”  She also says that when projection and introjection “work together,” it can be “called projective identification.”  McWilliams saw “similar processes at work” in projection and projective identification (Psychoanalytic Diagnosis, 1994, 107-108).  It is a belief in conspiracies, stereotyping and/or demonizing opponents, and projections that characterize the paranoid style. 

            These phenomena appear in the revolutionary period (1775-1783).  A recurring theme in American politics is that unjust authority seeks to impose tyrannical rule.  Historian Bernard Bailyn said “that the fear of a comprehensive conspiracy against liberty… lay at the heart of the Revolutionary movement” (Pamphlets of The American Revolution I, 1965, x).  Similarly, another historian, Gordon Wood, found a “prevalence of conspiratorial fears among the Revolutionaries.”  This included a “paranoiac obsession with a diabolical crown conspiracy… in the thinking of Adams and Jefferson themselves” (Gordon Wood, Idea of America, 2011, 83, 47)  The Declaration of Independence finds a “design to reduce” the American colonists “under absolute despotism,” for the “present King of England” has as a “direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny.”  This quote is characteristic of the paranoid style with its projection of evil onto malevolent political authorities and assigning virtue to the rebels.

Brigitte DEMEURE

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Apr 11, 2021, 12:52:49 PM4/11/21
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Thank you very much Denis and Ken, for doing all that research, I will try and order the book from the publisher.

Best wishes

Brigitte



envoyé : 11 avril 2021 à 16:04
de : "'Denis J. O'Keefe' via Clios Psyche" <clios...@googlegroups.com>
à : clios...@googlegroups.com
objet : RE: [cliospsyche] Discussion of and Call for Papers Anxiety in our Digital World and The Paranoid Tradition in American History and Politics

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