The Hysterical Style in American Politics

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

The post-Joe McCarthy era and the candidacy of Barry Goldwater once prompted liberal political scientist Richard Hofstadter to chronicle a supposedly long-standing right-wing “paranoid style” of conspiracy-fed extremism.

But far more common, especially in the 21st century, has been a left-wing, hysterical style of inventing scandals and manipulating perceived tensions for political advantage.

Or, in the immortal words of Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

The 2008 economic emergency crested on September 7, with the near collapse of the home mortgage industry.

Obama took office on January 20, 2009, more than four months after the meltdown. In that interim, the officials had finally restored financial confidence and plotted a course of economic recovery.

No matter. The Obama administration never stopped hyping the financial meltdown as if it had just occurred. That way, it rammed through Obamacare, massive deficit spending, and the vast expansion of the federal government. All that stymied economic growth and recovery for years.

In 2016, Donald Trump was declared Hitler-like and an existential threat to democracy.

Amid this derangement syndrome, any means necessary to stop him were justified: the Russian collusion hoax, impeachment over a phone call, or the Hunter laptop disinformation farce.

Eventually, the left sought to normalize the once unthinkable: removing the leading presidential candidate from state ballots and indicting him in state and local courts.

Nothing was off limits—not forging a federal court document, calling for a military coup, rioting on Inauguration Day, or radically changing the way Americans voted in presidential elections.

In October 2017, allegations surfaced about serial sexual predation by liberal cinema icon Harvey Weinstein.

The #MeToo furor immediately followed.

At first, accusers properly outed dozens of mostly liberal celebrities, actors, authors, and CEOs for their prior and mostly covered-up sexual harassment and often assault.

But soon, the once legitimate movement had morphed into general hysteria. Thousands of men (and women) were persecuted for alleged offenses, often sexual banter or rude repartee, committed decades prior.

#MeToo jumped the shark with the left-wing effort to take down conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Would-be accusers surfaced from his high school days, 35 years earlier, but without any supporting evidence or witnesses for their wild, lurid charges.

#MeToo hysteria ended when too many liberal grandees were endangered. Most dramatically, former Joe Biden senatorial aide Tara Reade came forward during the 2020 campaign cycle with charges that front-runner Joe Biden had once sexually assaulted her—and was trashed by the liberal media.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States during the winter of 2020 prompted an even greater hysteria.

Without scientific evidence, federal health czars Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins were able to convince the Trump administration to shut down the economy in the country’s first national quarantine.

Suddenly, it became a thought crime to question the wisdom of six-foot social distancing, of mandatory mask wearing, of the Wuhan virology lab’s origin of the COVID virus, or of off-label use of prescription drugs.

Left-wing politicians and celebrities, from Hillary Clinton and Gavin Newsom to Jane Fonda, all blurted out the political advantages that the lockdowns offered—from recalibrating capitalism and health care to ensuring the 2020 defeat of Donald Trump.

The COVID hysteria magically ended when Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Suddenly, the lies about the bat or pangolin origins of the virus faded. The damage from the quarantines could no longer be repressed. And herd immunity gradually mitigated the epidemic.

The lockdown caused untold economic chaos, suicides, and health crises.

One result was the 120 days of looting, arson, death, destruction, and violence spawned by Antifa and Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd while in police custody in May 2020.

Suddenly, a hysterical lie took hold: American police were waging war against black males.

The details around Floyd’s sudden death—he was in the act of committing a felony, resisting arrest, suffering from coronary artery disease and the after-effects of COVID, and being high on dangerous drugs—were off limits.

The riot toll reached $2 billion in property damage, over 35 deaths, and 1,500 injured law enforcement officers. A federal courthouse, a police precinct, and a historic church were torched.

Police forces were defunded. Emboldened left-wing prosecutors nullified existing laws.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion commissars spread throughout American higher education as meritocracy came under assault.

Racial essentialism triumphed. Racially segregated dorms, campus spaces, and graduations were normalized.

Everything from destroying the southern border to dropping SAT requirements for college admission followed.

Sometimes real, sometimes hyped crises lead to these contrived left-wing hysterias—like the January 6 violent “armed insurrection” or the “fascist” “ultra-MAGA” threat.

Otherwise, the progressive movement cannot enact its unpopular agendas. So it must scare the people silly and gin up chaos to destroy its perceived enemies—any crisis it can.

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34 thoughts on “The Hysterical Style in American Politics”

  1. Insightful review of events reveals a clear pattern and systemic structure to history. Hopefully there’s time for the needed fixes to preserve our democracy and American freedoms in the Bill of Rights.

  2. The press has devolved into a multitude of entities vying for attention through sensationalized headlines., as if after technology birthed a Tower of Babel 2.0 outcome, these entities have expanded with social media platforms that don’t interact, creating independent echo chambers, accompanied by a multitude of paywalled blogs seeking attention in order to increase revenues. Unsurprisingly, some incompetents afraid for their jobs and income, make up sensational inaccuracies–the yellow press on a cocktail of LSD and steroids.

  3. Strangely, too, aren’t we witnessing a perhaps reactionary strain of hysteria on the Right when we have folks wildly over-valuing the results of the Iowa caucus? Without so much as a single analysis or sane interpretation of the infiltration of demmys-in-disguise – those who flip their party affiliation the day of the election (or earlier) – to vote for Trump or Haley, whom they think they can beat in Nov.? The demmys employed this strategy successfully in the mid-terms. And if it’s Obama back-seat-driving this presidency and the re-election strategy, would that be so surprising? Geez, pubbys, when the Iowa-false-vindication hangover wears off, perhaps you’ll come to your senses and support the only reliable, proven conservative: RD24 or we’re all gonna suffer….

    1. I will be voting Trump 2024 as I did in 2016 and 2020. I believe you will soon find Trump will be the GOP presidential nominee. It is not just the Iowa caucus or the polls that indicate Trump will be the presumptive nominee but the rally attendences.
      Ron and Nikki thought they would have a path if Trump was indicted. Turns out that even if he was his base would vote for him, many to the point he was incarcerated.
      Both the DeSantis and Haley campaigns are imploding albiet for different reasons.
      Today DeSantis admitted he erred ignoring the media in the beginning. He lost or tossed campaign manager after manager while hemorrhaging funds. I believe those are the big 2 but there are others.
      Haley has tons of money but her donors are not what conservatives would consider republicans let alone conservatives. She has flipped on multiple issues as she seems to be a politician with her finger up in the wind to see what her stance will be this week. Again the big 2 of many other issues.

      The question I have is whether DeSantis hurt himself for 2028 or beyond. Time will tell on that as the future is hard to predict in these changing times. That would make my thinking a guess at best but I still believe Trump will be the GOP nominee and will win the 2024 presidential election in a fair and honest vote. The wild card will be who the democrats put up against him and election integrity. I do not think Biden will be the nominee and many names have been floating as a replacement.

      1. DeSantis did indeed make some strategic errors in the campaign, none of which would suggest something that would hurt him going forward in 2028 and beyond.

  4. Thanks again Victor for another thoughtful and accurate article. Once again I think back to the men standing on the Lexington Green facing the magnificent looking and justifiably feared British regulars. Were these Patriots fearful of what might take place within moments? Why did they put themselves in such a precarious situation? Couldn’t they have thought up all kinds of logical reasons why they should disperse or perhaps not even assemble in the first place? I don’t know the answers to these and other similar questions. What I do know is that they stood their ground and displayed courage which we would do well to emulate.

  5. Now, lefties talking about T’s plan for a dictatorship and, apparently, significant groups inside the government and among the political and media elite planning their coordinated effort to take him out were he to be elected in November, indicates their frenzy of fear of him. Apparently, the will of the electorate carries no meaning to them except for the likes of Soetoro and Biden.

    What won’t sociopaths, those who lack conscience, empathy, and get off misrepresenting reality, do?

  6. The question becomes, are these events really grass roots left wing hysteria? And if not, who is funding and promoting it? The answer to the second question may be the answer to this entire issue.

  7. It would be an advantage if the American people could see the full picture of the events you have chronologically written about. If they were able to take the blindfold over their eyes off. Unfortunately, only some can see, and the reason for this is a lack of education, and the manipulation of information that has been implanted in them. Is it so hard to convince an American today to try to consider new information? No person can teach someone how to see or how to interpret new information. A person must be willing to be open to new data on any topic. Must want to research information and consider all possibilities and outcomes.

    Professors at universities have much influence on how students understand America, American history, and the American way of life. Every country has the good, the bad, and the ugly involving who they are as a people. The acceptance of one’s own history is essential to creating the ideal citizen and patriot. No country in the world is without faults, and every country has its own interests. Every country in the world has one goal; to survive. And in that survival, every country will do everything in its power to stay alive.

    In knowing this, Americans should be proud of their history and who they are. Should continue to strive to make a more perfect union.

    1. That might be the biggest issue. I love VDH and his brilliant articles but how to get this out to the masses has to be the big question!

  8. Consider that just yesterday the Hunter laptop was finally declared genuine, as if we didn’t know that in September 2020.

  9. Don’t forget the latest: overly amped up Pro-Hamas rallies.

    Every one of these calamities was brought about by the left’s central command and pushed by the legacy media.

    I find the most direct path is to consider everything the MSM promotes is a lie. It’s a good shortcut to finding the truth. As in the George Constanza Bizarro World, just believe the opposite of what they say.

    In this re-frame, there would have been no financial meltdown in 2008. Barney Frank pushed lower lending standards.

    No Obamacare, no horrendous overspending, no huge growth of NGOs, no Hitler-like accusations, no Russian Collusion hoax, no laptop lies, no #MeToo hysteria, no SCOTUS mayhem, no covid lockdowns and firings, no BLM/Antifa riots, no George Floyd worship, no defunding the police, no smash-n-grab in your local CVS, no non-meritocratic hiring and promoting, no anti-racism foolishness (thanks Obama), no vanishing southern border, no dropping SAT requirements, no bogus cries of “insurrection”, no vilification of Trump supporters.

    You have got to ask yourself: Would we be living in a better America without all this made-up crap?

    Without the Goebbels-like media, none of this would have been possible.

  10. You pretty much summed up the past 15 years or so, and the thing is, the percentage of people who actually still get all riled up is shrinking as the overload and constant living in crisis mode wears to the point the audience stop hearing it all. I refer to it as the “chicken little” effect. The result is, they start seeing the chaos creators as grifters. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

  11. People have had enough of this crap and want to get back to normal. Lesson learned about the tactics. Sorry about the coarse language.

    1. Craig, it’s ok. I already said “crap” a couple replies ago. Many want normal. Many others apparently prefer constant crisis. The fake news folks love angst and turmoil. The merchants of gloom and doom must promote maximum fear and anxiety or their audience goes somewhere else. If the targeted audience is inert and disinterested, they can’t be manipulated. Duh. That’s the news business. As I pointed out earlier, without the dishonest, overly creative and sensationalistic news machine, all of this crap would be nonexistent. Of course, then we wouldn’t have much to talk about, either. In that world, VDH and his followers would be unnecessary. But that is only an imaginary world, so here we are! We are caught in a reality that has been carefully synthesized by the left-wing media. So we talk about it and trade disapprovals amongst ourselves.

  12. VDH, you laid out the historical facts of our recent history. All adults observed them, yet only conservatives seem to trust their own eyes.

  13. Michael Sheffield

    Once again VDH, thank you for detailing and organizing what I’ve been thinking. You are the best cultural critic going.

  14. Yes, and effectiveness of the hysterical-style strategy has owed much to all the useful idiots in the still-dominant media.

  15. You, sir, have the ability to put into a few short sentences the very things that are so very relevant to our current situation.
    When I read your articles, I am reminded of the late Charles Krauthammer. There is no higher compliment I could possibly make. Thank you for all the great work.

  16. In our world nowadays the mindless hyperbole and violent insanity germinates and sprouts on campus. Bush#2 was President when I first saw & heard a college professor use the term “trigger warning.” It was in a youtube vid. I watched it a dozen times, thinking, “What in the hell is that woman talking about. Trigger warning. Good grief.” In less than 2 minutes she used the term a dozen times. That’s how I knew what I was hearing was set to be the next big thing. And, sure enough…

    Any visit to the Chronicle of Higher Education website always reminds me of the Frankfurt School. Hitler kicked them out of Germany. They were so disappointed that German workers didn’t rise up with them. They came to America & England with a new strategy. Feast your eyes on pure evil expressed in plain English:

    The Frankfurt School mission statement: “…to organize the intellectuals and use them to make Western civilization stink. Only then, after they have corrupted all its values and made life impossible, can we impose the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

    Communism is a Satanic hat trick that panders simultaneously & perpetually to the best & worst of human nature. To say so loud and clear is not right-wing, paranoid, conspiracy-fed extremism. It is a fact.

  17. One of the sentences in this article says;”Racial essentialism triumphed.” What is ‘racial essentialism’, and did we both misspell it Prof.Hanson as I am seeing a red line under it? lol I did look it up but found 3 of what seemed to me to be different definitions.

    1. Anna, Science Daily says “… The researchers examined whether there might be a causal relationship between racial essentialism — the view that racial groups possess underlying essences that represent deep-rooted, unalterable traits and abilities — and creativity. They hypothesized that, once activated, an essentialist mindset would lead to a reluctance to consider alternative perspectives, resulting in a generalized closed-mindedness.”

      I had never heard the term before, either. VDH throws these out there, occasionally. My interpretation is that if you think our differences are mainly due to race, then you become more closed-minded about considering other reasons that may explain behavior and thought patterns. Or something like that.

  18. in 2016, I was not sure if I should vote for Trump. Couple of weeks before 2016 elections, couple of dozen women jumped from the bushes and accused Trump of molesting them in all improbable places. It reminded me of the story that I had been reading in my childhood: Mark Twain, Running for Governor.
    I enthusiastically voted for Trump.

  19. The trial of the officer charged with murdering George Floyd was on afternoon. I stopped keyboarding when I noticed Floyd’s respiration was abnormal. He was hyperventilating, which did not fit the physical activity. He and three police were grappling in the SUV. All were doing special purpose breathing. The police were hyperventilating. In need of more oxygen for the effort, they did extra respiration, but it resulted in getting too much CO2, negating their goal. One does extra respirations and grunts while lifting a log. Doing the extra respirations too much results in too much CO2 and failure, a protection against CO2 overachievers.

    Floyd was hyperventilating, a behavior that is not familiarly known. A medical source of info, Mayo Clnic or something had an accurate definition for hyperventilation but none or hypoventilation. In this latter behavior, the person pants quickly but has no real success from panting extra oxygen in because the vagus nerve has dropped the blood pressure like a stone due to presence of anxiety.

    As a world-class squeamish person for most of my life until alteration of how my vagus nerve behaved with anxiety, I was very familiar with the antics of the vagus nerve. I would feel the colors of the vision start to gray out. Hearing would get less acute and distant. I would get the beginnings of a tunnel vision effect on my field of vision.

    In an effort to minimize the colossal ass I was making of myself in front of my educational class

    1. There is a character limit on this site. You can go to to determine your word and char count. I put your response into their textbox and got these results: 251 words, 1,478 characters. It appears that the limit for a response is about 1,500 characters or 250 words. Now we know. Thanks.

      By the way, what happens in vagus, stays in vagus. So don’t worry about that “colossal ass” part.

  20. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
    — H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)


    This is what the Left does. Declare any issue a crisis, and then seek to push through policies that would not otherwise get passed.
    This is not new; it is a hallmark of fascism, both Mussolini’s original and our American flavor.
    Remember Mussolini’s Battle of Grains? And FDR’s administration with mobilizing the nation? The War on Poverty? William James and the moral equivalent of war?
    Declare anything a war, an emergency, and you can mobilize a nation to do anything. Even we conservatives have adopted the idea-the War on Drugs?-so long has it been pushed in our society.
    And the regime keeps the war footing as a permanent state.
    No one should be surprised.


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