Back in 1692, as every child knows, Salem, Massachusetts was infested with witches who tortured teenaged girls, nearly delivering the town into the hands of Lucifer. It was a close call, but the local clergy were on the job, some big guns were called in from Boston, and with the aid of divine Providence they managed to overcome these minions of Satan. They hustled them into nooses and twenty people ended up dead, among them my ancestor Martha Carrier. But it was worth it. The danger was averted.
Except there was no danger. It was all hysteria.
Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum’s study of Salem show that it wasn’t a coven of witches that was the problem, it was social conflicts in the town. The accusers’ families were all old-timers who felt threatened by change. The old Puritan values were eroding as newcomers filtered in. Life was less and less about God and prayer, and more about making a good living in trade.
When people feel threatened, they lash out. When they are surrounded by changes that they can’t control, they look for scapegoats. In Salem, the families who suffered were the ones who were focused more on progress, and less on traditions. It was the traditionalists’ last stand against a changing world.
That’s where we are today as well. Things are changing out there. The faces in the country aren’t as white as they used to be. Marriage doesn’t mean what it once did. More and more people are abandoning their traditional churches and replacing them with nothing. The world is a scary place. If you’re a good Christian it’s time to circle the wagons, beef up the defenses, and get ready to strike back for the Old America “with the cross of Jesus going on before” as the old hymn has it.
Who will lead the counter-attack? Someone who isn’t afraid to invoke the name of Jesus Christ, someone who stands up for traditional values, who will savage the upstarts, who will blow the enemy out of the water, and make us great again. Someone who will bring us forward into the past.
That explains the polls placing two of the most unpleasant individuals ever to grace a podium in the forefront of the Republican race. One of them calls to mind nothing so much as a snake-oil salesman or a televangelist with his unctuous pandering and references to God. The other is, as was pointed out in a column I read somewhere, a pro wrestler who threw himself into the political ring with all of the phony theatricality and over-the-top bluster that entails. And the crowd loves them.
They’re doing what Salem did, playing on the perceived threats to tradition, making people crazy with their hysterical flourishes.
Please, America, give these guys the heave-ho!