This Halloween, just over a week before election day, I call forth the recent writings of two women who invoke history to update our understanding of the anger directed toward Hillary Clinton and, more broadly, women.
Stacy Schiff frames the vitriol aimed at Clinton with a look at the historical fear of witches. Schiff, the author of last year’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, digs into the fascination with witches through the ages and why, as she says, “The idea may have evolved; the animus remains.”
Witches remain in business so long as we feel powerless: They offer the blessed relief of assigning blame; they allow us to distill spite, that heady brew of vindication and humiliation.
It would be nice if the connection to the 2016 election was only metaphorical, but it seems there is at least one right-wing “thought” leader — Trump supporter and fucking maniac Alex Jones — who thinks that Hillary is possessed by demons.
If that kind of thing sounds familiar to you, then it’s probably because of the history documented by Susan Faludi in “How Hillary Clinton Met Satan.”
One of the mysteries of 2016 is the degree to which Hillary Clinton is reviled. Not just rationally opposed but viscerally and instinctively hated… she’s cast not just as a political combatant but as a demon who, in the imaginings of Republicans like Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Representative Trent Franks, would create an America “where passion — the very stuff of life — is extinguished” (the former) and where fetuses would be destroyed “limb from limb” (the latter).
Faludi notes the long history of this thinking, which started in the early 1990s, for reasons that appear to be an animating energy of today’s rage:
The 1990s produced a generation of men who felt (and still feel) left behind by a society redefining power and success in terms of ornament and celebrity and demoting the value of industry and brawn, while simultaneously challenging men’s value as family providers. Though women weren’t the source of men’s pain, the antagonist conjured up by aggrieved men I talked with in those years had a feminine face, and very often that face was Hillary’s.
Or as someone once said, “Witches remain in business so long as we feel powerless.” That resentment gave rise to an entire industry of anger, led by talk radio bullshit from the likes of human foot rash Rush Limbaugh. Today, it is made manifest in Donald Trump a liar, con man and abuser who is supposed to Make America Great Again because that what it says on the hat he uses to cover his freakish comb-over.
Hillary’s biggest detractors may call her a witch, but they’re the ones who are under a spell.
Read more from our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”