Since the year 2000, Americans have been afflicted with a recurring, obliviously self-confident ignorance that Ronald Reagan, in 1962, attributed specifically to liberals.
"The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant," Reagan said. "It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so."
Like the Duke lacrosse story. That wasn’t so.
Or the swine flu epidemic. That wasn’t so.
Or the post-Brexit panic. That wasn’t so.
These mythologies and others like them dominate Americans' attentions and then, poof, vanish as quickly as they appear — only to make way for the next conventionally-accepted unreality.
Fittingly, this century began with a hysteria that instantly evaporated in the early hours of January 1, 2000: The media whipped Americans into a frenzy over whether computers would bug out when 99 turned into 00.
Airplanes would drop from the sky, pacemakers would fail, and bank accounts would disappear.
None of those things happened, but since Y2K, American society has lived in a near perpetual state of semi-hysteria. The intensity waxes and wanes, but there is always something to be very afraid of or very angry at.
These fads are easy to identify for people not enveloped by them. They have two defining characteristics. First, they’re widely accepted by non-ideologues as conventional truths. Second, they’re not true.
Who is the prototypical sucker for these fads?
Imagine someone who fancies himself more of a "pragmatist" than an "ideologue." He may love The West Wing; and he voted for Hillary Clinton, but only because her opponent was Donald Trump. Think of Randy from South Park.
His political passions are governed by the news media’s fad cycle. Every week he may have a different fear or outrage that occupies his attention. The fad fades, he forgets what he was hysterical about in the first place, and then gets sucked into the next fad.
It’s all very sad and somewhat amusing to watch from the outside — not least because while someone is in a hysterical fad state, it’s difficult to reason with them. Challenging the premise on which the fad is based (maybe it’s not the end of the world if the president says "s***hole" in a private conversation) would be akin to questioning whether the Earth really is round.
Here, then, are ten of the faddiest hysterical fads since Y2K.
1. Bullying Hysteria (1999-present)
Pre-2000, America saw bullying as an obstacle that many kids would need to confront and overcome at some point in their life, while acknowledging that bullies are bad and must be punished. Post-2000, America sees bullying as an avoidable stain on American education. And thus every state has anti-bullying legislation, nearly all of it enacted since 2000.
But is bullying actually worse today than 20 or 30 or 40 years ago? Or is our society softer?
We’ve done away with the age-old advice that fighting back against a bully will usually do the trick. The new best way to stop bullying is bully prevention workshops and law enforcement.
As Dennis Prager notes in his compilation of left-wing hysterias in Still the Best Hope, whether there is even a bullying "epidemic" is questionable, but hysteria over that epidemic has served to expand the government’s power. That’s actually the point of most political hysterias.
2. Duke Lacrosse Hysteria (2006)
When an African American stripper falsely accused three white members of Duke’s lacrosse team of gang-raping her, the university and media, led by crusading district attorney Mike Nifong, jumped on the bandwagon.
Overnight, racism and sexual assault became stains upon elite, majority-white, universities. Three men’s lives were ruined, their names dragged through the mud for a year, until it was apparent the whole thing was a lie.
Nifong has since been disbarred. The accusing stripper, Crystal Mangum is currently serving a 14-to-18-year prison sentence for stabbing her boyfriend to death.
Fun fact about Nifong: He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Shocker, right?
3. Swine Flu Hysteria (2009)
In spring 2009, following a minor outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, or swine flu, Americans panicked, thanks to Joe Biden and the media statements that confined spaces were swine flu hotboxes.
"I would tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said.
As it turned out, the swine flu was far less dangerous than the typical influenza strains that attack humanity every year.
4. Nuclear Energy Hysteria (2011)
Guess how many people died as a result of the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima? Zero.
Yet the media and anti-nuclear activists, particularly in Europe, went nuts following the March 2011 meltdown — a meltdown that was caused not by a fault in nuclear energy itself, but by a tsunami that flooded the plant and cut power to the pumps that control the coolant system.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an idol to the Randy Marshes of the world, shut down all German nuclear reactors built before 1980. This helped plunge Germany into energy poverty, thanks to a nuclear meltdown that killed no one.
5. Jared Loughner Was A Right-Wing Nut Job Hysteria (2011)
Following a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people were killed and 13 wounded, including former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the media seized on the narrative that Loughner, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was influenced by — in crackpot New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s words — "eliminationist" rhetoric, and the Republican-fueled "climate of hate."
Thoughtful progressives assured us that the toxic mix of right-wing talk radio and Tea Party anger would spark a rise in political violence.
Loughner was a loony-tune, and to the extent that he had any considered political beliefs, his reading list and the accounts from his high school friends indicated that he was just as likely a leftist as an anarchist, if not more so.
6. Ebola Hysteria (2014)
While ebola was a very serious problem in west African nations like Sierra Leone and Liberia, it was a virtual non-issue in the United States, save for a miniscule number of people. And yet, in the first week of October 2014, the Centers for Disease Control reported 800 calls from people concerned about ebola.
A Pentagon bus carrying a woman who fell ill was stopped, with passengers aboard, for four hours until they confirmed the woman did not have ebola.
And a teacher in Maine was placed on three-weeks paid leave after concerned parents freaked because the woman attended an education conference in Texas — ten miles from the hospital where an ebola patient was being treated.
7. Brexit Hysteria (2016)
In the weeks leading up to the U.K.’s referendum on leaving the European Union, we were assured that Britain’s, Europe’s, and the world’s economy would be severely harmed. In the days following Leave’s massive victory, these dire predictions continued, only to be proven wrong by an indisputably strengthening British, European, and world economy. Special honors go to CNN foreign policy “expert” Fareed Zakaria for his typical breathlessly asinine coverage.
8. Trump's Election Sparked A Hate Crime Wave Hysteria (2016)
Following Donald Trump’s election, the left has experimented with one narrative after another aimed at delegitimizing his presidency. The first emerged immediately after his victory, when we were told there was a wave of hate crimes spreading across America. Emboldened by the victory of a white nationalist, the story went, racists across America were intimidating minorities, ripping hijabs off Muslim women’s heads, and beating up gay men. As quickly became clear, many of these sensational stories were fabrications, and there was no Trump-fueled hate wave.
9. Trump Is A "Racist" Hysteria (2015-current)
If racism is the belief that one’s race is significant and determinative, then racism’s largest base in America is the identity-politics Left, which explicitly divides Americans along racial and ethnic lines. But the Left and millions of Americans not on the Left take it for granted that Donald Trump is a racist, as outlined in The New York Times’ “definitive list” of Trump’s racism.
The most commonly cited examples of Trump’s racism are his Charlottesville comments, his Judge Curiel comments, and the alleged “s***hole countries” comment made in a private conversation.
His response to Charlottesville was bumbling, misinformed, and thus bound to be misinterpreted. But this doesn’t change the fact that the “fine people” he referred to were not the racist torchbearers, but the non-racist activists on both sides of the Confederate statues debate.
As with Charlottesville, Trump was foolish in implying that Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Hispanic heritage had a role in the judge’s hostility against Trump University in a civil lawsuit.
But Trump’s comment is revealing of people who have decided Trump is a racist. Their confirmation biases make them read racism into any Trump remark or action that could be explained by racism or any other number of factors.
Trump allegedly said the “s***hole” countries” line in a private White House conversation that Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin leaked to the press. This incident is the most obviously non-racist of the three covered here. Why? Because there are s***hole countries, and everyone knows it. Haiti is a qualitatively worse nation to live in than, say, South Korea, or the United States. If it weren’t, why would progressives be horrified that the Trump administration won’t extend 59,000 Haitain refugees' Temporary Protected Status past July 22, 2019?
This has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, and everything to do with culture and government. The Left’s assumption that race, not values, was the determinative factor Trump was alluding to is itself racist.
Also, The Washington Post reported that in the same meeting, Trump apparently said he “would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries.” At last check, Asians are not Caucasians.
None of these arguments matter, though, for people already convinced of Trump’s racism. Again, confirmation bias will make them interpret as racism actions and words that could be explained by racism or any other number of factors.
10. Trump Colluded With Russia Hysteria (2016-current)
Until and unless Robert Mueller concludes that there is no solid evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the media will run with this patently absurd narrative because it’s impossible to prove a negative.
Although much energy has been wasted on this non-story, it’s simply a fiction that Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government. It’s also a fiction that Russian interference in the election had anything to do with Trump’s victory. I’ve believed that Vladimir Putin, like most people, assumed Clinton would win, and that, to the extent he meddled in the election, was doing it for the sake of sowing a bit of chaos.
As with Trump’s racism, people who have already decided that the Trump campaign colluded will interpret innocuous events as collusion — like the post-election conversation between Michael Flynn and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
But the simplest form of thinking shows that a post-election conversation between an ambassador and an incoming White House official does not indicate the tiniest speck of collusion.
Democrats’ collusion delusion was further exposed Friday with the House Intelligence Committee’s release of a declassified memo stating the FBI got a FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page, a volunteer advisor for the Trump campaign, just days before the presidential election.
While the FBI’s main source was the infamous Steele dossier — an uncorroborated opposition research memo paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and compiled by Fusion GPS — the agency conveniently omitted that fact from its FISA request, alleges the memo.
There is the possibility of collusion here . . . between the Democrats and the FBI.
I’ve tried to focus more on the week-to-week and month-to-month hysterias that suddenly appear and then mysteriously vanish once the hysteria is revealed as, well, hysterical.
But there are evergreen mythologies that are too persistent to be called fads. They are ongoing false narratives that last beyond this or that president.
Some of them, like the irrational fear of secondhand smoke, are so embedded in American society that many, maybe most, people actually believe it kills at least 40,000 people a year — the American Lung Association’s bogus statistic.
There are more dangerous false narratives — like the campus “rape culture” or the “gender wage gap” or “systemic” police racism — that lead to policies that ruin people’s lives, like the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter. This instructed colleges that receive federal money to use the lowest possible standard of proof in sexual assault cases.
The biggest, though, of all hysterias, for at least the past decade, has been global warming. No matter the growing list of dire predictions that don’t come true. And no matter global warming quietly changing to "climate change" because the data doesn’t support the fundamental global warming theory, which is that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are causing catastrophic environmental damage that can be slowed or reversed.
Perhaps the catastrophists are correct about global warming, but there’s no way to know, because the science hasn’t shown it. And every time I hear the anti-science phrase, "the science is settled," that just confirms my suspicion that global warmism is more a dogma than a considered position.
Peter Baestrup, a late Washington Post correspondent who covered the Vietnam War, wrote in his 1977 book, "Big Story," about how the U.S. media reported the Tet Offensive as a victory for the communists and a major setback for U.S. and South Vietnamese forces.
But it wasn’t.
We inflicted massive casualties upon the North and came away with a decisive battlefield victory. News reports in America, though, had their intended effect, which was to weaken the Johnson administration and the American public’s support of the war. It took seven years, but the communists’ failed offensive ultimately gave them South Vietnam thanks in large part to U.S. media coverage.
"The press shouted that the patient was dying, then weeks later began to whisper that he somehow seemed to be recovering — whispers apparently not heard amid the clamorous domestic reaction to the initial shouts," Braestrup wrote.
That’s exactly how mass hysterias and political mythologies work.