Outrageous statements came naturally to Trump—as they did to Nixon, McCarthy and the hyper-connected lawyer Roy Cohn. As the threat of impeachment looms, will America begin to reject their paranoid style?by James Zirin / December 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
For the third time in American history, a President of the United States faces impeachment and possible removal from office—the victim of his own paranoia. Paranoid style politics did not start with Donald Trump, and sadly, it will not end with him either. In a seminal piece on political paranoia, published in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter noted that the paranoid style has been around long before the alt-right discovered it—its targets have classically included immigrants, Catholics, Jews, international bankers, Masons, abortionists, the press, munitions makers, and most anyone else worthy of scapegoating. The term is intentionally pejorative as paranoia has “a greater affinity,” Hofstadter argued, “for bad causes than for good.”
Trump’s political approach of demonizing his enemies; suggesting a “lynching” and a “coup;” his hints that he is surrounded by “spies” who should be “executed;” his rumours of a “deep-state” conspiracy;” his habit of fabricating claims out of whole cloth or pure fantasy; his threatening to sue Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff for conspiring to overthrow the government; his threatening to sue his enemies or anyone else who “pisses me off”—all of these resonate with a paranoid style seen throughout American history.
In modern times, the leading exponents of the paranoid model have been Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. All three have a history of doing political battle in a paranoid style. And circling the tents around these complicated men was a corrupt lawyer named Roy Marcus Cohn. The latter never held elective office, but was close to the former three.
Neither Trump nor Cohn nor Nixon had hard and fast policy objectives. Nixon and Trump offended Republicans with doctrinaire Keynesian economic policies of deficit spending, and unprecedented debt levels. Both Cohn and Trump expressed fringe right-wing views, which they readily exploited to achieve political power. Fear of progress, climate change denial, anti-intellectualism, racism, sexism and xenophobia went down well in the populist “alt-right” culture. Yet both Cohn and Trump were registered Democrats.
Cohn was quick to see how the anti-communist hysteria in the country might serve his personal ambition. In 1950, a gem of a case came his way that would garner headlines throughout the world. In 1950,…