Peter Cavanaugh

It’s easy to just fall in line. History suggests there are consequences for doing so

President Donald Trump is cheered by supporters at a rally in Great Falls, Mont., July 5, 2018.
President Donald Trump is cheered by supporters at a rally in Great Falls, Mont., July 5, 2018. The New York Times

This is an evil thing.

“Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” – chant at July 5 Trump rally in Great Falls, Montana.

Had Hillary Clinton been in attendance, she would have been hung, drawn, quartered and fed to ferrets.

Mass hysteria has been the subject of serious scientific study for decades. Mob psychology is one manifestation. It transmits collective illusions of danger or discomfort through a population impacted by rumors, fears or a lively imagination. A common type of mass hysteria occurs when a given group convinces itself all members should experience similar beliefs or urges.

There were the cat nuns of France. A novitiate in a 15th century French convent inexplicably started to meow like a cat. This led to many of the other nuns also meowing. Eventually all the sisters would meow together for a certain period every day. This stopped only after local authorities were called upon to intervene. Police threatened to whip the kitties. There were no more meows.

In those same Middle Ages, a nun in a German convent began to bite her companions, and the behavior spread through other convents in Germany, into Holland and as far as Italy.

The majority of examples are much more sinister.

Between 1626 and 1631, the Wurzburg Witch Trials resulted in 157 German men, women and children being burned at the stake, most having first been beheaded. This was shortly thereafter echoed in our own Salem Witch Trials (1692-93) when 20 citizens were executed for practicing witchcraft in what is now recognized as America’s most notorious case of mass hysteria driven by ignorance, isolationism and religious extremism.

There is consensus this phenomenon induces individuals in a crowd to lose their sense of private self and personal responsibility with a propensity to unquestioningly follow predominant ideas and emotions. This behavior comes from an archaic shared unconscious and is uncivilized in nature – limited by the moral and cognitive abilities of the least capable members.

Sigmund Freud correspondingly suggests that becoming the member of a crowd unlocks the unconscious mind so powerfully that one’s individual moral center of consciousness is displaced with group think, which, in turn, is replaced by a powerful charismatic leader. Basic emotions are reduced to the most common denominator. This results in primitive levels of emotional expression, complete with the organizational structure of a pre-civilized society.

There are such masters as Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Putin, Kim Jong-Un and Duterte.

Seven Republican U.S. senators, led by Richard Shelby of Alabama, spent the Fourth of July in Moscow seeking to “strive for a better relationship” prior to Trump’s Putin Summit in Helsinki on July 16. They did all but surrender. Shelby specifically stated he did “not accuse Russia or this or that or so forth.”

North Korea wouldn’t even let Secretary of State Michael Pompeo meet with Chairman Kim last weekend, calling Pompeo’s latest visit to Pyongyang “regrettable” and saying his approach was “gangster-like.”

Philippine President/Dictator Rodrigo Duterte further endeared himself to Catholic constituents by promising a few days ago to resign immediately if anyone can prove God actually exists. Duterte claimed Barack Obama is “the son of a whore.” President Trump has invited Duterte to the White House.

Chest-pounding, tough-sounding, Hillary-hounding Donald Trump is the loudest, meanest monkey of all as he appears before base believers on an All-American hysteria hill, but let’s not forget that “base” is dictionary-defined as “having or showing little or no honor, courage or decency: mean; ignoble; contemptible.”

That sure seems to fit like turtlenecks on Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.

Note to Hannity fans – just ask your grandkids.