American Panic: A History of Who Scares Us and Why by Mark Stein is a nice counterbalance to Prayer in America: A Spiritual History of Our Nation by James P. Moore Jr.
Prayer in America, which I read earlier this year, highlights our attempts at morality. American Panic zeroes in on our dark side.
I was introduced to Mark Stein’s work through a TV show, How the States Got Their Shape, based on his book of the same name. The TV show is a fast-paced look at historical events that led to each state’s creation.
For the most part it, like Prayer, is a positive look at who we are.
In American Panic, though, Stein takes us down a much different path. Relying on a large stash of historical newspapers he unveils our fears — which are seemingly endless. Despite our rhetoric of being the ‘land of the brave,’ we have feared almost every race, ethnicity and religion that does not fall under the umbrella of white, protestant, Christian.
Although the story in Panic is told in a mostly chronological order, beginning with our fear of Native Americans, it does skip back and forth at times since some of our collective fears have surfaced, and then re-surfaced.
For example, our current fear of immigrants.
But, what the book really tells is the ease in which we, as citizens, have been manipulated by politicians feeding a fear frenzy for political gain. In each of the various eras of American history we have had someone, or something, to fear. The list in the book includes: Asians, African Americans, Communists, women, homosexuals, Jews, corporations, Catholics and even the Masons.
Stein also expertly shows the formula behind the political manipulation and how faulty logic, among other tactics, is often used to ‘prove’ a panic is justified.
In the opening Stein writes,
Political panic, the irrational fear that one’s government is in danger, is by no means unique to any country. In America, it dates back to the 1692 Salem witch hunt…The panic that began in Salem commenced after seizures afflicted three girls, ages nine through twelve. When the colony’s physicians could not explain it, fear arose that sorcery was taking place in Salem and endangering its Puritan rule…
..What happened in Salem over 300 years ago continues to reverberate in the United States.
Anyone who has spent time on Twitter or Facebook, knows with certainty, that our panic lives on.
Published in 2014, the book is even more relevant today in light of the extremism and incompetence that exists in both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
Rated: 5 out of 5. The aspect that really sold me on the book was the wide variety of historical sources Stein used to flesh out the various panics — from college newspapers to obscure letters to the editors. Another bonus, at least for me, was Stein calling out the modern-day Tea Party as a political entity built on a foundation of fear and panic. It’s a movement that needs to fade away like the Know-Nothing Party of the 1800s (a Party that is also mentioned in the book).
Favorite Recent Anti-Trump Quote
Midwestern comedian David Letterman has never been shy about expressing what he thinks of T-Money.
“If the guy (Trump) was running Dairy Queen, he’d be gone. This guy couldn’t work at The Gap…let’s just stop whining about what a goon he is and figure out a way to take him aside and put him in a home.”