Stiehm: Why Trump talks nonstop about witch hunts
No American president ever posed as the victim of a “witch hunt” — save former President Donald Trump. It’s his favorite metaphor for all time and place.
We’ll be hearing more of that as courts and the House committee on Jan. 6 trace a long trail of crimes under investigation, up to the failed Capitol coup. Justice may bring punishment. Certainly a 2024 campaign is going out the window.
But let’s focus on Trump’s obsession with “witch hunts.” The decadent Mar-a-Lago dweller has no shame in stealing a metaphor that belongs to us — women.
Yet it turns out Trump does have a close connection with witch hunts. His sordid mentor, Roy Cohn, was the chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s committee that blacklisted “communists” in Washington, New York and Hollywood during the 1950s.
For those who celebrate history, this is when it rhymes.
You and I know that mostly women suffered as they were accused, tried and hanged as witches in the Old and New Worlds.
Indulged all his miscreant life, Trump has nothing in common with innocent people who looked persecution in the eye.
Maybe you’ve heard of the medieval ducking pond test: If the woman sank to the bottom, that proved she was innocent of witchcraft. Widows, midwives or herb healers were sometimes suspected of having unnatural powers.
September was the month when the Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts, put to death the largest number of “witches.” Nine died, witnessed by the village. The year was 1692, and here we are still talking about witch hunts and trials, exactly 330 years later.
One Salem man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death with stones on Sept. 19. His wife Martha was hanged. The scenes were ugly as neighbors saw neighbors go to the gallows by the hill. Rebecca Nurse, 71, was condemned, despite an outcry. All told, 20 died in 1692, which left deep wounds in the small colonial village.
All were judged by men cloaked in legal and religious power.
Puritans were harsh on themselves, too. Five years later, a witch trial judge, Samuel Sewall, expressed remorse before a Boston church congregation, stating he “desires to take the blame and shame of it.”
Try to imagine Trump taking “the blame and shame” of his actions. That takes courage. He would never do it, for he is always the victim.
The witch hunts were chalked up to “mass hysteria.”
If you ask me, what ailed the Puritans is still with us today. It just has a different name: QAnon beliefs spread rapidly among Trump supporters. They showed up in force in the deadly mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
QAnon is a bizarre political conspiracy theory that I don’t even want to describe in polite company. But it’s giving Trump one last gasp of hope for a strong base of support.
The more desperate Trump is, the harder he’ll fall into QAnon believers. He’s warned of inciting violence again: “the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen.”
His lackey, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chimed in that street “riots” were ahead if Trump was indicted.
One of the great American playwrights, Arthur Miller spent time in Salem going over the court records of the 1692 tragedies.
The drama he wrote, in the early 1950s, “The Crucible,” is a theater classic.
Miller held up the McCarthy era hearings to the light of Salem’s zealous pursuit of (so-called) witches. He created characters based on what was known, with their real names. He revealed the alarm started in the Rev. Samuel Parris’ house and took flight like lightning.
Telling the Salem story, Miller showed how easy it was to suggest or spread lies, even among god-fearing people.
Miller witnessed it in his own time, with writers called before McCarthy’s committee to “name names.” Some did, some did not. Those named — in government, journalism, the arts — had their lives ruined.
McCarthy kept pressing until the day he was stopped by an Army lawyer, Joseph Welch: “Have you no sense of decency?”
The answer was no. Nor did dark Cohn have a shred of decency as he egged on McCarthy’s evil deeds. He later taught them to young Trump.
Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieStiehm.