Salem revisited

What is it in the American mentality that is so susceptible to witch hunts, whether it be the Salem Witch Trials, the House on Un-American activities or the MacMartin School trial? It is as if an ill wind blows across the American mind, clouding its judgment as to the implications of its behavior. There seems to be a blood lust that is inescapably drawn out of the American populace which becomes like an opiate wherein all judgment is skewed. The dark side of reason takes center stage, wherein manipulation, thirst for power and self-righteous aggrandizement are temporarily viewed as representing the will or interest of the people.

After the fact, after the damage is done, after lives are ruined or lost, there is always a period of contrition, of questioning how did this happen. This too often repeated theme in American behavior is a sad commentary as to how shallow or cowardly the populace becomes during these cultural storms, leaving intact far too long the ambitions of individuals who represent the worst of human avarice and self-importance.

All witch hunts have justified their existence as a search for the truth, all have accused their victims of being evil or immoral. Now we have the Kenneth Starr investigation touted as the righteous search for the truth behind circumstances. As with all other witch hunts we must examine the motives of the players involved. What is the agenda of this inquisition? Is it a search to find truth, as claimed, or to achieve a desired aim? Is Ken Starr simply doing his job without bias and with equanimity? Are the forces behind this investigation pure in their objective? Or has the Starr inquiry stepped over the line into the realm of manipulation to justify subverting the electoral will of the American people and thus become a key player in the first attempt to use the judicial and political institutions of this country to instigate a political coup? To depose a president in any way possible, without consideration of the greater question of what are the underlying values that constitute a democracy? Is an invasion of privacy, a complicated and systematic hammering away at the integrity and personal life of an individual an acceptable means to an end for those entrusted to carry out the nation’s judicial work? Is a $50 million investigation obliged to find illegality to justify its own existence? Or has the money been spent to arrive at what we have now, a seeming justification for those with political agendas, or with personal antipathy toward President Clinton to wrap themselves with righteous indignation and a “profound responsibility to the truth and the nation.” To do what they have always desired, which is to cripple this presidency and thus empower themselves.

It is not lost on those who watch this spectacle that the Democratic Party is suffering from a cowardice, reminiscent of those who remained silent when Joe McCarthy was in full bloom, and that the Republicans are trying desperately to contain their excitement and sense of opportunity to sit in judgment of a man they have grown to fear and hate. The media almost appears comic in its sputteringly grave commentaries. The demand that they appear impartial while at the same time being so obviously told by their bosses to fan the flames of controversy so as to try and produce a 24-hour soap opera of the nation’s affairs must be exhausting. One begins to question, where are the Edward R. Murrows, the adult members of the media who have the ability to see beyond the present dust storm, who know something of history and are able to actually step out and call a witch hunt a witch hunt? Although certain behavior might be questionable or unfortunate, it is not of a gravity which should empower the dark side of American history to repeat itself. If it does, even those who feel righteous now, in time will come to wish that they had used this opportunity to be statesmen rather than politicians, journalists rather than sheep.

Leigh McCloskey

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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