The New York Times' Paul Krugman called out right-wing media's baseless anxiety about Syrian refugees and "exaggerated" panic over the threat of a terrorist attack as the latest example of the "apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years."
In a November 20 column, Krugman observed that Fox News contributor Erick Erickson's "bizarre" threat not to "see the new 'Star Wars' movie on opening day, because 'there are no metal detectors at American theaters'" is "part of a larger pattern" of right-wing panic.
Right-wing media reacted to the November 13 ISIS-led attacks on Paris and elsewhere with sweeping and unfounded claims that President Obama's anti-terror response is endangering U.S national security, with some on Fox even claiming that he has "Islamic sympathies." Others vilified Syrian refugees and defended calls for religious litmus tests, only accepting Christian refugees, on the basis that "Muslims might blow us up."
Krugman noted that among conservatives "[t]hese days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception." He attributed this epidemic to the "apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years": "Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance!" Krugman recalled right-wing media's "great Ebola scare of 2014," which featured assertions that President Obama would expose American troops to Ebola to "atone for colonialism." While the "threat of pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real," he wrote, "it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger." All of this overblown fearmongering is, Krugman concludes, "what the right is all about:
Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website RedState.com, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState's annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.
So it's worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn't think highly of President Obama's antiterrorism policies.
Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won't be going to see the new "Star Wars" movie on opening day, because "there are no metal detectors at American theaters."
It's a bizarre reaction -- but when you think about it, it's part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.
But we shouldn't really be surprised, because we've seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.
What's more, the supposed "solutions" were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that "the plague will start and spread" in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control -- but it's unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.
What explains the modern right's propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it's also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.
Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.
The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump's candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security. Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?