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April 3, 2019

Salem Witch Trials and Today’s Politics (EP.118)

Salem Witch Trials and Today’s Politics (EP.118)


What is the similarity between the well-known Salem witch trials and American politics today? Wait, Will, are there any similarities? Are there really things that tie witch trials and our politics together? Yes, several, in fact.

I am sure that we all recoil in horror when we think about witch trials; trials that demonized the use of the wrong words, simple accusations treated as proof, being afraid of standing up for the truth for fear of being similarly accused, and the horrific and permanent punishments. We would never do anything like that, right? Right? Wrong. We do things like that everyday, either by being active participants or be standing by and allowing the active ones to get away with it.

For the next 10 minutes, we will talk about what American politics and witch trials have in common.


Arthur Miller wrote the timeless play, The Crucible, in 1953. Written during the McCarthy period, the play was focused on showing how human frailties and base human drives in that period, the 50’s, the period where Joe McCarthy held sway, were just another version of the Salem witch trials. The Senator from Wisconsin tossed around unfounded accusations that certain people and classes of people were Communists. Back then, in the middle of the Cold War, being labeled as a “Commie” was as damning as being labeled a witch in the 17th Century. During the McCarthy era, as with the Salem witch trials, lives were destroyed because people and groups of people used accusations for personal and professional gain.

Are people using accusations for personal and professional gain today? Are these accusations being used as complete evidence of guilt by the people making them? Are other people afraid to protest these accusations and other actions because they will be treated in the same way? Yes, yes, and yes.

But it is far worse today than ever before. Instead of leveraging hatred and fear for personal and political gain gain by using two labels, witches or communists, and then only one at a time, we have now created dozens and scores of categories deemed worthy of vilification. Where once we focused on one group at a time, we now use multiple and intentionally damaging labels simultaneously.

“Ist” and “phobe” are popular suffixes, and can be attached to just about anything; sexist and racist, and xenophobe and islamophobe among the most popular. If using a popular accusatory suffix is somehow grammatically awkward, then we can trot out the ever-popular label; victim. For example, if the accuser is poor and wishes to make someone else responsible, accusing that enity of being a povertyist (someone who hates the poor) or succesphobe (someone who hates and crushes others’ success) creates tongue twisters, and removes much of the sting of the accusation. The solution is easy: 1. Claim that you are a victim of poverty, 2. Point out the person or group that made you poor, 3. Demand to be supported financially, and 4, Shout that anyone who disagrees with your agenda is an “ist” or “phobe” of some sort. Facts and accuracy simply get in the way of the objective here. Volume, repetition, passion and selecting the right audiences are all that’s necessary to win the day.

Challenge: What is the difference between using labels like “witch” and “communist”, or “racist” and “xenophobe” to gain personal and political advantage? While we are at it, let’s throw in terms like “socialist” and “abortionist.” When those labels are thrown out, the speaker has a certain definition in mind. Let’s examine some of those definitions.

We’ll look at different labels, why they are bad, why we think they apply to the accused. Ignoring the word witch as antiquated, let’s get started:

  • Communist. When used as an accusation, it is likely to mean that the accused is a Joseph Stalin or Mao lover, or merely that one wants the government to own and run everything. A person in the 50s might have been a communist as a not-illogical reaction to the devastating Great Depression which dramaticized weaknesses in laissez-faire (free-for-all) capitalism. Russian communism was popular then in part because it offered solutions to capitalistic ups and downs, and in greater part because its colossal failure had not yet been completely exposed. Being a communist in the 50s was not at all evidence of ignorance and dark motives.
  • Racist. An accuser hurling this word most likely means that a person, probably white, hates and wishes disadvantage or even harm to people of color. In some, and diminishing, cases, this is no doubt true. But it is more likely that the racist accusation is applied to those who have the nerve to note racial differences. Different ethnicities often have different cultures, and have some differences in abilities and strengths and weaknesses. Pointing out something as obvious and benign as ethnic differences is a good way to be labeled a racist. N. B. Being an actual racist is always wrong; observing racial differences can be very, very helpful.
  • Sexist. See racist. We must separate sexist behavior from mere sexual observations. Claiming that men are superior to women is sexist; observing that overall post-pubescent men are stronger than women is a valid sex-related observation. Not sexist. The sexes are different, and vitally so.
  • Let’s close with xenophobe. To an accuser, that term means someone who hates all immigrants, wants no more immigrants, and wants those who are already here to leave. Most of those who are so accused, wrongly accused, want nothing more than controlled and legal immigration. But the accusation is made and often sticks regardless. The list can go on and on, but I am sure that you get the idea.

In the 17th Century, one could say something slightly off norm, and be accused of being a witch. Facts and substance were irrelevant; only power and the support level of the accuser meant anything. The mere accusation led to ruined lives, and even death.

In the 20th Century, being accused of having communist leanings was enough to ruin your career and damage your personal life.

In the 21st Century, being labeled as an “ist” or a “phobe” can easily be a life sentence. The accuser is not at all focused on anything other than destroying, or at least neutralizing, the accused. Let’s take a fun and informative look at a scene from that wonderful movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail–the scene where a woman is being accused of being a witch. After processing through convoluted illogic, the final test was to see if she floated. If she did, she was a witch. If you take the time to go to the link, and you should, you will see how the movie uses incisive humor to portray the tortured thinking of the day. And we are still thinking in much the same way.

Today’s Key Point: When we participate in or even allow the kind of agenda-driven, facts-and-proof-be-damned accusations that we currently allow, we are no different from those who participated in or allowed the witch hunts and commie roundups in the past. We must not only rise up and fight the base parts of ourselves, but we must rise up, vocally and with other actions, to fight those who are using Salem-like and McCarthy-like tactics to advance themselves and their cause. And if we don’t–and if we don’t–are we any better than they are?

Segueing from the specifics of today’s topic to overall principles, the core, driving principles at Revolution 2.0, are:

  1. Personal Responsibility; take it, teach it and,
  2. Be Your Brother’s Keeper. The answer to the biblical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a ringing, unequivocal “Yes.” There is no other answer.

And do it all in love; without love, these are empty gestures, destined to go nowhere and mean nothing.

If we apply those two core principles, personal responsibility and brother’s keepers, simultaneously, never only one or the other, we will always be on the right path. Depending upon what we face, one principle or the other may appropriately be given more emphasis, but they are always acted upon together.

The Founders, Revolution 1.0, were declared traitors by the British Crown, and their lives were forfeit if caught. We risk very little by stepping up and participating in Revolution 2.0™. In fact, we risk our futures if we don’t. I am inviting you, recruiting you, to join Revolution 2.0™ today. Join with me in using what we know how to do–what we know we must do–to everyone’s advantage. Let’s practice thinking well of others as we seek common goals, research the facts that apply to those goals, and use non agenda-based reasoning to achieve those goals together. Practice personal responsibility and be your brother’s keeper.

Let’s continue to build on the revolutionary vision that we inherited. Read the blog, listen to the podcast, subscribe, recruit, act. Here’s what I mean by “acting.”

  • Read the blogs and/or listen to the podcasts.
  • Comment in the blogs. Let others know that you are thinking.
  • Subscribe and recommend that others subscribe as well.
  • Attach links from blogs into your social media feeds. Share your thoughts about the link.
  • From time-to-time, attach links to blogs in emails that mention related subjects. Or just send the links to family and friends.

Revolution 1.0 in 1776 was built by people talking to other people, agreeing and disagreeing, but always finding ways to stay united and going forward. Revolution 2.0 will be built the same way.

Join me. Join the others. Think about what we are talking about and share these thoughts and principles with others. Subscribe, encourage others to subscribe. Act. Let’s grow this together.

And visit the store. Fun stuff, including hats, mugs and t-shirts. Recommend other items that you’d like to see.

Links and References

The Crucible

Joe McCarthy

Cold War

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Witch Scene From “Holy Grail”


As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the blog with comments or questions about this podcast or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And you can subscribe to the podcast on your favorite device through Apple Podcasts, Google, or Stitcher.

Now it is time for our usual parting thought. It is not enough to be informed. It is not enough to be a well informed voter. We need to act. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.

Know your stuff, then act on it. Knowing your stuff without acting is empty; acting without knowing is dangerous.

Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.