“What we’ve done is we have managed to as a country consign reason to the sidelines. We don’t think anymore; we feel, and that’s a large part of the pandemic tragedy. ‘I don’t feel like wearing a mask,’ ‘I don’t feel like listening to a doctor,’ ‘I don’t feel like listening to experts.’ Well, we don’t really care. I mean, the purpose of the Enlightenment was that your thoughts and data and fact would at least have a chance against feelings, and emotions, and passions, and appetites, and ambitions. We’ve done pretty well for a long time with that, not great. What’s basically happened, I think, broadly, is that—a 1964 historian named Richard Hofstadter wrote an essay called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” and it’s this recurrent suspicion that there is a larger conspiracy out there of unseen forces. Because people have a fundamental human need to believe that there are these secret forces that are arrayed against them. And every moment is Armageddon. Every moment is existential. And so therefore, compromise is not possible. And what’s happened is the paranoid style, which was the John Birchers in ’64 has widened to a huge swath of the country. And the big task for all of us, and I think it’s a task of citizenship, and talking to your neighbors, and just actually trying to say, look, there is such a thing as fact.”

—Historian Jon Meacham, on Real Time with Bill Maher, Nov. 20, 2020

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