New York Times – Anger: An American History
By: Stacy Schiff is the author of, among other books, “Cleopatra” and “The Witches: Salem, 1692.”
WHERE, many have asked these last weeks, do the rhetorical fireballs — the raging suspicion and rabid xenophobia — come from? Barring people from our shores, Paul Ryan reminds us, is “not what this country stands for.” Emma Lazarus would have agreed. But while the demonizing may sound un-American, it happens also to be ur-American.
Well before Japanese internment camps, before the Know-Nothing Party, before the Alien and Sedition Acts, New England drew its identity from threats to public safety. We manned the nation’s watchtowers before we were even a nation.
From that earlier set of founding fathers — the men who settled 17th century Massachusetts — came the first dark words about dark powers. No matter that they sailed to these shores in search of religious freedom. Once established, they pulled up the gangplank behind them. The city on a hill was an exclusively Puritan sanctuary. The sense of exceptionalism — “we are surely the Lord’s firstborn in this wilderness,” the Massachusetts minister William Stoughton observed in an influential 1668 address — bound itself up from the start with prejudice. If you are the pure, someone else needs to be impure…Read further
But also read a critical review of Stacy Stiff “The Witches: Salem 1692”
[…] Schiff goes out of her way to make Salem intelligible to a contemporary reader, often by way of analogies, many of them forced, some offensive. The indigenous warrior was “the swarthy terrorist in the backyard.” The Indian captivity narrative was “a kind of martyrdom porn.” Increase Mather’s 1684 treatise “Remarkable Providences” was “an occult Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” while the durability of a witchcraft accusation “resembled an Internet rumor.” Tituba, the enslaved woman Parris brought from Barbados to Massachusetts, was “a sort of satanic Scheherazade,” whose tales of witchcraft, presented “in supersaturated 3-D,” featured characters with “various superpowers.” Repeatedly we redound to “The Wizard of Oz”: The accusers embellished their tales, “nearly conjuring ruby slippers”; the ebbing of the trials was “like watching the Wicked Witch of the West molt back into Miss Gulch”; the responses of accused witches in the courtroom resembled “Dorothy’s wide-eyed, back-in-Kansas ‘Doesn’t anybody believe me?’” From Oz to Hogwarts: Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter get walk-ons, too.
Much of this effort to drag the past into the present amounts to pandering, earnest if schlocky. But it is also, all too often, misleading.[…]