Mass Hysteria, Trump-Style

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines mass hysteria as “exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement, especially among a group of people.” Americans from all walks of life have jumped on the Trump train and I keep expecting some of them to get off at the next stop, but they never do. Like a Japanese subway, people are packed in every space available and even sitting on top of the car just to be a Trumper. No one has a political precedent for this rare occurrence and many political pundits have tried. Human history is replete with examples of this phenomenon; is the Trump campaign yet another one?

Astonishingly, there is one commonality between different moments in history of mass hysteria: the role of stress in causing such outbreaks. The Dancing Plague of 1518 was a case of “dancing mania” that occurred in France where numerous people danced for days without rest. This phenomenon started when a woman began to dance fervently in the street. Many followed suit and within a month there were around 400 dancers. The majority of the dancers eventually died of exhaustion, heart attack or stroke. This event is a classic example of mass hysteria because there is no known medical condition that would cause such behavior.

The most famous case of mass hysteria happened in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1692, at first a girl fell sick. Her symptoms baffled everyone but others soon manifested the same ones. Why? As Sinatra says, “Cause it’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft and although, I know, it’s strictly taboo.” Trump haters assume his followers are bewitched by the New York businessman’s convulsive antics, but perhaps they are merely caught up in a kind of, hysteria? They feel what they are supporting is taboo. In today’s PC world, saying whatever you want and going against the grain is frowned upon. The reaction of the original afflicted girl in Salem was not a disease, and could not have been contagious, but the affinity for Trump is.

The claim that witchcraft was the cause in Salem was unfounded, but both there, and today, the real cause was stress. Trump himself has proudly claimed his campaign and supporters are angry. The Trumpers are frustrated with the status quo and stressed out. Who can blame them? We are all stressed out and and angered by the state of the country.

Hardcore Trump supporters are not only enamored of their idol, they are blindly in love. So, what explains this imperviousness to reasonable arguments or changes in facts? According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of a mass hysteria, also known as conversion disorder, are thought to resolve a conflict a person feels inside. “High conflict people” live in a black and white world: all or nothing thinking. No matter what Trump says or does his supporters are still onboard. They don’t hear different points of view on their candidate and they’re not willing to compromise their field of vision because it appears as though the country is at stake. They have negative feelings about the path the country is on and it shapes their reality of their candidate. They believe his hyperbole and tag lines will bring them the America they fondly remember. I know several Trumpers and I am surprised when they support him as he personally attacks people who don’t agree with him. They all of a sudden have difficulty empathizing with the people on the receiving end of those attacks. It appears they are afflicted with Trumpitis, and it’s personal, not politics.

The origin of the word hysteria is in the 17th century, after the Dancing Plague of 1518 but before the 1692 Salem trials and the Donald. All of them follow the same two patterns: no clear medical issues and stress. The term hysteria comes from the Greek word hysterika, meaning uterus. The Greeks accredited hysteric disturbances to the influence of the womb and called ithysteria, “disease of the womb”.  Last August  Trump told CNN, regarding a cantankerous exchange with Megan Kelly, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes … blood coming out of her wherever.” Many ruminated the remark was a reference to Kelly’s lady parts while Trump contends he meant her nose and ears. I realize it was a slip of the tongue, but could it have been a Freudian slip? Did Trump subconsciously recall the origin of the word and mean that she was hysterical because of her uterus?

Anything is possible in this campaign and there is a direct correlation between stress and hysteria. Trump has drawn support by citing a range of policy concerns, rallying Americans emotions and that allows his candidacy to build steam as well as cross party lines. The Trump phenomenon has left people all over the world flabbergasted and bewildered. There is no rhyme or reason to the success of Trump’s campaign, and the only diagnosis is mass hysteria in 2016. But mass hysteria doesn’t have to be negative. I for one have been called a witch, I’m hysterical (because of my uterus), and I would actually love to dance until I’m dead.