11/28/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Political Hysteria: Call for Immediate Pre-Election Calming

Political Hysteria: Call for Immediate Pre-Election Calming


Tension is mounting with negative ads and evidence of voter suppression, machine tampering and other dirty tricks. Hate and fear mongering is reminiscent of the McCarthy era. People are being manipulated by deceptive robocalls, talk shows, ads, posters, and gimmicks. Snide, mean-spirited booing and outrageous comments are allowed, even encouraged at some Republican rallies.

I worry about those being whipped into hysteria. Although politicians using base tactics are losing popularity, they play on fears of people susceptible to emotional exploitation. This may qualify as incitement, defamation, libel, and disinformation, pushing the limits of free speech.

Preventive Intervention

Steps can be taken immediately to prevent likely emotional fallout for the sake of our national mental health and political stability. We cannot wait until after the election. Specific measures include calming, reassurance, correcting falsehoods, demystification (like debriefing from cult brainwashing), and messages of transcendence, cooperation and unity. This is best done by respectable authority figures.

I speak as a registered Independent, post-partisan, concerned American. This is not partisan. Civil Republicans are harmed by the disturbing rhetoric coming from the McCain campaign. The Obama campaign discourages booing and demands more respectful behavior. As a clinical and political psychologist, I worry that social/emotional forces will intensify fear, and confusion that could disrupt a golden opportunity for unity, healing, and restoration of our role in the world.

Split Brain Politics

Unlike countries with multi-party systems, proportional representation, and instant runoff voting, our simplistic, two-party, winner-take-all, precarious election system (with electoral college) encourages black-and-white, us against them thinking. This harms us all and intensifies Republican issues of loss and struggles within the party. The unhealthy dynamic in our country can be transformed.

Political Hysteria

The content of some robocalls, ads, talk shows and rallies provokes irrational fears and "Political Hysteria" - individual hysteria, magnified by group processes, conformity, and social sanctioning of uncivil behavior.

Hysteria is a state of mind characterized by overwhelming fear, excitability and emotional excesses. People may lose their grip on reality, dissociating cognitive functioning from emotion and/or behavior. In "poor reality testing" emotions overwhelm accurate perceptions and assessment of objective reality, resulting in poor judgment, denial of obvious facts and evidence. Reason has no effect. "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts."

Mass hysteria occurs when excessive emotional excitability is fueled in a social context. "Political hysteria" is when emotional forces serve a political, ideological purpose. A subculture of affected people are filled with unwarranted, primitive fear. They say that if Obama wins they are scared to death, it will be the end of our country, he is an Islamic terrorist, and other bizarre, delusional beleifs.

I feel compassion for these vulnerable people and worry for them and the rest of us. Some unstable types are erupting now. Actions taken immeditately can reduce the social sanctioning and provocation of hysterical behaviors. It is essential to address fears in effective, specific ways that reassure and correct misperceptions. McCain did this when reassuring a woman that Obama was decent and she didn't have to fear his presidency.

One example of political hysteria is the moral panic that gripped Salem from 1691 - 3, leading to trials, torture, imprisonment, and executions. That hysteria ended when the Governor Phips ordered the release of all suspects.

This informs us that hysteria is stopped by a strong, respected authority figure asserting the reality principle, dispelling hysterical fears permeating the community. Likewise the McCarthy period was punctuated when Special Counsel for the Army, Joseph Welch said, "You have done enough. .. Have you left no sense of decency?" We need this kind of leadership now.

Calls for Civility

This alarming matter is inspiring calls for civility, such as:

An Open Letter to John McCain from Frank Schaeffer, October 10, 2008
".. If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as "not one of us," I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence ..... Change the atmosphere of your campaign. ... stop stirring up the lunatic fringe of haters, or risk suffering the judgment of history and the loathing of the American people - forever. .... We will hold you responsible.
(Note: This letter had no apparent effect on continuing rhetoric.)

A Statement by Communications Professors Concerning Recent Discourse of the McCain/Palin Campaign, October 23, 2008
"In recent weeks, the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin has engaged in such incendiary mendacity that we must speak out. The purposeful dissemination of messages that a communicator knows to be false and inflammatory is unethical. It is that simple."

Pastor Rick Warren, in his wisdom, held a civil forum early in the campaign. He gave his blessings to both candidates, who are both his friends, preventing dehumanization.

A Time for Calming - Political Therapy

Polls are showing that Obama is ahead, and may win with a mandate if there is a legitimate election, unchanged by fraud. With an Obama victory, some will be terrified.

We need politicians, especially thoughtful Republicans, religious leaders, TV and radio talk show hosts, celebrities, community leaders and the candidates themselves to act before the election to calm fears and begin healing.

This requires
1 - Empathy for the depth of people's fears
2 - Familiarity with the messages they receive
3 - Familiarity with their belief systems
4 - Ability to communicate specifically in their language
5 - A compassionate tone of calming rather than judgment or making them worng

We need pervasive, direct, emphatic, deliberate reassurance and calming of manipulated fears, such as:

* Obama and McCain publicly declare together, that whatever happens they will work together to heal the divisions, form a unity cabinet, and find respectable places for each to serve the country.

* Thoughtful Republican leaders, as McCain supporters, can say if Obama wins we will be fine, calling for acceptance, and unity. They will work with Obama to represent their interests. Obama can say that he will work with Republican advisors and appear with them.

* Obama can speak directly to calm those who fear him., acknowledging and speaking deeply to their worries about race.

* If Obama wins, many will be exuberant and rejoice. They should not gloat and be magnanimous, compassionate, and reassuring towards those who are upset.

* Obama and McCain can emphasize post-partisan, beyond red/blue rhetoric and stop language blaming the other party. Obama should reach out to Republican colleagues to strengthen bonds.

* All candidates, at all rallies, should forbid booing and violent comments (which the Obama campaign has done). Like a responsible parent or teacher they can say, "Booing may feel good, but let's be more mature than that. We are all Americans and no matter what happens we will work together."

* Those who continue inflammatory rhetoric should be immediately challenged on grounds of ethics, morality and possible legality of incitement, defamation, libelous and sedition. Fire hosts or give them intensive behind-the-scenes education and have them calm their audiences. Their comments are far worse than what got Don Imus and Trent Lott in trouble.

* Identify and boycott sponsors of shows that incite.

* Religious leaders, mega church leaders, TV Evangelists, and other public figures should call for calm and unity and be available for healing during and after the election.

* Go beyond dualistic Republican and Democratic thinking. Differentiate thoughtful, civil Republicans and Democrats from those who are mean-spirited and destructive.

* It is time to move together as Americans towards post-partisan consciousness. The world is waiting for us to manifest our highest ideals. Form post election reconciliation teams now and begin creating a healing environment.

* This week hold teach-ins, town meetings, give sermons, talk show segments, and have therapists like Dr. Phil, begin preparing people for possible disappointment and have people talk to their friends, relatives and neighbors.

* Educate about universal security and bodies knowledge on conflict analysis, tension reduction, nonviolent conflict transformation, and reversing cycles of violence. Many incorrectly believe in provocative, threatening policies that have the opposite effect of escalating violence. They fear that Obama is not tough enough. Increase understanding of wisdom, dialogue and effective strategies than can reduce threats and increase enduring security.

* Make preparations for possible extreme reactions anyway.

A Golden Opportunity

We are at the threshold of a new era. This fragile time is filled with promise and fraught with potential for danger. A massive collective effort towards healing and reconciliation will support the best-case scenario and reduce forces that could sabotage our process of coming together.

Let's all bring out the best in ourselves, our leaders, and our celebrities to raise the level of discourse and create a contagion of calming to allow us to bring out the best in our country.

Song for our country
Imagine There's No Parties
(written in 2004 ) by Diane Perlman

Imagine there's no parties
It's easy if you try
No more left-right food fight
No more thinking black or white
Imagine politicians solving problems for us all

You may say I'm independent
But I just want to stay alive
We have to learn to be transcendent
So our descendents can survive

Imagine no financing
No raising thousands by the hour
No corporate favors and romancing
Outspending rivals to buy power
Imagine politicians free to focus on higher goals

Imagine no domination
Replacing war and the arms race
Using conflict transformation
Preserving peace in outer space
Imagine politicians using win-win strategies

Imagine stopping global warming
Pollution and extinction too
Heeding scientific warnings
Creating jobs to do what we must do
Imagine politicians working to heal the Earth

Imagine we're one nation
Not this split insanity
Bringing to the world elation
Elevating humanity
Imagine politicians working for a higher good

Imagine changing our direction
We're running out of time,
Let's give the world protection,
A life sustaining paradigm
Imagine all the people living safe and free
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But this is possible to do
All of us can be redeemers
If we commit ourselves to work this through


Are you suffering from Election Anxiety? How has the election impacted your life? Tell HuffPost, and we may just quote you! Tell us your stories using this Survey Monkey form.


For more posts on Election Anxiety, click here.