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Vigliotti: Russian collusion, impeachment could join Salem ‘witch hunt’ in our lexicon

Last weekend, Hillary Clinton pronounced Jill Stein (and by intimation, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard) to be Russian puppets. With the season of specters at its height as Halloween draws near, it is unsurprising that so many on the Left should continue to see phantoms of their own invention. Inevitably, comparisons in accusations are being drawn (as they often are) to both Salem and the McCarthy Era. While both historical events do hold parallels, they are not the same — and those particular liberals who would use such examples are not the heroes they make themselves out to be.

Remember that many on the Left, and some on the Right, believe President Trump should never have won the presidency. The past three years have been spent in unceasing opposition not only to Trump, but to conservatives and Republicans, their beliefs, and their policies.

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“Resistance” is not only rhetoric, but a new reality as everything from trade agreements to judicial nominees are not only excoriated, but held up as the aftereffect of Russian collusion that ensured Trump’s victory in 2016. Indeed, if Russia has become the lens through which everything is viewed, the microscope might well be renamed “impeachment,” a lingering and unabated rallying cry that riles the Left with each recitation.

And yet, many on the Left claim to be the ones being unfairly scrutinized, even persecuted by conservatives for what they deem to be political objectivity in the face of fascism. As they often do in times of political division, they liken themselves to American colonials unfairly accused of being witches in 1692, or American citizens unjustly accused of being Communists in the 1950s.

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The popular myth of Salem includes a peaceful but religiously extreme community of uncompromising and superstitious patriarchal Puritans who used accusations of witchcraft to stamp out women who thought or lived differently, or people whose medical or socio-cultural conditions (plain to the modern, rational viewer) caused them to behave unusually or in an enlightened manner.

The truth is not so simple. Yes, the Puritans came to the New World to practice their faith, and did not tolerate outright dissent (in some cases, banishing or even executing dissenters). But within Puritanism, large theological differences did exist, and were debated and practiced in competing essays, sermons, division of congregations, and the building of new meetinghouses. The goal was ensuring the success of a model city on a hill in the eyes of God through the practice of truth.

But the city on a hill was viewed as being in danger of failing. The politics of Massachusetts were in flux, with a bankrupt provisional government not only awaiting a new royally-written charter but which was also desperately trying to protect civilians in a brutal war being waged by French soldiers and Indian warriors who routinely murdered even women and children. It appeared the Devil was working through the war against the Puritans for straying too far from their original faith, and thus failing to stop evil in their midst — so when witchcraft accusations began, provisional leaders listened and acted.

In the Salem trials, the majority of accusers were female while the most outspoken opponents in that time were men (including trial judges Thomas Danforth and Nathaniel Saltonstall, who quit the court in protest). Men, too, were accused of being witches and executed, including a Puritan minister, George Burroughs. While some of the female accusers later repented, the first figure to express public remorse and to apologize was a man and a presiding judge, Samuel Sewall.

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The motives and causal factors of all those involved were wide-ranging. The ultimate issue in Salem was not religion itself, but liars who manipulated belief and circumstances for their own ends through accusations; and imperfect people wrongly doing what they believed was right in the midst of tragedy, change, and war.

Salem bequeathed to the American people the term “witch hunt,” a metaphor for persecution of the innocent. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist efforts in the 1950s were labeled a “witch hunt” by the American Left, with the myth being that countless innocent Americans were jailed. Many Democrats insisted fears of Communist espionage were a Republican political contrivance against liberals, many of whom, enamored with Communism, had glossed over its brutal rise while declaring it the system of “the future.”

But fear of Communism in America was well-grounded, as forerunning socialists had aligned themselves with anarchists and called for violent revolution for several decades before World War II. In the 1940s, the American Leftists, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, betrayed America’s atomic weapons program to Communist Russia, ensuring not only Soviet nuclearization, but also helping to fuel the Cold War. Added to this was the dramatic 1948 episode in which the former Communist spy Whittaker Chambers surrendered microfilm of transcribed American documents he had hidden in a pumpkin patch on his farm near Westminster — and named others in his network.

After the United States won the Cold War, declassified Soviet-era correspondence decoded by the Venona Project proved Communist infiltration of the United States was indeed real and far-reaching. Nevertheless, “McCarthyism” has inaccurately joined “witch hunt” in the American political lexicon for spurious accusations.

In the present, as the Trump-Russian collusion narrative continues to unravel, some Democrats are only doubling down on calls for impeachment, and shifting the scope to include Ukraine. They must remember they are not the accused, but the accusers — and that without solid evidence in their accusations, “Russian collusion” stands to join the lexicon.

More troublingly, so too does “impeachment.”

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