Sean Wilentz: Could Osama bin Laden’s Demise Loosen the Grip Paranoid Politics Has on America?






Sean Wilentz is a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of Bob Dylan in America (Doubleday).

What a difference a day makes. On Saturday, American politics was mired in a loopy but degrading controversy over President Obama’s birth certificate, hyped in the latest campaign of divisive paranoia by Fox News, would-be Republican presidential candidate, the real-estate mogul and professional vulgarian Donald Trump, and a host of Republican hopefuls and hucksters. But, by Sunday night, the nation was hailing President Obama, who suddenly appeared to announce Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. forces. In his speech, Obama spoke of national unity in the light of the justice meted out to the conspirator behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For the moment, at least, the engines of paranoia have gone silent. Will the long cycle of outrageous attacks, innuendo, and conspiracy-mongering, the politicized by-product of the war on terror, at last come to an end?...

There is some truth, alas, to claims that the lurid attacks on Obama have had something to do with his skin color. But the cycle of paranoia preceded his appearance on the national stage, and was deployed as a highly-effective political strategy that capitalized on the all-too-real challenges of Al Qaeda and the war on terrorism. Now, suddenly, reality has intruded—this time with gratifying and not horrifying news. President Obama and his administration have achieved bin Laden’s demise. The menace of course persists, but a circle has been closed, and a spirit of relief prevails. But will bin Laden’s death end the cycle of malicious fantasy and political paranoia that has held the country in its grip? If so, the raid on his compound will have been propitious in ways above and beyond countering the genuine external threats to our national security.



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