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Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Hysterical Woman In The Time Of Trump

Letty Thomas had always had a difficult side, something edgy even as a young child, a kind of permanent displeasure that worried her parents.  Her brother Bob was the sweetest, most easygoing little boy a parent could ever imagine, accommodating, helpful, and happy.

Letty’s hysterical side was a given, afforded a more ragged expression by her solicitous parents, baby brother, and the era in which she grew up; but since she had been this way from birth, nature ruled.  Letty had always been a disagreeable, nasty little girl. Her ragged red hair didn’t help, and gave her an inflamed wild look that was frightening especially on a child.

Hysteria – an ‘uncommon, untoward, and irrational response to ordinary events’ – has been almost exclusively applied to women; and it was certainly true that in earlier eras women with no professional, economic, or financial status and living as little more than chattels in their husbands’ homes, did become unsettled.  It did not happen to all women, of course.   Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Strindberg wrote of strong, determined, willful women who, although constrained by conservative, patriarchal societies, managed to dominate their husbands, accede to power, and lead quite happy, satisfied lives – all at the expense of the men around them, but that was the price of liberation.  No wars are won without blood.

Image result for images 19th century hysterical women

Why, then, in a liberated, feminist age, should Letty have become a hysterical woman? Everything in her surroundings, from her professional mother to the exclusive private schools she attended, to the well-tended neighborhoods in which she grew up, pointed the way to a calm, confident, and purposeful future.

Letty was never hysterical per se in her early years – just ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging’ – a girl who was more impatient than most, more demanding, more self-centered and, although her parents never liked to admit it, selfish.  While they tried to encourage sharing and peaceable company, Letty would have no part of it.  She bullied her brother, took the biggest portions, had fits when her shoes were too tight or when she spilled milk on her dress, and was irritable from the moment she opened her eyes until she turned off the light at night.  Her report cards, despite her teachers’ concerns for self-esteem, all cited her disruptive behavior.  In schools which prided themselves on respect for others, inclusivity, and collegiality, where grading was gentle, and where bad behavior was considered only a mild upset to the classroom – something to be recognized, discussed, and modified – such negative reports were uncommon if not unheard of. 

Reading between the carefully-worded lines, her parents knew that she was a troublesome, difficult, ornery child; and despite their best efforts, she was set in her ways.

As a teenager, this stormy child was shunned by the group.  She fit in nowhere, was excluded from the most open societies, sat in corners, and was ignored by her teachers. Needless to say this ungainly, wild, fiery-haired, angry young woman attracted no one.  The only good news was that she was never bullied.  There was something mean-spirited about the girl that kept everyone’s distance.   Girls were afraid to hear what she had to say about their hair, complexion, and eyebrows; and boys, still testing out their new sexual maturity, wanted no part of this bitter, misandrous, creepy girl.

Things did not improve in college.  The college which accepted her because of her superior test scores and high school transcript, knew they were getting a handful; but thought that the size of the student body and the definitely progressive campus zeitgeist would have a salubrious effect.  She would find her own here. And, after all, diversity meant taking all comers.

Those administrators who argued for her admittance were soon vindicated.  Letty did indeed find her own way and joined many of the campus activist groups committed to social reform.  The members of these groups were as hectoring, misanthropic, and hysterical as she was.  There was no time for rectitude or patience, their leaders said.  Only through loud, angry, defiant, and intemperate protest against the white, patriarchal, exploitative ruling classes would support be consolidated and the walls of racism and sexism come tumbling down.  Every day there was a protest.  New speech codes would remove the sexist, outdated, backward and morally repugnant, personal pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’.  A reconfigured faculty comprised only of women of color, transgenders, and gay men would give a resounding rejection to male heterosexual patriarchy and make the campus more politically genteel. Only books written by sympathetic deconstructionists would be allowed in history classes, and the works of no philosopher earlier than Derrida and Lacan would be considered.

Image result for images campus demonstrations

The list of grievances was lengthy and the energy and enthusiasm of student activists inexhaustible.
Letty finally, after years of parental servitude and academic ignorance, was a free woman.  Not only was she the perfect spokesperson for the causes inflaming the campus; she with her wild, fiery red hair, her feverish rants, her defiance of any controlling logic, and her seemingly bottomless well of bile, but she became famous, sought after, and promoted.  She had found self-expression and community in one fell swoop.  She was a happy woman – or as happy as such a hysterically twisted woman could possibly be.

She was in her element when the protests moved off campus and joined larger movements.  Yet even there in a far more public spotlight, on podiums on the National Mall, on the steps of the Supreme Court, and before the doors of the National Archives, she was a firebrand’s firebrand, literally spewing invective over the crowd of demonstrators, shaking in righteous fury over injustice, ignorance, and political corruption.

She was like Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot who surrounded  herself with outcasts, who, at a hysterical, mad tea party worthy of Lewis Carroll, put the "wreckers of the world's joy" on trial and condemned them to banishment and death. One by one greedy capitalist businessmen were lured by the smell of oil to a bottomless pit from which they would never return. Peace, love, and joy would return to the world. Even the earthbound pigeons were flying again.

Image result for images giraudoux madwoman of chaillot

Then Donald Trump ran for election, and she, already at the apogee of her hysterical support of righteous causes, took off into another galaxy of vituperation and hate.  When preaching against Trump she literally quaked with violent emotion, tore at her clothes like a mad prophet, danced a  St. Vitus’ dance, and whirled and twirled like the Sufi dervishes of Konya.  She was unstoppable, a one-woman juggernaut of hostility, violence, and madness.

When, contrary to all predictions and assumptions Trump won the 2016 election, Letty became apoplectic and truly hysterical.  She was demented and schizophrenic in her hatred of this vile, evil creature dragged up from the bowels of hell.  She had no peace, twitched and turned in the middle of the night, crying out for vengeance and retribution.  She became more wild-looking than ever, a scary madwoman, skeletal and in rags.  And yet, the more deranged and hysterical she became, the more the crowds cheered.  Here was the hero they had sought – a woman of frightening power, determination, and purpose; a fury of righteousness.

Her fame and reputation grew not only because of her defamatory, crusading, blistering attacks on Donald Trump but because she was a pure example of the divisive zeitgeist of America in the time of Trump.  She was simply the wildest and most unchained animal in the zoo; but the zoo was national.  Even in the least antagonistic places on earth – rural Ohio and Iowa – people gathered to protest something, anything.  The bile and hatred of the President spilled over and befouled every state’s Grover’s Corners, Thornton Wilder’s small town of peace and reserve.

Image result for images donald trump

She was asked to speak at rallies from New Hampshire to Orange County and thanks to her native, God-given energy, her frenzied hatred of the Establishment, and her boundless misanthropy she never flagged.  She was as hateful and impressive in her demands for the resignation of a greedy water board in Bolivar as she was denouncing its Republican Congressman.  The only question was when the hysteria would consume her, when she would be nothing but a raving, hysterical madwoman. 

Her time came in Loucks, Texas on a hot summer day, surrounded by angry cattlemen and proud environmentalists.  She began her speech in the usual way with a loud, hoarse, damnation of Donald Trump and his capitalist lackeys; wound into images of Armageddon and bleak apocalyptic landscapes, wandering, desolate orphans, and the smoking remains of civilization; then looked to the sky, raised her arms and said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, and collapsed.  She was taken to the hospital, admitted with severe schizophrenia, and soon thereafter committed to St. Elizabeth’s Asylum.

Because of the progressive movement’s idolatry of Letty, her fate was remembered as a heroic finale; not as a symbol of the movement’s own hysterical mania.  While they should have said, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’, they cheered the ambulance taking her to the asylum.  She would be out soon, they said, en forme, and ready to do battle once again.  A temporary setback, a bit of R&R for even the most passionate was to be expected. No cautionary tale here.

Letty did not recover quickly.  Because her personal, psychological hysteria matched the political hysteria of The Movement it went undiagnosed and untreated until she was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s; and by that time it was too late.  She had gone completely around the bend, talked in tongues, was harnessed in traces 24/7 and never released. 

No one knows how many more schizophrenics there are in The Movement, drawn to it by its hysterical excess and sense of belonging, but unlike Letty  most of them would be restrained by their own body chemistry and the fragments of logic which remained from a traditional upbringing.  Few would end up like Letty Thomas, trussed, wild, and forgotten in a state mental asylum, but many came close.  Without them, of course, The Movement would not be the politically force that it is.  Revolutionary change has never come about through sanity.

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