It’s Not a Witch Hunt

With Halloween just around the corner, the time seemed right for a column about witches.

As I jotted down my thoughts, one of the first sentences to flow from my pen was “there’s no such thing as witches.” But wait. What might google say about that? I typed IS THERE SUCH A THING AS WITCHES into my computer and immediately found these headlines among many others: “Yes, Witches Are Real. I Am One” (Time Magazine, 2019), “Why Is Witchcraft on the Rise?” (The Atlantic, 2020) and “Here’s What It Means to Be a Real-Life Witch” (InStyle, 2021).

But modern-day witches weren’t my focus. I’d been thinking about Europe from 1300 through 1600, when tens of thousands of supposed witches, mostly women, were executed. I was remembering my junior year in high school, when I learned that 19 people—all women, except for one—were put to death in 1692-93 in colonial Massachusetts for practicing witchcraft. In English class we read “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller, inspired by U.S. Senator Joseph Mc Carthy’s persecution of suspected communists. Fifty years later, I’ll never forget those lessons.

With those things in mind, I looked up some definitions of “witch hunt.” Here’s what I found: (1) a searching out for persecution persons accused of witchcraft (2) an attempt to find and punish people whose opinions are not popular (3) efforts to punish an individual or group who actually did nothing wrong.

All of which is to say that those who characterize efforts to bring former President Donald Trump to justice as “witch hunts” have missed the boat entirely. None of the definitions apply to him. First off, no one has accused him of practicing black magic, though the spell he seems to have cast over many of his rabid devotees surely must be some kind of sorcery. And Mr. Trump’s opinions can’t be characterized as unpopular. Crazy, yes. Unpopular, no. Since his disastrous rise to power, millions of his MAGA followers have swallowed ivermectin and/or hydroxychloroquine to fight Covid while refusing the vaccine. Millions of others persist in denying that climate change is real and have bought into the idea that building a wall will fix our immigration problems. Worst of all, millions believe the nonsense Mr. Trump continues to spout about the “stolen” 2020 election.

As far as the third definition goes, I would point out that the “witches” hanged or drowned or burned at the stake hundreds of years ago were innocent victims of ignorance, misogyny and mass hysteria. They’re the reason the term “witch hunt” was coined. These women were scapegoats, falsely blamed for the wrongdoings or faults of others. Only if you truly believe that the 45th President of the United States has done nothing wrong can you call efforts to hold him accountable witch hunts.

I don’t fall into that camp. I have eyes to see and ears to hear and a brain that can discern fact from fiction. I watched in horror as a crazed mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 to try to prevent the electoral votes from being counted and certified. I listened to hearings during which members of Mr. Trump’s former inner circle testified under oath that he did indeed incite his followers to violence that day and refused to call them off even when they threatened the lives of members of Congress and the Vice President of the United States. I continue to follow the news about the hundreds of classified documents—many of them labeled top secret—that Mr. Trump illegally took from the White House and squirreled away at Mar-a-Lago for reasons that are still unclear.

Donald J. Trump is not a victim of witch hunts. He’s a con man and a criminal. Those who claim otherwise, including far too many candidates currently running for office, are either naïve or lying. May we never forget that as we head to the polls on November 8.

(October 15, 2022)