This is the first time in my recollection that I was actually scared by a Hallowe’en display. Normally I don’t find Hallowe’en scary – on the contrary, I love it, especially with everyone in this neighbourhood competing to recreate the most realistic cemetery or charnel-pit their front yard might allow. It’s all that, and chocolate too. The best holiday of the year!
But this year I found myself looking at a display that truly disturbed me, to the point that I had to avert my eyes every time I passed that house. It was a great effort – a very imaginative and well-executed rendering of an historical event- and the family had clearly put a lot of work into it. When I saw it, though, I was filled not with admiration but with fear, and pity, and sorrow. Which was weird, even for me – a possessor of a very active imagination and very thin skin. How come all the other yards – full of open graves and severed heads – didn’t bother me, but this yard made me shudder, and hurry quickly away?
This was their display: a half-dozen life-sized, upright skeletons, arranged on the house’s small front lawn. Four skeletons were dressed as Puritans, in black greatcoats and tall hats; they stood in a semi-circle, in an attitude of intense discussion, or perhaps prayer. A little behind them stood a skeleton-priest, clutching a Bible and holding one hand aloft. Behind all these men was the skeleton of a woman being burned at the stake. Her hands were stretched above her head, pinioned there by chains; she was naked, and her feet were sunk into an active “fire” (real logs; electric-fan-blown tissue-paper flames; smoke-machine smoke). Her face looked directly at passers-by, as her red hair tumbled down across her shoulders. She cast her empty eyes out past the men who had done this to her, and begged for help.
In front of all this was a large wooden sign: WELCOME TO THE WITCH TRIALS.
I was horrified. For me, those witch trials were personal. Those women – women like me – were killed because they were perceived to be misbehaving. They did not toe the line; they were perhaps very smart – smarter than the men around them – and they perhaps knew things, like how to use poultices or brew healing tea. Or how to run the village. Maybe they spoke too passionately; rejected religion; enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) sex with men. Whatever reason, they were singled out, and they were killed. They were hung, burned, and even crushed. Because they were women who didn’t behave like they were supposed to.
So there it was – I took the display personally. A little strange, but perhaps understandable. But why the fear? After all, it was centuries ago. We do not treat women like that anymore. It’s not a current problem.
But I fear – literally fear – that it is a current problem. I was not just mourning the deaths of hundreds of years ago; I was afraid for what’s happening today, as exposed by the American election. It’s not just Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, and his threats to take away our reproductive freedom. It’s the orchestrated and intense witch hunt that is underway against Hillary Clinton, to the point where her safety is at stake.
What has happened to Hillary Clinton’s reputation is the quintessential witch hunt. I’m not talking about legitimate criticism of a political figure. Heck, there’s lots to criticize her about. But there are people out there – lots of people – who want her dead. They want to kill her, shouting out just about every ridiculous accusation, some of them right up there with “she turned me into a newt.” And she’s not the only woman at risk for being powerful – or just for speaking up. The women who came forward to out Trump’s sexual assaults have all gone into hiding, and the one who had the guts to bring a lawsuit has just dropped it. Hunted down, she gave up. She was legitimately afraid for her life.
If Trump is elected, who knows what will happen? Maybe there will still be due process in the States under Trump’s thumb. But let’s not forget that there is a cabal of FBI officers in New York City who orchestrated the bullshit “reopening” of the “investigation” into Clinton’s email server. If the highest law enforcement agency in the land so despises this woman that they would do something like that, what’s to stop Trump for having her arrested? Who’s going to protect her, if the agencies meant to protect people are all standing around doing nothing – like those Puritan figures with their backs turned to the woman in the flames?
And that’s what I found so scary, in my neighbours’ witch-hunt display: echoes not only of the past, but of an active present, and of a possibly-foreseeable future.