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Hawaii Uh-Oh

In 1938, so the story goes, America nearly scared itself to death when "the Mercury Theatre on the Air enacted a Martian invasion of Earth." Orson Welles' radio play took the form of simulated news bulletins, but its content provoked mass hysteria.   Mass hysteria is not a thing of the past and there have been numerous outbreaks since all the way into the 21st century. In 2016 an epidemic of hundreds of "evil clown" sightings in the U.S. and Canada eventually spread to " Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South America."

Mass hysteria can affect even politics, and historians cite the Red Scare as an example how whole populations can see danger where none existed.   But if mass hysteria can happen once in politics, surely it can happen again.  There are indications we are living through another "scare" period, though historians have not yet given this one a name.

In early 2017, traumatized by the election of Donald Trump, some media observers concluded the West was leaderless and repeatedly proclaimed German Chancellor Angela Merkel the new Leader of the Free World.

When Barack Obama revealed that his last phone call as President was to Angela Merkel, reaffirming their alliance and friendship of the last eight years, he wasn’t just saying goodbye. He was handing over his baton. The German Chancellor isn’t just the leader of Europe, she is now the de-facto leader of the free world.

The thrice-elected, soft-spoken former scientist from East Germany, armed with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, doesn’t just carry the weight of Germany and Europe on her shoulders, but that of defending freedom and liberalism across the world.

As with the 1938 radio play, the repeated coverage fed into itself.  In March of 2017, Politico headlined a meeting between Merkel and the U.S. president: "The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump."   The acclamation for the German leader did not abate until September 2017, when Merkel's party had lost so many seats in a disastrous German election her political fate was in doubt.

Since Donald Trump moved into the White House in January, many hot takes and think pieces have dubbed German chancellor Angela Merkel the new leader of the free world. This sentiment, echoed ...  by Hillary Clinton ... [was undermined by her] party’s unexpectedly weak showing and in the frighteningly strong performance of the far-right, explicitly xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The Economist ruefully concluded that "Germany is not new leader of the free world."  No one seemed to consider that the position of Leader of the Free World was not an actual office but nothing more than a journalistic expression coined by Frank Capra and now replaced in general usage by the notion of the "international community".  The world continued to turn on its axis and nothing much happened.