This country is in the grips of hysteria and mob mentality the likes of which I have never seen.

Political "discourse" has always been filled with overblown rhetoric. In 2012, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was accused of wanting "to push Granny off a cliff." Republicans have routinely been accused of wanting poor people and black children to starve. It was inflammatory, but it was hyperbole, and (nearly) everyone knew it was hyperbole.

Now, however, these kinds of statements are being widely asserted as facts, justifying violence and deprivation of rights.

This week, Markos Moulitsas (of "Daily Kos" fame) tweeted, "The NRA and American conservatives/Nazis are one and the same." Someone on my Facebook feed wrote, "Beating up Nazis isn't alt-left; it's being a f—-ing American."

So all conservatives are Nazis, and should be beaten up?

It's bad enough when the targets of these hyperventilated accusations are people running for political office. But we've crossed a perilous line when friends and family turn on each other.

This week, someone I've known 30 years and never had a single disagreement with accused me on Facebook of not speaking out to "denounce" Nazis and white supremacists after Charlottesville.

I was stunned and furious. Let's see: I had been traveling and away from my family for the previous eight days and had come home to two kids starting school, an injured dog, a cat with diarrhea and God-only-knows how much laundry to do. But gosh, let me get right onto Facebook and virtue-signal a position (which should be OBVIOUS) on current events at the risk of being labeled a racist or Nazi sympathizer if I don't.

In the end, I just blocked him. I don't need mob hostility in my life.

But it's not the mobs we should fear; it's the puppet masters behind them.

There are those working behind the scenes to whip up these frenzies and exploit them. Terrified, angry people are easily turned into weapons.

This isn't about white supremacists or Confederate monuments. Once the current targets are removed or destroyed, the definitions will expand, the targets will change. It will be time to desecrate graves and remove memorials to other historical figures.

More seriously, the integrity of our political processes is at risk.

The real beef with President Donald Trump isn't "collusion" with Russia or tolerance of racists; those are just pretexts to get the rabble roused. Trump wasn't supposed to win. The failure of Americans last November to do as they were told does not sit well in some circles and must be corrected.

If the puppet masters are successful in taking out a duly elected president, they will be empowered to go further.

People are clamoring for some stability and sense. What should unite us is a renewed commitment to the Founders' greatest gift: the Constitution. The principles articulated therein provide far more protection than politicians or personalities.

The Constitution protects freedom of speech, even when the speakers hold nasty ideas with which most of us disagree.

It protects peaceful assembly and protests.

It protects the exercise of religious belief.

It protects the right of law-abiding citizens to be armed.

It protects our right to privacy and to own property without fear of government seizure.

I believe all human beings are created equal, and I will defend their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I will defend our system of government, the right to participate in it, the enforcement of properly enacted laws and the use of lawful procedures to change them.

So for those wondering what "side" I stand on, there's your answer.

Laura Hollis is a University of Notre Dame business and law professor. Her column is distributed by Creators Syndicate. The opinions are the writer’s.

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