If you are old enough to remember Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy then you are old enough to know better. Any cursory review of history focusing on America in the early to min-fifties should make one think. Are we trying to relive that page of one of our least proud historical moments? A time when America, the nation that defeated Germany and Japan and actually did make the world safer for democracy, stood tall as a City on a Hill. Did we learn anything or create a better country because of Senator McCarthy? We definitely moved forward after Senator Joe’s passing and in spite of his time filled with lies and deceit. We had union jobs, decent wages, purchased homes, cars, televisions and more. We took our families out for Sunday drives, sent our children to high school and many on to college. We had family dinners on Sunday and managed to eat out occasionally and hit the neighborhood bar for a beer after work. The good life or at least a satisfying life and the understanding that as a country we were the best prevailed despite McCarthyism. That’s how we saw ourselves but do we still see ourselves that way or have the fear and distrust created under McCarthyism returned? Are we heading back into the 1950’s and forgetting the worst parts?
Are the current government actions and policies in our country leading us toward a new McCarthyism? Are the ethical practices emanating from Washington and many of our leaders all that different from the deceitful tactics used by McCarthy not that long ago?
President Trump and several in the Republican leadership act similar by echoing Senator McCarthy’s unsubstantiated claims and attacks on people who speak out against their actions or merely offer a differing opinion. Attacks on the media calling it fake in an effort to discredit what are factual reports denies any truth. Lifelong journalists are discredited for reporting the facts. Patriotism used as a lever to garner support is not patriotism but rather a refuge for scoundrels. McCarthy used fear of communism to gain acceptance and support for his witch hunts. Oftentimes he destroyed people’s reputations and careers for his own gain. When he attacked the military with baseless claims his support began to falter. President Trump has attacked his predecessor, President Obama, with false and baseless accusations while making claims of his own greatness. He has demanded loyalty from those around him but will discard them like old shoes when it fits his needs. He is now attacking the Federal Bureau of Investigation for essentially doing it’s job. The FBI has generally been viewed as professional and most competent. Today the FBI not only continues in it’s roll as the major law enforcement agency but also our primary anti-terrorist agency. The fear used in our current time is not anti-communism but fear of the established order. At the same time he, his family and friends in Congress epitomize the very wealthy “establishment” and attempt to change the established order to their further benefit. Health care is viewed as available and intended for those who can afford it. Those who criticize this are labeled liars or incompetent. We have even descended to the point where political rivals are called out as criminals by the winners. Senator McCarthy was a person who harmed our form of government by using his public position for his evil selfish objectives. Are many of our current leaders as bad or even worse? McCarthy was elected from one state. Our President was elected by the nation albeit without winning the popular vote. What does that say about us, the public?
Going after the integrity of our military did not work so well for McCarthy. We’ll know soon if attacking the integrity of the FBI works for Mr. Trump. If it does our government will have diminished significantly. If he fails in his McCarthyism efforts, and I believe he will, then our democracy will continue though perhaps damaged and weakened. McCarthyism and Joseph McCarthy are viewed in hindsight as a terrible period and his actions as despicable. This time will the lessons of history be learned and understood? Hopefully they will. The fear in the fifties was baseless just as our current fears are misplaced. Life is different now but if we stop the blame game, we can find a satisfying life again. A life in which we again vote for honorable people even if we don’t always agree.