An Unheeded Warning

Published: October 27, 2017

By Jim Lichtman
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“Mr. President, I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide, and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the legislative branch or the executive branch of our Government. …

“I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American.”

That’s Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith, June 1, 1954, speaking to the Senate in a call to action against Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s demagogic pursuit to uncover and prosecute Communists in all corners of the federal government and American life.

Reading Smith’s Declaration of Conscience, it’s easy to see similarities between past and present Washington.

“The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world,” Chase Smith said. “But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity. …

“…too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism. …

“I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its Members to do some soul searching—for us to weigh our consciences—on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America…

“I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. … Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others. …

“The Nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny: fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear. …

“It is high time,” Chase Smith concludes, “that we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom. It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques—techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.”

Chase Smith was joined in her declaration by Senators Charles Tobey (NH), George Aiken (VT), Wayne Morse (OR), Irving Ives (NY), Edward John Thye (MN) and Robert C. Hendrickson (NJ).

When the records of McCarthy’s closed hearings were made public in a 2003 report, Senators Susan Collins and Carl Levin wrote, at the end of the preface:

“Senator McCarthy’s zeal to uncover subversion and espionage led to disturbing excesses. His browbeating tactics destroyed careers of people who were not involved in the infiltration of our government. His freewheeling style caused both the Senate and the Subcommittee to revise the rules governing future investigations, and prompted the courts to act to protect the Constitutional rights of witnesses at Congressional hearings… These hearings are a part of our national past that we can neither afford to forget nor permit to recur.”

Well, they have recurred in the image and style of another demagogue, and unless Republicans grow a backbone and take a stand for the sake of the country, we will continue to watch, unabated, a president who governs by whim and attacks anyone and anything that dares to whisper a word of criticism.

On Tuesday, Republican Senator Bob Corker told a CNN reporter that Trump has quite possibly put the U.S. “on a path to World War III.”

Truth or hype?

When you have a sitting U.S. President, who, in a speech to the General Assembly at the United Nations, literally threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea; when that same president sends out a tweet dismissive of his own Secretary of State, saying “that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” adding, “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” (Oct. 1, 2017), Corker’s observations warn of a clear and present danger.

Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s speech to the Senate that same day should serve as a wake-up call to all Republicans who care about the future stability of the country – the entire country – they were elected to serve.

And Trump’s response?

“The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt & wounded!”October 25, 2017

This is not about winning or losing, Republican or Democrat. This is about a president totally lacking in dignity, respect, responsibility and compassion, with absolutely no moral sense when it comes to dealing with anyone: from his own advisors to foreign leaders; from his own party’s leadership to a grieving military widow.

Trump has, in fact, only one approach: whatever works — whatever works on any given day, hour or moment to please his supporters and his self-aggrandizing instincts.

Want to get some attention: forget about the time-bomb you created with North Korea; instead, tweet about NFL players peacefully protesting.

Want to show “the base” who’s tough: tweet derogatory words to members of your own party while those same members are trying to implement your agenda.

Want to really show who’s tougher: tweet a criticism to a 24-year-old military widow challenging her impression of what you told her in a phone call about the husband she lost overseas and then double-down on that criticism.

Sadly, Trump Republicans care more about their ideological identity to a man with no moral compass than to the core conservative principles they espouse. Worse, character doesn’t count — not with a president who empowers white supremacy, undercuts voting rights, boasts of sexually attacking women, believes it would “be nice to get along with Russia” after they meddled in our election, and attacks a free press as fake even as he shamelessly lies.

Will the president change his ways, buckle down and act, well… like a respectful, responsible leader?

After nine months in office, I give Trump “zero chance.”


  1. Jim, thanks for reminding us of our history. I don’t want to be doomed to repeat it.

  2. As bad as it was for Republican Senator Margaret Chase-Smith in June 1, 1954, your blog gives me some HOPE that if we survived that period, we will survive this one, also.

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