Those Who Choose Not To Remember The Past

Published: September 22, 2023

By Jim Lichtman
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Moderate House Republicans have been run over by their hard-right colleagues who continue their reckless abandonment of reason—all in fealty to a demagogue who, if he returns to the White House, will tear apart democratic principles in service to himself. The country has faced demagogues before.

On February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy stood before the County Women’s Republican Club in West Virginia and stated, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 [State Department employees] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

In the face of a Cold War with Russia, Americans first became fearful after the Soviets tested a nuclear device. McCarthy exploited that fear when—absent solid evidence—he subpoenaed, bullied, and badgered individuals he deemed enemies of the United States and the country bought into it . . . big time!

Annie Lee Moss was a communications clerk in the Pentagon when McCarthy called her before his committee to question her about her alleged membership in the communist party. A soft-spoken woman, Moss had difficulty with the questions and fumbled many of her responses suggesting just what McCarthy believed, that she was in fact a member of the communist party. While there was no solid evidence supporting McCarthy’s suggestions, his tactic of “guilt by association” took hold in the public’s minds which prompted this angry response from committee member Sen. John McClellan:

“You can’t strike these statements made by counsel here as to evidence that we’re having and withholding. You cannot strike that from the press nor from the public mind once it’s planted there. That’s the – that is the – evil of it. I don’t think it’s fair to a witness, to a citizen of this country, to bring them up here and cross-examine them, then when they get through, say ‘we’ve got something, the FBI’s got something on you that condemns you.’ It is not sworn testimony. It is convicting people by rumor and hearsay and innuendo.”

In today’s world, far too many Americans are lost in a haze of fear, conspiracies, and lies.

While McCarthy’s fearmongering came to an end when CBS News journalist Edward R. Murrow, today’s right-wing media is all too eager to exploit America’s fear for increased ratings.

The similarities between Sen. McCarthy and Donald Trump could not be more dangerously clear:

– McCarthy enjoyed publicity, especially negative.

– Trump loves negative publicity.

– McCarthy poisoned people’s minds with insinuation, baseless lies, and fear.

– Donald Trump excels at poisoning the hearts and minds of his staunchest supporters who don’t want to remember the past.

– The actions by both led many Americans to distrust individuals and government institutions, even intimidation and threats who work in those institutions.

– For four years, McCarthyism damaged the lives and careers of innocent Americans by rumor, assumption, and innuendo.

– Four years and counting and after an election he lost, Trump continues to hold a Svengali-like grip over both his supporters and far too many Republicans who know better but place Trump’s personality before principle in order to keep their jobs in Congress.

While Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism ultimately extinguished themselves from the political stage, we continue to wait for Trump and Trumpism to do the same.

Who will be our Edward R. Murrow, this time . . . and will anyone listen?


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