I may be getting older, but I'm not old enough to have been around when Sen. Joe McCarthy had his reign of terror in the early 1950's, but watching President Trump reminds me of some of the things I have read about that period. Trump is not only old enough to remember McCarthy, for years the Senator's chief council at that time, Roy Cohn, was also Trump's lawyer.
Like McCarthy, Trump makes wild accusations with absolutely no proof. The Republican Party was as terrified of opposing McCarthy as it is to oppose Trump today. Also like McCarthy, Trump seems invincible. It turned out that McCarthy wasn't invincible, but it took brave Republicans to show us. Today, the term "brave Republican" is an oxymoron.
Trump apparently learned well from McCarthy and Cohn. From 1950 to 1954, McCarthy basically held the country hostage. If anyone dared oppose him, he labeled them a Commie Sympathizer, or an outright Communist. Once so labeled, that person's life was destroyed. It got to the point that even being called to testify before the committee could ruin someone.
To be honest, their were American Communists at the time, and some of them were aiding the Soviet Union. It's also true that the threat they posed was far less as serious as McCarthy made it out to be. He merely saw the fear the threat of Communism that people had, and exploited it. Sound familiar?
Popular culture credits Edward R. Murrow of CBS with bringing McCarthy down, but two others also played a role. One was Senator Margaret Chase Smith, and the other was attorney Joseph Welch.
As early as 1950, Sen. Smith, a Republican colleague of McCarthy saw the threat he posed. She gave a speech that year on the Senate floor that she called, "A Declaration of Conscience". The words she spoke 69 years ago are what we need to hear today.
Here is how she opened. "It is high time we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom." In today's hyper partisan climate in Washington, those words should be posted at every entrance to the House and Senate chambers.
Smith could have been describing Donald Trump or his enablers when she said, "Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism."
She ended with a warning that is just as relevant today as it was in 1950. "It is time 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."
As true as those words were then and now, no one listened until 1954 when McCarthy turned his wrath on the Army and allowed the hearings to be televised. Millions of Americans watched as attorney Joseph Welch destroyed McCarthy with these words, "Until this moment Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"
All those years ago, a woman from the Northeast, and an attorney had the courage to stand up to a national bully. We could use Margaret Chase Smith and Joseph Welch today.