March 17, 2023

THE NEW MCCARTHYISM: Today’s right-wing is using an old playbook

THE NEW MCCARTHYISM: Todays right-wing is using an old playbook

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Call it the “Blue Scare” – an intense effort by an ever more extreme right-wing, including leading politicos, far-right media, Christo-fascists, and online activists, to expunge any hint of liberalism within schools, government, and the media.

Under the guise of defending freedom from “woke-ism,” the ultra-conservatives and intense libertarians who have hijacked the Republican Party, pushing it further and further from the realm of reasonable civil debate, are now consistently employing the same type of language this country has seen before during two red scares:

  • One surrounding the rise and ultimate success of the Bolshevik Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Russia;
  • Another in the post-World War II era, which included the House Un-American Activities Committee (known as HUAC), Richard Nixon’s rise as an anti-communist crusader, and, of course, that scourge of American politics, Joe McCarthy, whose vicious scare tactics became known as “McCarthyism.”

Communists and anarchists were frequent scapegoats for practically any violent incident in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Bolshevism and unionism were inextricably linked in many people’s minds, and often unionizing was seen as dangerous or unpatriotic.

But it was the US entrance into World War I in 1917 that brought to the fore what is known as the First Red Scare.

That same year, in November, the Bolshevik Revolution succeeded in overthrowing Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov dynasty, sparking a two-year civil war in Russia, during which Nicholas and his family were executed.

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In the US, the end of World War I – the supposed “war to end all wars” – hardly brought a sense of calm.

Instead, fears of communism were everywhere.

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1919 proved to be a key year – bombs sent by mail to various government officials’ homes, plus May Day riots around the same time, made the public feel as if there was a Bolshevik Revolution afoot.

This led an enterprising attorney general with ambitions to become president, A. Mitchell Palmer, whose home had also been targeted, to become a rabid anti-communist and lead what became known as the Palmer Raids, arresting immigrants en masse and deporting them.

After World War II, as the Russians emerged as our main antagonist in the early Cold War period, another Red Scare occurred.

Nixon led HUAC during the Alger Hiss trial, which gripped the nation and made many Americans believe that communism had not just infected the State Department, but was also a virus spreading throughout the nation.

While some, like Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, testified against their colleagues, other writers, artists, and directors refused to cooperate and were blacklisted, including Dalton Trumbo, Orson Welles, and Lena Horne.

A senator with few morals – Republican Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin – seized on this opportunity to promote baseless conspiracy theories, claiming he had a list of 205 names of people within the State Department with communist ties.

McCarthy’s reign of terror went on until 1954, when he was finally undone when he stupidly tried to go after the armed forces, leading to this now-famous interaction between the senator and Joseph Welch, the special counsel for the Army:

It’s worth it to watch the full interaction, which can also be found on YouTube.

In case you did not know, by the way: McCarthy’s legal bulldog was none other than Roy Cohn, who would later go on to become a close friend and mentor to Donald Trump, whom he advised to engage in many of the same tactics he and McCarthy did in the 1950s.

McCarthy died not long after, in 1957. But Cohn lived into the 1980s, and, despite a lifetime filled with illegal acts and frivolous lawsuits, managed to keep his law license and never do a day in jail.

No wonder Dirty Donald looked up to him.

For a moment, consider some of what McCarthy said at the time:

McCarthy made comments such as, “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down.”

Now we have a different McCarthy to contend with – not so much a demagogue as a sycophant, but just as dangerous in his way as the senator.

Through his weakness, Speaker Kevin McCarthy will actually have a profound effect, enabling the more radical right-wing voices he serves, including figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene, and, of course, Donald Trump.

If you think this isn’t happening, you’re not paying attention.

Having heard Senator McCarthy’s clips from the 1950s, now take a look at some of the things that Trump and his leading contender for the Republican nomination, Ron DeSantis, have said:

These types of statements are not unusual for Trump: he has regularly posted such sentiments and repeats them through various media channels.

The one difference, you might say, between him and McCarthy is that McCarthy only targeted government leaders.

Trump, on the other hand, does not distinguish, labeling the entire “radical left” as an erosive force that must be expunged.

That means not just political leaders, but everyday people. It’s a culture war to the max.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has not only treated foreigners like lesser people but has also declared war on “woke-ism” and sought to rewrite the education curriculum in that state.

For him and others, Critical Race Theory – which is really only a historical lens that recognizes racism’s role in America’s formation – is something they cannot tolerate.

And, of course, we’re all being controlled by a communist, Xi Jinping:

Anyone who does not simply pledge allegiance to the flag, worship in their church, and follow their beliefs, must be the enemy and must be removed.

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They are a “cancer,” they say.

This is the same type of language that has preceded practically every dangerous time throughout history.

It’s both decisive and divisive: there is no compromising because they cannot compromise with the vermin that is us, the liberals.

What follows that? History tells us that whatever it is, it won’t be good.

Join Ross on Twitter as he continues to expose Trump, DeSantis, and the rest of the right-wing nutjobs. Just click on @RossRosenfeld.

Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.

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