For much of Trump’s campaign and Presidency, his words and methods have felt all-too familiar. In just the last 24 hours, he has remorselessly pulled out two of Joseph McCarthy’s best-known and most shameful tactics. Yesterday, it was firing off baseless accusations to ruin people. Today, it’s twisting their words to do the same. Every American should be asking themselves if Trump is trying to be the new McCarthy, because one time was more than enough, thank you very much.
Joseph McCarthy was the junior Senator from Wisconsin, who in the early 1950’s famously waved around stacks of papers, claiming that they contained the proof that an ever-changing number of members of the government were Communists. His groundless accusations and endless twisting of works ruined the lives of tens of thousands individuals who he publicly accused of being Communist sympathizers, Soviet spies, homosexuals, etc.
The mere mention of “McCarthyism” immediately conjures powerful memories of political witch hunts and ruined lives. It wasn’t just a metaphorical dark time. Americans sat glued to their black and white TV sets as Joseph McCarthy and his merry band of “un-American activities” activists ruined tens of thousands of lives through rumor, innuendo, slander, and lies. Huge swaths of Hollywood screenwriters and actors were blacklisted, unable to find any work, as a result.
There are two of McCarthy’s method that stand out in the harsh light of Trump’s behavior: shamelessly slandering someone with baseless accusations, and willfully disregarding the of context of someone’s words to rally the public against them.
Yesterday, we covered how Trump makes completely baseless accusations against anyone he deems a threat. In what can best be described as a Freudian slip, he accused former President Obama of McCarthyism while doing it himself. Today, Trump played the second card out of McCarthy’s deck, slandering someone by perverting their words out of context.
How often have we witnessed this from Trump? His early-morning tweet this morning against former President Obama is just one in an innumerable litany.
Who was it that secretly said to Russian President, "Tell Vladimir that after the election I'll have more flexibility?" @foxandfriends
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2017
What is the real context?
Yes, Mr. Obama did say these words, although not to Vladimir Putin. It was to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Here’s the full exchange:
Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.”
Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…”
Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.”
And the context was that the two were talking about negotiations between Russia and the United States over a NATO missile-defense shield in Russia. The Telegraph reported that these comments came at a time when
Russia has been strongly critical of plans for U.S.-led Nato missile defense in Europe. Russian officials believe the planned missile shield would target Russia’s nuclear deterrent and undermine global stability, while the U.S. insists the planned missile shield is intended to counter threats from Iran.
Mr Putin said earlier this month that Washington’s refusal to offer Moscow written guarantees that its missile defence system would not be aimed against Russia deepened its concerns.
In short, Mr. Obama was trying to buy some time with an adversarial foreign power to negotiate a way to protect our allies. That can hardly be called cozying up to Putin.
Context is critical, to everyone but Trump.
Over and over again, Trump has demanded that the world disregard the indescribably noxious things that come out of his mouth, arguing that we are all taking them out of context.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said directly into the camera during a news conference in 2016.
After public outcry, he told us “of course I’m being sarcastic.”
“And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the p*ssy. You can do anything,” he infamously said on camera for Access Hollywood.
Be afraid. Be very very afraid.
It has always been unclear whether McCarthy brought about his black plague upon American society out of a sense of hyper-vigilant duty to protect America, unchecked paranoia, or a sick addition to the attention his activities brought him. Either way, he was remorseless in claiming the moral high ground while destroying someone’s life for any perceived slight against the country, or against himself.
Is this sounding eerily familiar? In the case of Trump, his hyper-vigilant need to defend himself against any perceived slight, no matter how small, is coupled with a complete lack of empathy or awareness that he does unto others as no one may do to him. He can do no wrong, even in the face of video evidence of the exact contrary. Anyone else who crosses him is not only his enemy, but “enemy of the American people.” And he will gleefully whip his millions of fans into a frenzy with any lie that suits his fancy as long as it polarizes them against his newest target.
Same methods, different means, and almost no one to stop them. This man has the launch codes.
Featured images from Wikipedia Commons.