That Was Then - This Is Then | THE POLITICUS

That Was Then - This Is Then

Two historical thugs

Bad Joe

Yesterday, May 2, was a milestone anniversary for any student of history. On May 2, 1957 - sixty years ago - The junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, died at the Bethesda Naval Hospital at the age of forty-eight. McCarthy, whose entire adult life had been plagued by the disease of alcoholism, had increased his intake demonstrably in the last three years of his life. The 1954 confrontation with the U.S. Army that he foolishly engineered wound up being his fatal overstep. After a nearly six year career of slander and innuendo, destroying the lives and careers of scores of government officials and politicians  with false accusations of disloyalty. It commenced in 1949 when McCarthy, then still a freshman senator, remarked in a cursory speech to a women's group in Wheeling, West Virginia that he had in his hand a list of 219 employees of the State Department who were active members of the American Communist Party. It was all nonsense, of course, but like a strung-out jazz musician who had finally discovered the "new sound", poor old, drunken Joe had found the new cause.

 
"Are you now or have you ever been
a member of the Communist Party?"
 


Good Joe

In June of 1954 Joe made the astounding claim that the United States Army was crawling with commies. During the historic, two-month-long, Army/McCarthy Hearings during the Spring of that year, the gasbag from Wisconsin finally met his match in the form of the Army's counsel, Joseph N. Welsh. When McCarthy let loose with the charge that a young lawyer in Welsh's Boston law firm, Fred Fisher, was a card carrying communist, Welsh came back with words that tolled the bells of doom for the embattled senator. Bear in mind that when Welsh uttered these damning words, every home in the United States with a television set (and millions more with a radio) were tuned in to the unfolding drama. Looking at ancient kinescopes of those hearings today, it must have been a riveting spectacle to witness live:

 
"Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
 
You can see at this point McCarthy literally dissolving in humiliation. At that moment, Tail Gunner Joe's career as a senator effectively ended. A good and decent New England lawyer named Joseph Welsh had exposed him for all time and eternity as the contemptible scoundrel he was.

He was dead in three years.
 
I wanted to write about this yesterday but  was completely distracted by the continuing implosion of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Sixty years of historical research tells us that Senator McCarthy was mentally ill. More than anything he was a figure of pity. In the era he lived, he wasn't the despised  demagogue we recoil at today. He had a huge following of friends and admirers who filled any arena that he spoke in. More than hated (at least publicly) he was deeply feared by his enemies. Only in hindsight does Joe McCarthy come sharply into focus as the comical oaf and buffoon he is viewed as today. Sixty years later it is difficult to imagine anyone ever taking the decrepit, rumpled  old bastard seriously.

It's ironic that in 1954 there was only one Joe McCarthy. In 2017 the halls of congress are, quite literally, crawling with McCarthy wannabes. Things have gotten that completely weird.

It didn't take the rest of us too long to understand what a complete, demagogue and fool Donald Trump is - or, at least, those of us who bothered to pay attention. Between the years 1947 and 1957, as unhinged and dangerous as old Joe was as a politician in the national spotlight, no one seriously thought that there was even a molecule of a chance that he would one day find himself living in the Executive Mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here's a little historical comparison to ponder: One of the more alarming developments regarding the new Trump administration is the fact that they have been gutting the State Department. Career diplomats with an accumulated centuries worth of experience between them have been given the axe. The same thing happened during the era of the communist witch hunts in the fifties. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, untold scores of people at State were sent packing by paranoid right wing politicians of both parties. The result was the foreign policy disasters of the sixties and seventies, Vietnam being the most notable debacle.

“Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it."
 
George Santayana
 
Roy Boy
`

I think it is instructive that one of Trump's early and most imporatant mentors was Roy Cohn. In case you've forgotten him, he was a key player in McCarthy's "investigating" committee. Roy was as about as despicable a creature that ever snaked its way through the moldy pages of the American history books. He and some jackass named David Schine made headlines during the fifties when, with McCarthy's blessing, they went on a crusade, plundering American libraries all over Europe, purging the shelves of all books that were not, to their twisted viewpoint, ideologically "pure".  A closeted homosexual he would take gleeful pleasure from destroying the careers of other closeted homosexuals - whether through blackmail or exposure. Trump has always said that Cohn's influence on him was incalculable. Two birds of a rancid feather. Cohn died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of fifty-nine, adamantly denying his sexuality till the very end - the worst kept secret in his hometown of New York City.

Over the past weekend it has become clear to the most casual observers that there is something seriously, psychologically wrong with Donald Trump - although this has been obvious for decades to those of us who bother to pay attention. But his scattered thought and speech patterns have become even more alarming than usual. Donald Trump personifies what we've allowed ourselves to become as a nation. He is the roadmap to where we are heading. I've got a little hint for you: It's not a good place.

This is going to end badly. Get used to living in a country in ruins. Enjoy your stay in Idiot Nation.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGGESTED READING:

No Sense of Decency: The Army/McCarthy Hearings
By Robert Shogan

How Joe McCarthy was taken down by Joseph Welsh, and the moment television became a  major force in breaking news.

AFTERTHOUGHT:

Yesterday was also the forty-fifth anniversary of the passing of McCarthy's pal, the red-baiting, uber racist director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Ain't American history a riot?



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