Long before Donald Trump was elected President, many were comparing his behavior to that of Joseph McCarthy, the 1950s U.S. Senator from Wisconsin best known for his Communist witch hunt. Joseph McCarthy attempted to expose alleged communists and others he suspected of subversion in the U.S. government.
It seems that the resemblance to Joseph McCarthy continues to grow as Trump stacks up more and more actions and statements that approximate those of McCarthy. Perhaps this should scare us even more than McCarthy scared us, because McCarthy was a Senator; Trump is our President.
McCarthyism is defined as “The practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.” The term tends to have a broader meaning in recent years – often used to describe demagogic attacks or unsubstantiated, reckless accusations against one’s adversaries, calling into question their patriotism or character. “Smearing American political institutions for political gain” (Carl Bernstein).
Joseph McCarthy was elected by appealing to the fears and prejudices of his base, many of whom felt alienated and unheard. Donald Trump was elected in a similar manner – by a base who believed he would be a voice for them. Trump maintains the support of his base in the same way – by exploiting their fears and resentments, and by demonizing those whom he has convinced them are their enemies.
McCarthy used tactics such as discrediting those who criticized him, and questioning the patriotism of those who didn’t support him. Like McCarthy, Donald Trump often belittles those who speak out against his behavior. In a recent tweet, for example, he referred to Senator Dick Durbin as “Little Dicky Durbin” when Durbin called Trump out for his remarks about “s***hole countries. More recently, Trump, though some say he was joking, lightly applied the idea of treason to the Democrats who weren’t applauding during Trump’s State of the Union Address.
Donald Trump continually smears immigrants, creating an unfounded connection between immigrants and crime, and fueling suspicion toward immigrants by his base. He stirs up resentment toward non-whites, as well as the LGBT community.
Trump ridicules Democrats, and Republicans when they disagree with him. The press, too, is a constant target, and Trump goes to great lengths to discredit them. Toward all of his perceived enemies, he hurls insults, profanity, and sarcasm. At the same time, like McCarthy, Trump seems to enjoy the publicity he receives when he’s repudiated by a critic.
We could write off Trump’s behavior as “eccentric,” or “speaking his mind” (or speaking his base’s mind) and leave it at that. In a couple of years, perhaps someone else will be elected, and a different group will complain. But Donald Trump’s words and actions cause more than just distaste among his opponents.
When Trump, the leader of our nation, promotes animosity and mistrust toward his critics, and when he ridicules those who cross him, he sows divisiveness among all Americans. When he seeks to undermine key government agencies and posts by casting even subtle doubt as to their integrity, he breeds chaos and further dissolves unity among us.
Donald Trump’s base, so far, defend and make excuses for him, no matter what. In Joseph McCarthy’s case, his constituents’ support for him eventually faded. McCarthy was disciplined. Will Donald Trump’s actions ever reach the point where even his current staunch supporters have had enough? As with Joseph McCarthy’s supporters, will Trump’s base ever reach the point where they no longer see the emperor’s clothes?
Understanding McCarthyism | Discovery Education [2015-09-15]
Donald Trump is the New Joseph McCarthy | HuffPost [2016-06-09]
Carl Bernstein Compares Trump to Joe McCarthy: ‘Authoritarian Demagogue’ | CNN [2018-02-07]