The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



The new McCarthyism

| Tuesday, May 2, 2017

By the winter of 1954, Joseph McCarthy had finally run out his string in Washington. The Wisconsin senator was catapulted to the national stage by a 1950 speech in which, channeling Robespierre, McCarthy displayed a paper purportedly containing a list of Communists at the State Department. McCarthy was the right, or rather the wrong, man for the time, as he exploited the paranoid American public’s resurgent fear of communism after World War II. Between the activities of McCarthy and other inquisitors, such as the appropriately-Orwellian House Un-American Activities Committee responsible for the Hollywood Blacklist, America was overtaken with a thoroughly foreign phenomenon — an inquisition. Yet eventually McCarthyism consumed itself. After his importune inquiry into US Army officers’ alleged communist sympathies, McCarthy’s wild zealotry began to receive serious negative media attention, and in December 1954, McCarthy was condemned by the Senate. His political reputation never recovered. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of his methods, which only slipped into a transitory abeyance.

McCarthyist fear-mongering and governance by accusation has made a resurgence in recent years. Just as the saga of Edward Snowden foreshadowed the rise of Trump by revealing the disconnect between the American state and common citizens, so too did it reveal how our government would attack someone beyond their physical remit, namely by the profusion, aided by useful idiots in the media, of unending calumnies, accusing Snowden of espionage for a foreign power and inventing only recently disproven tales about a putative time “gap” in Snowden’s Hong Kong sojourn, and impugning his skill and character. The strategy worked, as it prevented any real attention to the revelations of the outrageous powers accrued by our own Ministries of Peace and Love.

Perhaps emboldened by the success of the Snowden smear campaign, many in our government seem to have realized crying “the Russians did it!” is a powerful tool, at least in the short-term, to distract from misdeeds and subvert foes. Upon the repeated release of the Democratic Party’s internal communications, all mouthpieces were set towards blaming Russia and attempting to conjure an image of Putin and his stooge Trump cackling malevolently from a Kremlin tower. The Russian hacking storyline became Gospel truth on the news — entirely muscling out coverage of the mysterious killing of a 27 year-old Democratic National Committee employee — despite the absence of any proof positive of Russian hacking, a claim further undermined by recent revelations of the CIA’s ability to disguise the origin of cyber attacks. After the attempt to pin the DNC email leak on Russia proved insufficient to guarantee Clinton’s election and when the attempts to link Trump to the attacks never stuck, the unthinkable happened.

After Trump’s election, the new McCarthyism took on a new tenor and fury. In the deep state’s desperate efforts to link Trump with Russia, prior to Trump’s accession to office, his staff and offices were under surveillance and the Obama administration’s final days featured the forced profusion of NSA-obtained, Trump-related data throughout the alphabet soup agencies. Allegations continue to swirl, yet as the breathtaking investigation and surveillance Trump was subjected to reveal none of the evidence of treason they were meant to produce, the more important questions relate to the investigation itself. By what means, and by whose hands, were the Flynn conversations with the Russian Ambassador feloniously leaked? Additionally, who initiated the first requests to surveil Trump’s staff and offices, and to what purpose? And perhaps most importantly, what level of contact with Russia is allowed? Do I need to discreetly burn my copies of “Anna Karenina” and “The Brothers Karamazov?”

The long-term effects of political fear-mongering and tactical accusations are quite insidious. Living in a permanent witch hunt reduces our society to one of suspicion and fear, while the repetition of the same charges of foreign collaboration and treason eventually numbs the people’s ears to any such accusation. The dawn of the New McCarthyism forces Americans to a crossroads. The path we currently find ourselves on is that of the police state, where all live under constant surveillance both from state and neighbor, all watching all. It is a state where power belongs to the spy, the propagandist and their secret courts. It is a state where guilt is made by association and justice made by accusation. It is a state where all live with a constant gnawing dread of finding oneself on the wrong side of the mob justice that is public opinion and falling victim to the latest sensational accusation. The other path represents a rejection of our animal impulses towards fear, suspicion and obedience, and instead embraces the right to freedom of speech and thought, and liberation from fear, as Americans remember we are a free and uncowed people who live under the one shared absolute rule of law.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , , ,

About Devon Chenelle

Devon Chenelle is a senior, formerly of Keough Hall. Returning to campus after seven months abroad, Devon is a history major with minors in Italian and Philosophy. He can be reached at [email protected] - On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées.

Contact Devon