September 28, 2017
In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy’s “House Un-American Activities Committee” hung like a noose around the liberal establishment’s neck, ready to draw tight at a witness’s refusal to name his associates in the Communist Party. Initially McCarthy went after bona fide party members, but as the Red Scare deepened, HUAC expanded its reach and began going after anyone suspected of being a little too left for comfort. Artists, peace activists, labor organizers, or just anyone who questioned McCarthy’s methods: they were all suspect. Suddenly, there was a communist hiding under every bed.
Ultimately, McCarthy was disgraced and banished from politics, and the word “McCarthyism” entered the lexicon as a word meaning a culture of denunciation and fear, a method of silencing one’s political opponents through public interrogation and guilt-by-association. Perhaps we thought we’d left the witch hunts of those days behind with the Cold War and hula hoops. If so, we were wrong.
November 2016: In the first days after Donald Trumps election, he began receiving unwelcome gestures of support from far-right political figures. They included white supremacist Richard Spencer, who concluded, from some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric on immigration, that a President Trump would be favorable to Spencer’s white identity politics. Trump was perceived as being slow to denounce Spencer and has made a series of political missteps on race since then, culminating with his equivocal remarks following a mass demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Continue reading