Since the 1950s, former Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy’s last name has been synonymous with political demonization and scare tactics. In his attempt to find Communists in our midst, he deployed a litany of insults, threats, and strong-arm tactics in a thuggish attempt to get alleged Communists to “name names” of their fellow travelers.
It just so happens that Joe McCarthy was right. Communists had infiltrated everything from the State Department to Hollywood. When it came to Hollywood, Vladimir Lenin famously felt that cinema’s emotional potency and accessibility to even illiterate people made it the most important art for Communists to exploit.
It was, therefore, less than surprising when Communists began to recruit and organize in Tinseltown, working tirelessly to spread their message among “influencers” that could put their message before millions — they were sort of like the Scientologists of the 1930s and 40s.
Donald Trump is not wrong either. After all, radical Presbyterians are not the ones posing a grave threat to the US. And we haven’t been spectacular at determining threats through customs and immigration.
Yet McCarthy and Trump also share the same malignant trait — no, not just egomania or overstatement or self-aggrandizement or little thought for the unintended consequences of their actions: they both have (had) a habit of swatting flies with Buicks.
How did that work out for McCarthy? While catching relatively few Communists, McCarthy did manage to make lifelong enemies of generations of Hollywood talent. The very influencers who the Communists sought to enlist have, for decades now, been more sympathetic to Communists than to Joe McCarthy — and who can blame them after what he did to their friends, co-workers, and families? To the extent Hollywood and mass entertainment media have been reflexively critical of America, we can thank Joe McCarthy.
Why would Trump expect a different result? In a best-case scenario — if Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration successfully drained the swamp of potential terrorists — the scars would be lasting and have deep repercussions. If Hollywood can’t forgive Joe McCarthy, what are the odds America’s Muslims would forgive Trump’s half-baked, half-assed policy? How much of a precedent would Trump have set for future Americans to uniformly discriminate based on religion?
Trump’s proposal is merely the bomb throw of someone distinctly unfamiliar with realistic options for national security, so examine it as a serious policy is to unwind a very small, unspooling ball of yarn — beginning with the policy’s unenforceability and ending with its failure to reconstitute the ways we can track terrorists without displacing, depriving or negatively affecting the innocent. To delve into those details is a waste of time because there is one big difference between Joe McCarthy and Donald Trump. McCarthy had power — Trump doesn’t.
Trump’s proclamation, not coincidentally timed with a slight drop in his polls, does nothing but divert us into serious discussions about an unserious man. Trump is a political red herring. He huffs and puffs about blowing the Constitution down, but his self-serving postures should only serve to remind us why there even is a Trump phenomenon. Trump is the avatar for people fed up with a president befuddled by Russia’s aggression, Iran’s negotiation, and China’s manipulation; a president surprised by the failure of his decisions to drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan; a president who responds to terror attacks with defiant climate change conferences and James Taylor; a president who can’t make up his mind whether or not to arm the Ukraine or the Kurds, whether or not Assad must go and whether or not Afghanistan is worth fighting for. Inasmuch as Barack Obama was a response to George W. Bush, Trump’s Falstaff is a strong rebuke to Obama’s Hamlet.
If Trump gets elected president, the country will have something to worry about. But as he already trails the Democratic frontrunner by as much as 11 percentage points, shouldn’t we be more worried about the candidate who is inches away from an indictment?
Chris writes regularly at The Havok Journal in addition to hosting The Weekly Havok podcast. He is a former nightclub bouncer, firefighter, corporate security trainer, and prison chaplain. He has done stand-up, been homeless for extended periods of time, had screenplays optioned, and gotten married. He was also in the military and spent 33 months in foreign combat zones, earning a Bronze Star in Afghanistan. He has written one book, edited another, and is working on a third. He can be reached at Savage Wonder.