Sixty-one years ago, during the height of the Cold War, Americans were terrorized by a burly demagogue named Joe McCarthy, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.
McCarthy specialized, as you probably remember, in recklessly labeling people Communists, and hauling suspects up before his infamous subcommittee. To be accused of being a Communist in 1954 was roughly equivalent to being identified as a member of ISIS today.
Many lost jobs, their livelihood, their families. McCarthy got more and more reckless. Finally, he smeared a young man who worked for a prestigious Boston law firm, one of whose partners was Joseph Welch, at the time General Counsel for the Army.
The idea was that the only way anyone could survive was to throw other people to the wolves. But Welch faced McCarthy down, and in one of broadcast history’s most famous exchanges, asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
Suddenly, millions saw who and what McCarthy was. Before long, he was censured by the Senate, lost his power, and swiftly drank himself to death.
Well, I was reminded of all that this week by the disgraceful actions of a clown posing as a presidential candidate, and the appalling way some leaders of the Michigan Republican Party have behaved in reaction.
Donald Trump has been famous largely as a glitzy developer who has sought to become a pop culture icon. We’ve endured his self-aggrandizement, parade of wives, ex-wives, children and girlfriends, and boorish behavior.
He’ll be seventy next year and in a bid for more publicity, is now running for president. It’s doubtful whether he really wants or expects to win, but he does want attention.
And he’s figured out how to get it, first by saying that immigrants from Mexico are, quote,
“rapists” who are bringing drugs and crime to this country, adding, “and some, I assume, are good people.”
That should have been the end of his candidacy, but it wasn’t.
Now, Trump has launched an unbelievable series of attacks on his fellow Republican, Senator John McCain, saying ,
“he’s not a war hero,” and sneering at him because he was taken prisoner, saying ‘I like people who weren’t captured.”
In fact, McCain suffered more in captivity than perhaps any other American prisoner in Vietnam. He was brutally tortured after his plane was shot down, spent more than five years in captivity and still suffers the aftereffects.
Trump, who was born to wealth, spent the Vietnam War as a playboy in New York City. You’d think every Republican would be shunning Trump. But instead, he’s coming to Michigan next month to speak to the Genesee and Saginaw County Republicans.
Asked about this by the Gongwer news service, GOP chairs Amy Carl of Saginaw and Michael Moon of Genesee indicated they were thrilled.
“He’s so bold in his delivery,” Carl gushed, bizarrely calling Trump a “no-nonsense type of speaker.” Moon said “My job as the county chair is to get as many candidates in as I can get in.”
Well, I don’t know either of these chairs, but I know that they too need to be asked: At long last, have they no sense of decency? Sadly, it would appear that the answer is clear.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.