This Christmas I mourn the long, slow death of our democracy that led to the political ascendancy of Donald Trump. I fear the euphoria of those who have embraced the atavistic lust for violence and bigotry stoked by him. These nativist forces, part of the continuum of white vigilante violence directed against people of color and radical dissidents throughout American history, are once again being groomed as instruments of mass intimidation and perhaps terror. I know that our civil and political institutions, poisoned by neoliberalism and captured by the corporate state, have neither the will nor the ability to protect us. We are on our own. It won’t be pleasant.
A week ago in New York I spoke with Ellen Schrecker, the country’s foremost historian of McCarthyism and the author of “Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America,” “No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism & The Universities” and “The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University.”
“What am I seeing?” she asked about the nation’s political and cultural condition. “Am I seeing a replay of the McCarthy era? To a large extent some of the parallels are stunning. You can look at a figure like [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy, who symbolized a much broader repressive movement. I would say Trump plays the same role today for what really is a right-wing reactionary movement that has taken over the American government.”
“There are a number of fairly superficial comparisons we can make,” Schrecker went on. “I think both McCarthy and Trump are somewhat abhorrent characters—perhaps there’s a little sociopath involved there. McCarthy was a genius at working the press. He understood how to get himself on the front pages. He knew the deadlines that specific reporters had. He knew how to feed them stories. I think the parallels there are pretty obvious. Trump is a genius with regard to the media.”