Paul Bardinas: Masters at exploiting irrational fears

Published 12:17 am Sunday, August 21, 2016

By Paul Bardinas

Special to the Salisbury Post

“Have you no decency, sir, at long last?”

Joseph Welch’s words best encapsulated Sen. Joe” McCarthy in 1954 and Donald Trump today.

McCarthy capitalized on Cold War fears of the time and rose to prominence by making wild assertions that large numbers of Communists and spies had infiltrated the country and government. He falsely and recklessly accused his critics and his political opponents of being communist sympathizers, un-American or homosexuals. His tactics violated people’s civil liberties and ruined the lives and careers of many of his targets.

Today we associate McCarthyism with demagogic, reckless and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.

The glaring parallels between McCarthy and Donald Trump cannot be ignored.

Trump rose to political prominence by becoming the unofficial spokesman of the “birther” movement, an effort from the right to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency by falsely accusing the president of being born in Kenya, of being a Muslim and of sympathizing with our enemies. In a recent poll, 72 percent of Republicans polled still believe the president was not born in the United States, despite all evidence to the contrary, thanks in part to the efforts of Trump.

The parallels hardly end there, however. Trump routinely makes patently false accusations about many of his opponents, like the claim that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, a Cuban immigrant, was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, for which no evidence exists.

He recklessly refers to Secretary Clinton as a crook, despite her never having been charged or convicted with a crime. Now he has begun pushing conspiracy theories about her health.

Trump, like McCarthy, seeks to exploit irrational fears to demonize immigrants, refugees and Muslims. He promises to defeat ISIS and restore law and order, but at what expense? He approves of torture; contemplates the use of nuclear weapons; wants to build a wall and deport 11 million people; and has said we should ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S.

In his latest speech he hinted at his willingness to suspend the rights of free speech and due process for citizens he suspects of being sympathetic to terrorism and promises to deal with them “viciously.” To Trump, the ends seem to justify the means.

He now wants to cast doubt on our electoral process by making the claim that if he loses the upcoming election it will be because the election is rigged, despite there being no evidence or the fact that polls clearly show his opponent in the lead.

Trump called the president the “founder” of ISIS — a reckless statement he repeatedly stated as a fact. The group was formed shortly after the invasion of Iraq and while an argument could be made that the decision to remove troops from Iraq in 2011 may have exacerbated the threat, that decision was actually made by the former President Bush.

Like any good hypocrite, Trump neglected to point out that he, too, advocated for the same position as early as 2007, repeatedly calling for the removal of all troops in Iraq.

Of course these lies are deliberate, because Trump’s goal is to perpetuate his false narrative that delegitimizes our first black president by accusing him of sympathizing with Islamic terrorists or casting doubt about his birthplace, religion and patriotism.

Trump, like McCarthy, lacks any common decency and is perfectly willing to resort to personal and vulgar attacks. Whether mocking a physically challenged reporter, insinuating a debate moderator is menstruating because she asked him a tough question, disrespecting a former POW who disagrees with him, questioning a judge’s impartiality because of his race or attacking the parents of a fallen soldier who challenge his policies, there appears to be no limit to how low he will sink.

McCarthy was ultimately undone by the free press and journalists like Edward R. Murrow, who exposed him for what he was and the danger he posed, but not before McCarthy would viciously attack and falsely accuse them of conspiring with Communists.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that as our free press now begins to scrutinize Trump’s reckless claims and false statements, or to raise legitimate questions about his ties to Russia and why he refuses to share his tax returns, that he would punch back in the only way Trump can, by falsely accusing them of conspiring against him and attacking them.

Thankfully, we still have a free press and there is no excuse for ignorance. Trump’s words, statements and behavior, whether on TV or Twitter, are available with just a few clicks of the keyboard. It is incumbent on every responsible citizen to soberly deliberate this choice and cast a vote against this demagogue.

History will judge us.

Paul Bardinas is president of Freirich Foods in Salisbury.