Professor draws political parallels throughout history
“Trump accused the Obama administration of tapping his calls in Trump Tower in Manhattan. As soon as that happened, I changed everything I was going to say,” said Prof. Daniel Breen (AMST) at the beginning of his discussion on Tuesday.
The media was shocked again by President Trump on March 4 when he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Breen had one statement in common –– “It is McCarthyism!” –– but the object of Breen’s criticism is President Trump.
Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy had great influence on American politics in the 1950s when the Cold War began. What made his name known to every household was his Wheeling Speech on Lincoln’s Day in 1950. “McCarthy waved a piece of paper that claim there were 205 known communists in the State Department,” described Breen, “but how many names were there? None! He made it up.” Later on, throughout his political career, he made the charge with no credible evidence at all but successfully gained the political advantage he desired.
What reminded Breen of this historical event more than 65 years ago is the fact that President Trump, following in McCarthy’s footsteps, did not provide any solid ground in his claim on Twitter. Breen inferred that this accusation was intended to distract the public’s attention from Russia’s influence on the presidential election, a similar motivation as Joseph McCarthy’s.
Even if the opposition party and the press persevered in trying to uncover the truth behind the story, firm supporters would in turn fire back by accusing them of lying, reporting fake news, or being bought, said Breen. “We are in the mess –– one lie leads to another lie, and leads to another, … with nobody knowing what is the way out of this.”
In the history of the United States, there were cases of “making something up, with no evidence at all,” but there were always figures standing with the truth, said Breen As examples, Breen told the stories of politicians who challenged the status quo. Louis D. Brandeis had the courage to catch President Taft’s little lie of having read a critical document in 1912, which became one of the reasons Taft lost the second presidential campaign. Bill William Benton had the courage to condemn McCarthy for cheating the public even when McCarthyism was at its peak. Margaret Chase Smith, as the only female in the Senate at the time, had the courage to deliver a Declaration of Conscience to criticize McCarthyism’s irrationality four months after the Wheeling Speech.
Their courage has been admired for long, with our University named after Justice Brandeis and living by the motto “Truth, even unto its innermost parts,” said Breen. Senator Benton was welcomed and congratulated — even if he lost his position in the Senate — and Senator Smith was later placed in nomination for the presidency by Republican Party.
Breen stated that instead of remaining silent, there are ways for civilians to defend social justice. Donating to the American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, is a meaningful approach, and supporting the press who dare speak the truth by purchasing a copy of the newspaper every week will also make a difference, said Breen. “We need somebody to stand up … to the side of the values and fundamental principle of our States.”