“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
Alexis de Tocqueville
As the summer winds down, America remains in the grip of a silo-bound public, each faction or tribe unable to converse with the other. The cultural polarity now extant forebodes a grim future for political discourse in the land. Democrats on the left fear that Trump will be reelected and Republicans fear that there will be a wave election and an impeachment of the man 77% of them support.
Friends who disagree with one another are suffering a sort of paralysis, a frightening stasis that many think will never disappear. As a child of the 40s and 50s, the worst possible scenario then was the menace from the USSR, the other superpower left standing at the conclusion of World War II, the US providing Marshall plan dollars for the recovery of a decimated Europe and to fight the spread of communism in places like Greece, Italy and even France. For a few years, actually, the United States was the most powerful nation in the world, indisputably the king of the hill from 1945, until the Russians exploded their first H-Bomb around 1954 with information garnered from Atom spies, including Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were electrocuted at Sing Sing prison after a sensational trial, in which the prosecutor, the judge and defense counsel all were Jewish. The prosecutor, Irving Kaufman, sought and won the death penalty (My father said he wanted to demonstrate Jewish Loyalty). The Rosenbergs were the only spies in the history the Untied States who were executed during peacetime.
Around that time, Joseph McCarthy and others, including the House Unamerican activities committee, probably the most Unamerican activity of all, summoned artists, writers, and political opponents of the government before it, to investigate whether they were infiltrated by Communists. People lived in fear of being denounced to paranoid J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which would then participate in reporting citizens to the House committee, engaged in a true witch hunt. A blacklist of many good writers and artists soiled the careers of many good Americans, their livelihoods indiscriminately destroyed.
This, of course, was a dark stain on our country. McCarthy ran wild, intimidating other members of congress, and even President Eisenhower remained silent while McCarthy paraded frightened witnesses in front of his Senate committee. Eisenhower said almost nothing until McCarthy was exposed by a courageous Boston lawyer named Joseph Welch, who, at a hearing in which McCarthy had besmirched a young associate of Welch’s at the prominent old line Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr. “Have you no decency, sir? At long last…” cried Welch.
It was all downhill for McCarthy from then on, and journalists such as the iconic Edward R. Murrow exposed McCarthy for what he was—a demagogic fraud. However, this persecution of Americans had gone on for a long while, until the truth emerged.
In those days, there was no social media, no Facebook, no Twitter, only Television, the force of which was moderated by responsible journalists at CBS, the doyenne of broadcast news. CBS had in addition to Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Harry Reasoner, and Walter Cronkite, who later emerged as “the most trusted man in American journalism.” These journalists, many of whom were print journalist veterans, checked their sources and had editors who checked them over again. Generally, with minor mistakes, the truth shone. The public knew that what they read had some veracity. The New York Times was then a more conservative organ, but still retained credibility and integrity. Today, Trumpists state it is a left wing rag. People on the left still believe it is the newspaper of record. The Wall Street Journal remains conservative, but now bears the imprimatur of Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, which many believe is now a propaganda outlet for the GOP and for Trump.
The point of all this is that each age has its difficulties, and many of them at the time seemed just as bad as our current administration. The noted historian Jon Meacham argues that in 1924, the Klu Klux Klan had 400 delegates seated at the Democratic National Convention.
These days, CNN and Fox News are competing for audience; print journalism is in jeopardy, local papers going out of business throughout America. Large news organizations are carrying the burden of reaching the public with a similitude of fact.
And the McCarthyesque President of the United States tells us that the press is the “enemy of the people.”
Making America great again is a relative term. On the one hand it has shown greatness. On the other, at times, it was not so great. A President who shows evidence of racism, who tweets hateful vituperation is not making America great again. He is returning us to our not so great days. I remember them well.