What Millard Tydings and William Benton Tell Us About Bob Corker and Jeff Flake
It is helpful for fresh truth to enter the body politic through the bursts of conscience by Republican Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. And, to their credit, each accepted a share of blame for enabling the rise of Trump.
But we did not need Corker to tell us that Trump is an “utterly untruthful president” who “debases the country.” We witness this daily. A narcissist must protect and polish his vanity by any means; if he admits a flaw, the entire construct of his world collapses. Trump’s pathology will not allow him to explain why he made no public comment on the deaths of four American heroes in Niger, nor can he apologize for the oversight, nor can he seize the moment to eulogize the fallen. He can, however, falsely accuse President Obama of such dereliction of humanity. His incessant self-love requires that he hector a grieving widow and label her truth-telling congresswoman as “wacky.” That Barack Obama, Myeshia Johnson and Frederica Wilson are African American amounts to extra brownie points; his racist-filled base will adore him exponentially.
That this degrades our nation and wounds our civic souls is of no concern to Donald Trump. Despite his privileged access to the finest schools in America, he displays a breathtaking ignorance of history; the honor of leading the nation has imbued in him no sense of duty or dignity. He simply must “win the moment” the way he has always done it – through lies, deflection, and shameless malice.
The narcissist, of course, has surrounded himself with enablers. “I can definitively say the president is not a liar,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, scores of Republicans warned that Trump was a fraud. Ohio Governor John Kasich has continually refuted Trump on both moral and policy grounds, including the president’s sabotage of Obamacare.
This month, after Trump announced the end to key ACA payments to insurers, a frustrated Kasich said, “These were payments to insurance companies to make sure that hardworking Americans, who don't make a lot of money, can have their co-payments taken care of. Does he understand the impact this has on families, on people?”
To Kasich’s further credit, he has called out his own party’s epic failure to offer a workable and humane alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Trump actually reading a healthcare bill, Jimmy Kimmel said recently, is about as likely as your dog doing your taxes.
The eloquence of Nicole Wallace and Steve Schmidt and Ana Navarro and David Brooks gives us faint hope that principled Republicans can save their party from its injurious extremism. Their voices have not wavered, from Trump’s 2015 escalator ride that prefaced a false and self-serving nativist attack on Mexican immigrants to his sickening embrace of Charlottesville Nazis.
A legion of Republican foreign policy experts and State Department officials (many of whom voted for Hillary Clinton) warned us that candidate Trump’s ignorant and reckless rhetoric would undermine vital international alliances. They are not surprised that after Trump’s buffoonery at the G-7 meeting in May, an exasperated German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed, “The times in which we could rely fully on others are over.” Nor are they shocked at Trump’s adoration for some of the world’s most despicable despots (el-Sissi, Duterte, Putin). Nor are they caught off guard by Trump’s childish jabs at South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Professor Stephan Haggard, a Korea expert at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, said, “You’ve got this massive crisis and the President of the United States is basically undermining the alliance. It’s appalling. Rather than standing in solidarity with Moon Jae-in, he’s badmouthing him.”
Trump has much in common with another serial liar, the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy falsified his military record in World War II (he wrote his own commendations, which he said came from Admiral Chester Nimitz; claimed 32 aerial missions that never happened; and passed off a broken leg he sustained in a drunken state as a war wound). Trump’s incessant puffery, including his “fake Renoir,” is a telling parallel.
McCarthy’s rise as a Republican politician in Wisconsin was fueled by astounding duplicity and calculated smears against his opponents.
Tail Gunner Joe (1977) is an Emmy-winning television movie about McCarthy that you can view on YouTube. You might recognize Peter Boyle, from Young Frankenstein and Everybody Loves Raymond in the title role!
McCarthy’s great damage to the nation, of course, was his Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s, an exploitation of fear that destroyed lives and debased the nation. His zealotry to weed out subversives and homosexuals and other enemies of the state was abetted by an adoring base that cast him as savior of the country.
This week, I purchased a 1926 Millard Tydings button from eBay. By 1950, Tydings was a respected, four-term Senator from Maryland who was both high-minded and ahead of his time. In 1934, while President Franklin Roosevelt and his State Department were calculatedly looking the other way, Tydings introduced a resolution condemning Nazi oppression of Jews. Further, he called on FDR “to inform the Hitler government that this country was profoundly distressed about its anti-semitic measures.” Post-war, Tydings was an early advocate for nuclear disarmament. He called for Puerto Rico’s independence as early as 1936.
In February 1950, the Senate established a subcommittee, chaired by Tydings, to investigate McCarthy’s claim that he had a list of 81 traitors working in the State Department. After four months of hearings, the committee (forever known as the “Tydings Committee”) found no evidence of pro-Communist activity. Tydings, in a prescient rebuke, labeled McCarthy a fraud whose tactic was “to confuse and divide the American people…to a degree far beyond the hopes of the Communists themselves.”
In the manner of Trump belittling and bullying his critics (on John McCain: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”) or lying about them (on Bob Corker: “Corker begged me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said NO.”), McCarthy went after Tydings with raw vengeance.
During Tydings’ reelection bid that fall, McCarthy smeared him with full arsenal of untruths and trickery, including a faked photo of Tydings with Earl Browder, a former leader of the Communist Party USA. Tydings lost.
McCarthy had harnessed the Red-scare paranoia that swept the nation, and his defeat of Tydings was an effective tool to silence other members of Congress. One exception was Connecticut Senator William Benton, who advocated for McCarthy’s expulsion from the Senate.
True to form, McCarthy called Benton “Little Willie Benton” (Sound familiar? “Little Marco Rubio.”) and dubbed him “Connecticut’s mental midget.”
During Benton’s reelection run in 1952, McCarthy accused him of “aiding Communists” (no proof) and purchasing “lewd art.” Benton lost.
Like Millard Tydings and William Benton, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have called out a man who is a liar, bully and demagogue.
Tail Gunner Joe finally over-reached, and his despicable tactics were on full display during the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. The Senate censured him that December, and he died less than three years later, broken and disgraced.
McCarthy’s “traitors among us” may not be the exact cast of Trump’s “others,” (immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, liberals) but both have leveraged fear and hatred for political gain. McCarthyism and Trumpism have the same root and bear the same poison fruit.
Tydings and Benton were not alone in helping to expose McCarthy. Edward R. Murrow, one of America’s greatest journalists, took up their cause, and his brilliant series of CBS television reports on McCarthy hastened the senator’s demise.
McCarthy, in response, dismissed Murrow as a “member of the leftwing press.” He labeled the television networks as “dishonest” and “unmoral” (fake news).
After Murrow’s most famous anti-McCarthy broadcast on March 9, 1954, a story in the New York Daily News included this:
McCarthy, who was in town yesterday for a luncheon appearance as guest of the Dutch Treat Club in the Hotel Park Lane, has lashed out at both CBS and NBC for their “arrogant” and “unmoral” treatment of him.
McCarthy, ever the showboat, held a press conferences after the luncheon, and the Daily News report continued:
Several times during the conference McCarthy refused to talk to NBC or CBS reporters or pose for their cameramen.
“Your companies have been completely dishonest and unmoral.”
How Trumpian is that?
If we are to excise the cancer of Trumpism (a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” Senator McCain called it last week), we must let history be a guide.
As Murrow told us:
“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men - not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it - and rather successfully. Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'
Good night, and good luck.”