After living as shut-ins during the disastrous Trump presidency that killed 600,000 Americans in a pandemic and brought the nation’s economy to a halt for a year, most of us are eager to rebuild our country again instead of living in the past. The problem is far too many Republicans don’t want to live anywhere but the past.
Donald Trump’s gone, but no one has replaced him in the party. Violent, hateful Trump supporters might not be the majority, but their attack on Congress January 6 inspired other Republicans to continue their assault on democracy to make it harder for a Democratic majority to vote.
It’s tempting to think of Trump as a unique figure in politics, but his dishonest Republican demagoguery wasn’t all that original. Folks in Wisconsin know that better than anyone. Historian Jon Meacham identified the model for Trump’s toxic presidency immediately after his election. Meacham said the U.S. had elected Wisconsin’s 1950s Republican demagogue Sen. Joe McCarthy as president.
That comparison took a familiar turn recently. Republican politicians and the entire rightwing Fox News disinformation network that distorts reality for Republicans began viciously attacking Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military education of American soldiers at West Point. Anyone surprised a once conservative party would attack the military isn’t old enough to remember the most notorious televised Republican assault on the American military in history. It was the Army-McCarthy Hearings in 1954.
That was the first televised reality show even though McCarthy’s totally fabricated public accusations, like Trump’s, never bore any resemblance to reality. McCarthy spewed wildly irresponsible charges about communists subverting the U.S. government (under Republican war hero president Dwight Eisenhower yet!), the military, the teaching profession and the entertainment industry. His reckless, anti-communist crusade jailed hundreds who refused to testify before the rightwing House Un-American Activities Committee about their political beliefs. Tens of thousands more were fired or blacklisted as actors, screenwriters, playwrights, government employees, educators and military professionals. Suspected subversives were anyone holding left-of-center views on civil rights, racial equality, unions and voting rights.
The parallels between the McCarthy Era and the Trump Era are obvious and there’s also a direct connection. McCarthy’s chief counsel was a sleazy, later disbarred attorney named Roy Cohn. Cohn represented Fred Trump and his 27-year-old son Donald in 1973 when Richard Nixon’s Justice Department charged them with housing discrimination. Trump credits Cohn with shaping his vicious, bare-knuckled attack politics. Donald blasted the charges as “outrageous lies” for two years before settling by agreeing to stop coding African American rental applications “C” for “colored” to be automatically rejected.
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Attacking the Military
The current attacks on the military reflect Trump’s disdain for the generals he denounced as “dopes and babies” who don’t know how to win wars and the fallen troops he denigrated as “losers” and “suckers.” It’s intertwined with raucous Republican disruptions of local school board meetings over allowing history courses to reveal the existence of racism in America. Spoiler alert: Their kids already know all about it.
The attacks on Gen. Milley began with House Republicans demanding to know why the U.S Military Academy taught a course on political extremism. Milley explained the purpose of a university education and hit much too close to home.
“I do think it’s important actually for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read,” Milley said. “I want to understand white rage. I’m white and I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”
Milley’s shocking revelations continued: “I’ve read Mao Tse-Tung. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with . . . having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”
Fox is Flabbergasted
Fox News was flabbergasted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs would defend a well-educated, intelligent military. Tucker Carlson sputtered: “He didn’t get that job because he’s brilliant or because he’s brave or because the people who know him respect him. He is not and they definitely don’t . . . He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.” Actually, Milley got that job because Trump appointed him.
Fox sweetheart Laura Ingraham proposed that Republicans defund the military to put a stop to its offensive education. “Why is Congress not saying, ‘We’re not going to give you a penny until all of this is eradicated from the military budget. Nothing.’”
As a potential candidate, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz attempted to act presidential by the standards of his party. He combined his attack on the military with homophobic hatred. Cruz tweeted Democrats and the media were trying to turn the military “into pansies” raised by two moms.
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