“if he (Senator Joseph McCarthy) was anything at all in the realm of ideas, principles, doctrines, he was a species of nihilist; he was an essentially destructive force, a revolutionist without any revolutionary vision, a rebel without a cause.”
– Richard Rovere
“…there is a vital difference between the paranoid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoiac;…the clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him; whereas the spokesman of the paranoid style finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others.”
– Richard Hofstadter
“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” – Hollywood’s George Burns “You can’t handle the truth.” – The NBA’s Paul Pierce
“For you can only create if you can care.”
– George Orwell
The “multiple untruth” is with us again. Its standard bearer, Donald Trump, is demonstrating its power in the polls; though not in debate with an opponent like fellow Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, in a forum that demanded shreds of civility and occasional flirtation with reality on Monday evening, September 26 at Hofstra University.
Secretary Clinton was in command of relevant facts and able to keep her cool in the face of the usual bluster and topic-changing tactics that characterize a gifted demagogue or barroom drunk. Mr. Trump may have stumbled a bit when required to play by some set of rules, and was jarred by some deft blows from his opponent, but that is no reason to expect that he can be felled by any single comment like that which Attorney Joseph Welch used in the Army-McCarthy hearings to confound Donald Trump’s predecessor in persistent paranoia: “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
“Decency” in 1954 was still a word in politics one could use without gagging or giggling.
Now that Americans are once again leaning toward a simplistic approach to really complicated problems that defined the successes of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush candidacies, it is prudent to consider that The Donald might pull off his bid for the presidency. If that is not enough to scare people to vote according to their rational self interest rather than “rage against the machine,” or their boss, or their imagined enemies, then as a democracy, we, and Wall Street, will have to live with the decision of November 8.
Wall Street can manage a Trump Presidency much better than most of the rest of us, I am sure. “Too big to fail” still means “too big to jail.”
Freedom of the Press? Not much problem there either, despite the agonizing that may follow. There isn’t that much unvarnished truth allowed to distract a truly wide audience, despite the efforts of remarkably competent and courageous investigative journalists. The only person who truly enjoys freedom of the press is the person who owns one, like Rupert Murdoch, or the folks at the New York Times, who declare that only they decide what is “fit to print.”
Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, made that precise point at an enlightening symposium sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council at Legacy High School in Bismarck, North Dakota, the day before the first presidential debate. Mr. Hersh told the audience how a number of his thoroughly back-checked stories, unlike his forensic revelations of My Lai, Abu Ghraib, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, were killed by major news outlets he worked for.
Most TV outlets we use, and the newspapers we consult, are corporations, first and foremost, and they look out for the freedom of the corporate press. No more, no less. If that freedom should coincide with the need of the public to know, so much the better for us. If not, then as Edward R. Murrow used to say: “Good night, and good luck.”
Of course Americans have a great deal of free speech, and boy do we use and abuse it! And it is “fair and balanced” in a perverse way. Most any dumb or smart things do appear nowadays alongside each other, in print, on TV, Twitter, Facebook, or other 21st century media I can scarcely grasp. Those who favor anarchy should really be pleased.
But who does the selecting of what makes sense in a democracy, and what doesn’t?
That is far too difficult a question to answer, except in the matter of Presidential elections. Every four years we boil this immense problem down to (usually) two people from the two major political parties, one who gets the most electoral votes, and one who doesn’t. In every year of our Republic except one, this hard truth of self-restraint in a democracy has not been too big for Americans to handle.
The exceptional year was 1860, which brought on the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War, 1861-1865. Enough said.