Trump’s Strange Tweet About Joseph McCarthy

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Study the late Joseph McCarthy,” President Donald Trump saidSunday on Twitter. And he’s right. It’s important.

But casting special counsel Robert Mueller as McCarthy, the red-baiting United States senator from Wisconsin who in the 1950s earned lasting disgrace for his public shaming of supposed Communists, made for the latest and maybe the most outrageous example of Trump’s frequent tactic of attempting to use a weakness of his own as a weapon against an opponent. And given Trump’s tenuous grip on history, not to mention his close, critical connection with McCarthy’s foremost henchman, this instance of his transparent table-turning amounted to an awkward, unwitting exercise in self-portraiture. The tweet was far more a mirror on Trump than an indictment of Mueller.

McCarthy, after all, was “an essentially destructive force,” according to biographer Richard H. Rovere. He was “a chronic opportunist.” He was “a political speculator.” He was “a Republican who had started as a Democrat.” He was “a fertile innovator, a first-rate organizer and galvanizer of mobs, a skilled manipulator of public opinion, and something like a genius at that essential American strategy: publicity.” He was “a vulgarian.” He was “a man with an almost aesthetic preference for untruth.” He “faked it all and could not understand anyone who didn’t.” He “made sages of screwballs and accused wise men of being fools.” He was “the first American ever to be actively hated and feared by foreigners in large numbers.” He “favored the third person.”

Sunday on Twitter. And he’s right. It’s important.

But casting special counsel Robert Mueller as McCarthy, the red-baiting United States senator from Wisconsin who in the 1950s earned lasting disgrace for his public shaming of supposed Communists, made for the latest and maybe the most outrageous example of Trump’s frequent tactic of attempting to use a weakness of his own as a weapon against an opponent. And given Trump’s tenuous grip on history, not to mention his close, critical connection with McCarthy’s foremost henchman, this instance of his transparent table-turning amounted to an awkward, unwitting exercise in self-portraiture. The tweet was far more a mirror on Trump than an indictment of Mueller.

McCarthy, after all, was “an essentially destructive force,” according to biographer Richard H. Rovere. He was “a chronic opportunist.” He was “a political speculator.” He was “a Republican who had started as a Democrat.” He was “a fertile innovator, a first-rate organizer and galvanizer of mobs, a skilled manipulator of public opinion, and something like a genius at that essential American strategy: publicity.” He was “a vulgarian.” He was “a man with an almost aesthetic preference for untruth.” He “faked it all and could not understand anyone who didn’t.” He “made sages of screwballs and accused wise men of being fools.” He was “the first American ever to be actively hated and feared by foreigners in large numbers.” He “favored the third person.”

He was “a great sophisticate in human relationships, as every demagogue must be. He knew a good deal about people’s fears and anxieties, and he was a superb juggler of them. But he was himself numb to the sensation he produced in others. He could not comprehend true outrage, true indignation, true anything,” Rovere wrote.

“If he was anything at all in the realm of ideas, principles, doctrines, he was a species of nihilist,” he said.

“The haters rallied around him.”

He was reelected in 1952, and even toward the end, at the start of 1954, “when the record was pretty well all in and the worst as well as the best was known,” Gallup polling showed that half of Americans had a “favorable opinion.”

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