Dustbin of History

‘McCarthyism’ Is Wildly Overused—but this Higgins Memo Is the Real Deal

For Tail-Gunner Joe, it was liberals and communists; for the fired NSC staffer—and for Steve Bannon and others—it’s the left and Islamists. But the attack is exactly the same.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

On Thursday, Foreign Policy magazine released the full transcript of the famous memo written last May for the NSC by Rich Higgins. Because of the leak of portions of it earlier, Higgins was fired from his position as director of strategic planning at the NSC.  His dismissal has become fodder for the alt-right and especially Breitbart.com, whose editors have used it to increase their demand that General H.R. McMaster be fired. In their eyes, that the general fired Higgins is proof that McMaster is a tool of the globalists and neocons, especially since he refuses to accept Higgins’ proposal for a “Political War,” which Breitbart defines as “propaganda in battledress.”

The new demands that Trump get rid of McMaster is now a key part of the war against those working in the administration whom the Trump right-wing believe to be part of the very “swamp” Trump promised to destroy. As I argued elsewhere, they regard the general as an appeaser of Islamists, as anti-Israel, and as a perpetuator of Obama’s failed foreign policy.

McMaster has recently been the recipient of harsh attacks from Breitbart and others, such as David Horowitz’s FrontPageMag.com, all of whom are calling for his head. Last week, Breitbart published almost a dozen headlines about McMaster, such as “McMaster ‘Deeply Hostile to Israel and Trump.’” The next day, FrontPageMag's main cover article  by Daniel Greenfield was “McMaster’s NSC Coup Against Trump—Purges Critics of Islam and Obama.”

And Friday, Greenfield was back with another column, this time attacking Dina Habib Powell, who served in the Bush 43 administration and who he argues is the “Republican Huma Abedin.” All through the Bush administration, Abedin was called the conduit to the administration for the Muslim Brotherhood, who had infiltrated the government to push it toward the pro-Muslim policy they argue Obama held. Now that Hillary Clinton lost and Abedin was no longer near power, they are arguing that she has now been replaced by Powell.

What truly irks Greenfield is that K.T. McFarland’s job at the NSC was taken away and given by McMaster to none other than Powell, hired only because she had “the right views on Islam,” meaning, supposedly, pro-Islamist and supportive of The Muslim Brotherhood. The Bannonites now claim that appointees like Powell will work against the President’s agenda from inside. As Greenfield boldly put it, she “represents McMaster’s vision for our approach to Islam.” And its purpose is to restore the failed policy toward the Arab world of the Bush and Obama administrations.

As a conservative historian, I know that the charge of “McCarthyism” is wildly overused and most often is a false analogy. When liberals use it, it is usually done to discredit conservative ideas they don’t like and don’t want to bother challenging. Instead, that all-purpose phrase is invoked to let people know that the ideas or people who hold them are beyond the pale.

For the first time, however, reading the Higgins memo to me is a true flashback to the way Joe McCarthy and his far-right allies argued in the 1950s, as well as a document that closely follows the kind of arguments and “logic” used by The John Birch Society. To put it simply, the memo is a prime example of vivid conspiracy theory at work.

It smacks of the famous words McCarthy used to describe General George Marshall, the WW II hero whom most Americans applauded, and who had become Secretary of State in 1949 during the second year of Truman’s administration, and later created The Marshall Plan to economically restore post-war Western Europe.

In what was possibly McCarthy’s most famous Senate speech, delivered on June 14, 1951, he argued that General Marshall’s policies abroad “signed the death warrant of Chiang’s China,” thereby handing it over to Mao and his troops. The strength of communism everywhere, he said, “must be the product of a…great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” America was now in the hands of a “secret inner coterie…which is directed by agents of the Soviet Union.” Truman had to be impeached for Americans to find out “who is the secret invisible government.”

Here’s how McCarthy characterized Dean Acheson, Truman’s last Secretary of State, who was, as he wrote, “present at the creation.”  Acheson’s “primary loyalty in international affairs,” the senator said, “seems to run to the British Labour Government, his secondary allegiance to the Kremlin.” Those who wear the label Democrat, McCarthy said, “wear it with the stain of a historic betrayal.” And of course, the communists within the U.S.- today it’s the American would-be supporters of The Muslim Brotherhood- who “have been more responsible for the success of Communism abroad than Soviet Russia.”

When Eisenhower was elected President, it didn’t bother McCarthy that the Democrats were now out of power. The invisible government- read today “the swamp”- held up appointees up for jobs in the new administration. Charles E. Bohlen, nominated as Ambassador to Moscow by Ike, McCarthy said, was “part and parcel of the Acheson-Vincent-Lattimore-Service clique.” America, he famously said, had lived under “twenty years of treason.”

The Higgins memo becomes, then, the intellectual justification for and explanation of the Bannon group’s war against those they see as nationalists and globalists, whose actions would result in allowing America’s enemies to win. What is going on, he argues, is not regular politics but real warfare, that only one side can win. Its enemies are the supposed allies of all who oppose Trump: the Muslim Brotherhood, Black Lives Matter, the entire left wing, and pro-Islamic groups like CAIR. Most important of all is the alliance between the left and the Islamists, possible because the left abandons its disdain for religion and welcomes Islamists who have the same enemy they do.

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Second, Higgins argues the entire opposition to Trump comes from the “cultural Marxist” narrative. Derived by the founders of the Frankfurt School in Weimar Germany, its major practitioners came to the United States before WW II, where they quietly began to influence the intellectual and later the political world. Now, their descendants—those opposed to Trump—“recognize the threat he poses and seeks his destruction.” For this “cabal,” Higgins writes, Trump “must be destroyed.”

The opposition, including that of the Republican establishment, is led by “cultural Marxist drivers.” Indeed, they are consciously using a “Maoist insurgency model” to take power away from Trump.

How do establishment Republicans, one must wonder, come to act under the sway of Mao and Herbert Marcuse? One has heard that Paul Ryan was highly influenced by Ayn Rand, but I don’t think anyone has heard that he has been inspired by the cultural Marxists who Higgins believes guide them. But they are not left off the hook. Higgins writes: “the Republican Establishment accepts and enforces cultural Marxist memes within its own spheres of operations.” They favor the agenda of the “globalists and Islamists,” both of whom believe that “for their visions to succeed, America, both as an ideal and as a national and political identity, must be destroyed.”

This means that to Higgins, and those in the camp that includes David Horowitz, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton, what is going on is nothing less than a war for America’s soul, which will permanently be lost if Trump is stopped or impeached, or if his administration is made ineffective. Or as Pat Buchanan, who feels his ideas from decades ago have now been accepted, put it in 2016: “the populist-nationalist Right is moving beyond the niceties of liberal democracy to save the America they love.”

In their eyes, the attacks on Trump by his critics are not the workings of democracy, but an attempt at an actual coup d’état. And that coup is being led, according to Higgins, by the Mainstream Media, the Academy, the Deep State created by cultural Marxism, global corporatists and bankers, the Democrats who protect “cultural Marxist programs of action,” and finally, the Republican Leadership. Believe it or not, they are “the hard left’s designated defeat mechanism in the destruction of the old regime.” And finally, the Islamists, who are allies of the Marxists.

All of this also explains what Bannon most likely meant when he told me in 2013 that he considered himself a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the entire existing structure through a revolution, including the institutions by which civil society functioned, such as the Duma (parliament) that Lenin shut down and replaced with the Soviet as the instrument of State power, which was controlled by the Party.

Now, Higgins claims, the left operates through “coordinated synchronized interactive narratives;” i.e., the left calls for “resistance,” Islamists call for protection against Islamophobia, and the two join together to stop the Trump administration from curbing immigration, building a wall, and fulfilling its promises.

Higgins, one must say, is also consumed by reading Marxist tomes, such as Antonio Gramsci on hegemony, Marcuse and Theodor Adorno on theory, psychology and social structure; all working to deconstruct “societies through attacks on culture by imposing a dialectic that forces unresolvable contradictions under the rubric of critical theory.” Get that? If you don’t, you just haven’t read enough of Frankfurt School Marxism.

Higgins’ conspiracy depends upon some of what he says being accurate. On these pages, I have argued that much of the new rebellion that seeks to prevent free speech indeed comes from Marcuse’s famous “repressive tolerance” essay, in which he tries to prove that there should be no free speech for the right.  But it’s a far distance from explaining that to arguing that these old Marxist philosophers are the key to understanding the ideology of the Deep State.

To Higgins, and I assume Bannon and his followers, this is all a 24/7 effort of all those against Trump to bring him down. It is, in Joe McCarthy’s words, a “conspiracy so immense.” It is a new form, Higgins writes, of “population control by certain business cartels in league with cultural Marxists/corporatists/Islamists who will leverage [the] Islamic terrorism threat to justify the creation of a police state.”

We should be thankful that McMaster sacked Higgins. As national security and foreign policy analyst Gabriel Schoenfeld emailed me, criticism of Trump is viewed as a “threat to national security.” Calling this charge “staggering,” Schoenfeld writes that the idea that “such a crank was working in the NSC even for a brief period is further testimony to the nature of the threat posed by Trump to sound national-security decision-making- and even more importantly-our constitutional order.”

Schoenfeld is right. One can only hope that the rest of this crew—Bannon, Miller and Michael Anton—soon follow in his steps and carry on whatever way they desire in the pages of their own extremist website. But not in the White House.