It’s a treat to quote Karl Marx to judge the progress of the current partisan cry that there must be an investigation into the possibility that Donald J. Trump sold himself to the satanic Kremlin in order to become the president of the United States.
“Hegel remarks somewhere,” Marx wrote in 1869, “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce…”
The first time for the “world-historic facts” about Russian agents and the American presidency truly was a tragedy—the reckless attacks on the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations by serial demagogues, chiefly the last of them, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.
A thrilling new history of the tragedy, David A. Nichols, Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Joseph McCarthy tells the details of the last two years of McCarthy’s astounding performance and sudden fall from power.
Is the current congressional hunt for the Kremlin in the president’s orbit the farce?
One way to investigate whether to grimace or grin—while waiting more allegations against the slow-footed Trump Administration by the agile Democratic opposition—is to review how McCarthy used the Russian “Communist” menace to ride so high and how Ike whipped him without leaving any fingerprints.
Nichols makes critically clear that, once Eisenhower was elected and McCarthy was re-elected in 1952, McCarthy raised his sights from ambushing Truman officials, such as accusing the leonine George Marshall of disloyalty, to aiming directly at Ike.
By the winter of 1954, McCarthy was so popular and powerful, with his own investigative committee budget from the Republican majority, that he was being romanced by the conservative wing of the GOP that disdained Eisenhower and needed a candidate after the sudden passing of their champion, Robert A. Taft.
Ike, who despised McCarthy and wouldn’t use his name in public, awakened gradually to the back-stabbing.
Finally, in a sensational meeting at Attorney General Herb Brownell’s office on Jan. 21, 1954, attended by Ike’s chief of staff Sherman Adams, UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and others, the Administration faced the facts that this was a fight for the presidency.
Though it could appear the argument was over how McCarthy and his chief counsel Roy Cohn were abusing Secretary of the Army Ralph T. Stevens over their allegations of disloyalty by Army personnel, Eisenhower’s aides said aloud that McCarthy was attacking the Army because it was made up of “Ike’s boys.”
Today, though, while potent congressional voices such as Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein, Ben Cardin and Patrick Leahy say they want as “an independent, non-partisan commission” to investigate Russian hacking in the 2016 Election as “attack on our way of life,” few doubt that the target is President Trump.
Congressman Adam Schiff of California spoke more suggestively of the Democratic aim in his remarks at the March 20 opening day of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing.
“…the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?”
In 1954, even after Eisenhower’s men started to organize against McCarthy with documents and intrigue, it was some weeks before Ike took total charge with his hidden hand—presenting himself to the public as uninvolved, forgetful, distracted, while behind the scenes he was micro-managing conflict.
Nichols identifies Ike’s “D-Day” as March 9. First, Vermont Republican Senator Ralph Flanders called McCarthy a “menace” on the Senate floor in a speech that Ike had read and approved beforehand.
Then Edward R. Murrow presented his special “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy” at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS, closing with these still chilling sentences:
“The line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly.”
“We must remember that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”
“We will not walk in fear, one of another.”
“This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent.”
Ike exploited the twinned Flanders and Murrow remarks to launch an overwhelming crusade in Washington. Ike wanted McCarthy crushed into dust, no matter the consequences to the Republican Party in November. By the end of 1954, McCarthy was a tragic figure, a pariah, who died in 1957 of meningitis and despair, at 48.
It is far too soon to know if the new congressional investigations will reveal skullduggery, demagoguery or absurdity.
However it is way past time that the Trump Administration and its friends on Capitol Hill wake up to the fact that the Democrats are well-armed. Allegations that “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” play just as well on TV today as they did in 1954.