I’ve traveled a lot in Europe, where from time to time there has been griping and fury at the unions for halting commerce, or education, or transportation. I’ve never even heard of a country where it is the government that halts commerce in the country it is governing. Maybe my sense of history has holes in it, but this form of coup is certainly unique to us.
During Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terror people who were blacklisted just disappeared from our view, one step short of being sent to a prison camp. They went abroad, or wrote under pseudonyms, or sat desperately in their small apartments. MCarthy was the Chairman of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and I always wondered what an “unamerican activity” was. Aren’t we allowed to indulge in unamerican activity? “Unamerican” has been replaced by “ungodly” for those who feel they have a special connection to both the Lord and the Constitution. The verbal and physical attacks by McCarthy clones have gone so far as to murder eight abortion doctors, brutally eviscerating the basic tenets of America — separation of Church and State, and personal freedom. The Intimidators are a cowardly, undemocratic crew who have taken over once in a while throughout our history.
I am binge-watching Mad Men, and last night we watched the series of shows about the assassination of John F. Kennedy — the first time in my lifetime that the unthinkable happened. It was still difficult to watch, though the place in my stomach which collapsed then has grown a protective cover. It toughened a bit when Presidents Reagan and Ford were shot or shot at, when Lennon, Robert Kennedy, King, and our neighbors’ children were less lucky than Reagan and Ford. Each time it is easier to bear, or perhaps easier to rationalize. The line not to cross is the “unthinkable” line. We have now crossed it again. Once a splinter group is allowed to take over the government, what’s to prevent the military from taking over, or some other even more repugnant group? “What nonsense,” you say. Ask the Germans, the Italians, the Iraqis, the Syrians, or the woman of Afghanistan who have to keep a burka in the back room in case the Taliban return. The unthinkable has a way of making itself the commonplace.
The Tea Partiers get elected and re-elected, as did Joseph McCarthy. We have examples of several more modern legislators (Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay) who have been thrown out of their bully pulpits. They spend the rest of their lives popping up and down, cocks of a ravaged walk. A few words can change the tide: “Mr. Krushchev, take down this wall” wasn’t the reason the wall came down, but it snapped people into action. Joseph Welch’s “Senator McCarthy, have you no shame,” galvanized America to stop the McCarthy madness. Who will stand up to today’s bullies with words powerful enough to vanquish them this time? But whatever happens now, the unthinkable has already happened…..again.