Trump’s McCarthyite enemies

“McCarthyism” is a charge Democrats like to level against those who make allegations that make them uncomfortable. But Robert Merry, a journalist, publisher, and presidential historian, exposes the McCarthyism in the Democrats’ treatment of President Trump.

Merry’s argument is predicated on a key, but generally overlooked, point about McCarthyism. The problem with it wasn’t that there was no reason to believe communists had penetrated our government.

Communist penetration was, in fact, a valid concern. As Merry notes, a few weeks before McCarthy’s first anticommunism rant, Alger Hiss, accused of passing secret U.S. documents to a Soviet spy when he was a high-level government official, was convicted of perjury. Two weeks later, the government reported that Klaus Fuchs, a British physicist who had worked at the Los Alamos atomic-weapons facility during the war, had been arrested as a Soviet spy.

The problem with McCarthyism was that, in addressing this real concern, Joe McCarthy dispensed with standards of evidence. Thus, says Merry, “McCarthyism is about how people behave even when there is reason for concern or even alarm, as there was in McCarthy’s day.”

Applying this analysis to the Russia collusion investigation, Merry identifies the McCarthyism of certain Trump critics. There may have been a basis for investigating whether Trump had troubling connections with Russia, but this did not justify prejudging Trump without regard for standards of evidence. Those who did so were guilty of McCarthyism.

Merry names names:

Adam Schiff, the California Democrat and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee (now chairman), said he had “plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy”—and, he added, this was “more than circumstantial evidence.” Given Mueller’s ultimate conclusion on the same question, with all of the investigative resources at his command, one has to wonder what evidence Schiff was talking about.

Meanwhile, another California Democrat, Eric Swalwell, accused Trump of being an “agent” of Russia. He added, by way of elaboration, “he certainly acts on Russia’s behalf.”

These sensationalist unfounded allegations fit the definition of McCarthyism. So do statements by James Clapper and John Brennan. Merry recalls:

Brennan said that “Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now.” He described Trump’s claim of no collusion as “hogwash,” which was a roundabout accusation of treason. He dispensed with the circumlocution when he called Trump’s performance in Helsinki, Finland, following a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin, “nothing short of treasonous.”

Clapper, meanwhile, invoked the constitutional definition of treason when he said Trump was “essentially aiding and abetting the Russians” though he later said he used the term “only in a…colloquial sense,” whatever that means. Asked if Trump was a Russian asset, as former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe had suggested was possible, Clapper said, “I completely agree with the way Andy characterized it.” He added a “caveat” that it could have been “witting or unwitting.”

No evidence supported these over-the-top charges. Robert Mueller so concluded. Brennan and Clapper engaged in McCarthyism.

So did the many journalists and commentators, cable news talking heads, editors and writers for major publications, and Democratic members of Congress who, in Merry’s words, “all assumed the worst and spread the nasty word with abandon, absent any serious proof.”

Yet, Merry is, I believe, the first mainstream figure to call out this crowd for McCarthyism. He will probably be the last.

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