This morning over my grapefruit, I serendipitously read an essay that ruined my breakfast with the bitter taste of irony. The quotes that follow have been redacted to mask the actual subject. Please read them and guess who. Afterwards, I’ll reveal his identity and that of the writer, publication, and other references.
“[The subject]…arrived on the national scene just in time to capitalize on the [current ‘scare’]. An unprincipled political opportunist, he began to make an issue of [purported enemies]…, thereby drawing attention to himself and nurturing his hopes for a continuing political career.
“…[He] made a speech during which he [claimed to have a list of people] known to be [enemies]. [At the time] this was not at all an illegal affiliation, but the [group] was certainly a suspicious [class of people]. …that list itself never existed. It was a fiction, a prop for [his] political theater. … But that hardly mattered. With his trumped-up list, [he] had struck a mindless nerve in the body politic, and the Age of [Fear] had acquired its messiah, a leader of the yelping pack.
“[He] proved himself a master of reckless accusation, unabashed equivocation, and outright lying. He determined guilt by association and made liberal use of innuendo, half-truth, character assassination, and intimidation. When officials questioned his allegations, [he] countered by questioning their loyalty and their intentions. Since he … was the champion of the [anti-enemies], anyone who raised any doubts about him was interfering with his patriotic work, seeking, presumably, to stop him in this noble pursuit. Those who[m] [he] cast aspersions upon were often unemployed or disgraced shortly thereafter.
“Many people recognized at once that [he] was a fraud…
“Chairing a committee charged with investigating [his] allegations, [the Chair] issued a report … that found not a shred of evidence in support of his charges. He was effectively branded a liar.
“[His] reaction to this supposed reverse is instructive. [He] said, ‘The most loyal stooges of the [enemy] could not have done a better job of giving a clean bill of health to [foreign enemies] in this country.’ [The committee chair] was giving ‘aid and comfort’ to the enemies of the United States. …he said, ‘let me make it clear … that this fight against [the enemy] shall not stop, regardless of what any group … may do.’ He was undaunted and undeterred.
“He was a genius at manipulating the news media. He understood, apparently, that the press was a knee-jerk institution. [He] quickly mastered the techniques necessary to dominate the news. He would call a press conference to announce that he would have a press conference the next day, and the day’s papers would carry headlines heavy with proclamatory import… And when some allegation of his was proven completely wrong, [he] simply shifted his attack and targeted a new victim. The sensation of his new charges drew fresh headlines, displacing stories about his errors. His was the tactic of a guerrilla raider, and he used it time and again with astonishing effectiveness.
“[He] was by no means laying waste to cherished American freedoms without being criticized. Many newspapers attacked him on their editorial pages—while giving him headlines on their front pages—but nationally prominent political figures were slow in rising to the challenge. When a [prominent journalist] fired a shot or two, [he] rounded on him. He insinuated that [the journalist] was a tool of [the enemy] and advised people [to boycott the writer’s sponsor].
“Television journalists were nearly silent. Finally…one of the most prestigious journalists in the world attacked [him] … [with] an exposé [that] alternated film clips of [him] making charges and assertions with shots of [the journalist], live, presenting the contradictory facts. The relentless rhythm of lie refuted by truth again and again drummed in the flagrancy of [his] perfidy. Given [his] power, going on the air with any sort of an attack at that time took guts.
“…With many of the journalistic fraternity, [a syndicated cartoonist] had long ago recognized that he was at least a charlatan and perhaps a monstrous one, spewing the sulfurous fumes of intimidating invective with every press conference…ripe as a subject for satirical ridicule. [He] was still riding high, with his minions and his actions claiming headlines daily on the front pages of the nation’s papers.
“[The cartoonist] conjures up nightmares of book burning, evoking memories of the Nazi regime in the 1930’s.
“On various editorial pages throughout the land some perceptive souls recognized that [he] was employing methods that had been used to advantage…earlier by an Austrian paper-hanger and his gang in Nazi Germany.”
Okay, no matter your obvious first guess, this damning verbiage was actually about Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin in the early 1950’s. The [enemies] weren’t foreign terrorists but Communists. The truth-finding committee chair was Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland, and the brave journalist was Edward R. Murrow. The [syndicated cartoonist] wasn’t Gary Trudeau in “Doonesbury,” but Walt Kelly in “Pogo.” The prophetic essay, ironically titled “Swamp Talk” by R. C. Harvey, appeared in “Pogo, Evidence to the Contrary,” the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Vol. 3, published by Fantagraphics in 2014.
Let’s remember the quote from philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The horror is that historical travesties seem to get worse with each new iteration. Elevating travesty to tragedy, our current villain hasn’t been discredited and disgraced, but has managed through demagoguery, hate, and lies to become, as Pogo might say, President of the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed U. S. and A, and now our nationable future looks dog-bone miserabobble.
Honestly, I don’t blame those terrified, thoughtless, and forgetful folks who voted for him. It’s the fault of all those apathetic and forgetful folks who didn’t vote for anybody. And the fault of the craven cowards in Congress who are letting their rogue elephrump run rampant in our beloved Okefenokee.