America has long been attracted to charismatic demagogues who master the media of their time to tap into America’s insecurities. Long before Donald Trump descended a golden escalator in 2015 to announce he was running for president, anti-communist zealot Joseph McCarthy took America by storm.
The parallels many writers see between President Trump and Senator Joe McCarthy are not coincidental. There's a flesh-and-blood throughline that connects the two. President Trump's former attorney Roy Cohn taught him everything he learned from McCarthy's playbook when the served as McCarthy's chief council during his second term as a Wisconsin senator.
Demagogues are often charasmatic men of limited ability who bully their way to the top and threaten reluctant enablers to go along. The good news is that they fall faster than they rise once people see that the emperor wears no clothes.
What can we learn from McCarthyism as we consider our upcoming election?
- Larry Tye is the author of eight books. His latest is Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. He’s also a Nieman fellow at Harvard and a former award-winning reporter for The Boston Globe. His next book will be, The Jazzmen: How Duke Ellington, Satchmo Armstrong and Count Basie Transformed America.
Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show.