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The devil’s hand

Joe McCarthy was a famous senator (Republican of Wisconsin) whose infamous “hunt” of communists gives its name to McCarthyism, a perfect expression to refer to demagoguery and lynching produced from official lies and abuses of power.

Frequently compared to the worst populist politicians in the world, McCarthy starred, in the 1950s, in one of the darkest and most regrettable periods in American history. As bad as the atrocities committed against women accused of witchcraft at the end of the 17th century, or the political project led by Mr. Trump.

As a child he grew up covered in chicken manure in an environment of “working class” from Irish and German immigrants. Through tricks and lies he managed to be elected as a district judge. His biographers point him out as charismatic, addicted to gambling, a womanizer and an extreme drunk.

If we avoid falling into the trap of thinking of great villains (or heroes) as exceptional beings, possessors of magical powers that allow them to hypnotize the masses, it should be clear that McCarthy and the Senate Investigations Subcommittee were, more of a symptom of the irrationality of the Cold War, than the sole causeof hundreds of political lynching and a collective hysteria that caused the labor and social purge of more than 10 thousand human beings accused of not sharing the populist nationalism that McCarthy and his ilk promoted.

From his legislative pulpit and with the support of great media empires such as that of William Randolph Hearst and that of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, figures such as J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon, Roy Cohn, the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church, Joe and Bobby Kennedy, the junior senator from Wisconsin was the one who started the fire in an already dry prairie.

To put it in (Marxist) terms that would make him turn in his grave: McCarthyism occurred in a national and international context in which the “objective conditions” were given for the extreme right – both anti-communist and anti-government – They split the country in two.

In the framework of the imbalances that the end of the II World War had caused, the global ambition of the Kremlin, the internal political tensions and the frustration with the outcome of the Korean War, McCarthy constructed a narrative in which on one side were the patriots, the “good people”, and even public figures who had flirted with Nazism, and on the other, the enemies by definition: “the communists.” (A crime that soon spread to homosexuals, Jews and anyone who got in its way).

Without worrying about presenting evidence or building legal cases – he practically never succeeded – the senator was enough to point out – in his capacity as prosecutor-judge-and-executioner – characters like Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles, Arthur Miller , Burgess Meredith, Gypsy Rose Lee, Langston Hughes, to a certain extent Albert Einstein himself, Robert Oppenheimer and many other “snobs”, “elitists”, “intellectuals” or “critters of that same ilk”. In the vast majority of cases his victims were ordinary citizens: secretaries, low-ranking employees, a dentist.

McCarthy opened Pandora’s box on February 9, 1950. In a speech to a women’s club, he presented a list of diplomats from his own country whom he designated as “Communist spies.” The list was a big lie. Literally a portfolio filled with blank pages.

However, the “news” was a bomb that started a witch hunt that, very soon, reached the government’s own communication propaganda apparatus – The Voice of America -, the military, university professors, journalists, writers, artists, scientists, and trade unionists. For many of them, just by summoning them before his committee, he ruined their lives.

McCarthy, like other great demagogues of before and today, entered politics through democratic rules with the promise of becoming a factor of disruption in an ossified and mediocre political system, but he ended up – largely thanks to his ability to seduce the media–, turned into an inquisitor who, by the way, ended up devoured by his own demons.

Before the same hand of the devil, which he so invoked, touched himself in 1954, McCarthy fell into public disgrace when he spectacularly failed in his attempts to lynch alleged “traitors” within the CIA and the Pentagon.  Shortly afterward he was formally disowned by his own colleagues and hundreds of thousands of people from his own state who sent letters demanding his dismissal. He died in 1957, a lost and delirious alcoholic, addicted to morphine, cirrhotic, and swept away by a torrent of rumors that pointed him out as homosexual, dishonest and “indecent.”

Beyond the specific people he destroyed, his main victim was the idea of the United States as a project of freedom, tolerance, and opportunity. In its place he revealed the deformed face of a reality of extermination of its “original peoples”, of slavery and extreme exploitation against its immigrants. And in the most modern version of it, the one that –via Twitter– preaches hatred against “bad men” from Mexico, women, or Muslims.

Paradoxes of history, who would have thought that one of its most outstanding students in the business of sowing hatred, the current leader in the polls for the presidential election this November, would be an open admirer of a character like Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, heir to the evil Joseph Stalin.

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