Bernie Sanders, among others, has lived long enough to become a genuine McCarthyite.
Twenty-nine years ago, Bernie Sanders spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. Now he sounds like a Martin Dies Democrat.
“President Trump, in a reckless and dangerous manner, has revealed highly classified information to the Russians at a meeting in the Oval Office,” Vermont’s junior senator declared this week, “information that could expose extremely important sources and methods of intelligence gathering in the fight against ISIS.”
If only the Russians still engaged in a cold war against the United States instead of a hot war against ISIS, the Kremlin’s meddling might receive a pass. It certainly did for many decades.
“Who is to say that [Ted] Hall’s decision and those of [Klaus] Fuchs, Morris Cohen, [Julius] Rosenberg, and others who gave atomic secrets to the Soviets did not contribute significantly to what John Lewis Gaddis has called ‘the long peace’ that followed World War II?” wondered UC-San Diego Professor Michael E. Parrish. Many Are the Crimes author Ellen Schrecker infamously rejected the tag of traitor for Americans aiding the Russians; she insisted they merely “did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism.”
To quote a thinker more revered in those circles than Trump, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
Schrecker recently took to the pages of the Nation to discuss the possibility of a sequel of sorts to the McCarthy era during the Trump Administration. She appears wrong even when right. A witch hunt has indeed arrived. Donald Trump recognized as much in tweeting, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” It just didn’t come the way the I-was-for-the-Russians-before-I-was-against-them wing of the Democratic Party imagined it would.
Trump did not provide nuclear secrets to the Russians, as Julius Rosenberg did. He did not give the Russians the formula for printing American greenbacks that allowed them to counterfeit our currency, as Harry Dexter White did. He did not intentionally shape international agreements, as Alger Hiss did at Yalta and in San Francisco at the founding of the United Nations, to benefit the Russians. Trump allegedly discussed the plans of a common enemy. Surely if Franklin Roosevelt could share information about a common enemy with Joseph Stalin, then Donald Trump doing so with Vladimir Putin’s emissary does not violate any norms.
Trump, not the 535 members of Congress or the nine Supreme Court Justices or the 16 members of the New York Times editorial board, serves as commander in chief. One can argue that the president should not share certain pieces of information with certain countries. But questioning the wisdom of an act differs from questioning its legality. Beyond the classification system’s genesis stemming from an executive order, Article II of the Constitution vests the power to conduct foreign policy with the president. In combatting the terrorists’ war on the West, reasons abound for allies, even ones made so by a common enemy, to share information — not the least of which involves an expectation that the foreign government reciprocates.
To call the creation of a special counsel to investigate the Trump administration’s Russian ties “quite a coup” reveals a literal truth beneath the metaphor. The opposition party can perform the heavy lifting of winning back Congress, or, alternatively, it can bring the administration’s agenda to a sclerotic halt by pressuring for the creation of a special prosecutor.
Clausewitz called war “politics by other means.” In our passive-aggressive society, a special prosecutor is politics by other means.
Witch hunter Joe McCarthy at least exposed a few witches (Mary Jane Keeney, Edward Posniak, and Gustavo Duran, to name three). Whose record among the current Russophobes in identifying traitors in the Trump administration matches the man whose last name now works as a pejorative denoting reckless use of power?
Photo credit: NPR, Bernie Sanders