Has Donald Trump finally reached his Joe McCarthy tipping point moment? Trump’s malevolently vicious attack on the memory of Lori Klausitis, which he wielded as a weapon to sully persistent critic Joe Scarborough, took me back to 1954. It was in that year’s Army-McCarthy hearings that attorney Joseph N. Welch’s famously retorted to bullying behavior by the slimy, red-baiting Wisconsin senator: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”
We know the answer were Welch’s question applied to today’s incumbent. Trump has no sense of decency. There is no bottom to his barrel. There is no end to his ignoring democratic norms, no limit to his mendacious behavior. Neither pussy-grabbing boasts to insults of POWs and Gold Star parents have troubled Trump supporters. His 18,000 documented lies and misstatements, his vindictiveness, his disregard for the nation’s role as a global model, even his despicable lack of leadership in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic – none of that has significantly changed the loyalty of his steadfast base. The only thing that could be different this time is the reaction of his erstwhile supporters.
Decades ago, Lori Klausitis, 28, an aide to then Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough, fainted in his district office due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. She hit her head going down and died from the injury. Some fringe news stories circulated alleging that Scarborough was having an affair with Klausitis and that he killed her to cover up the indiscretion. It was a patent lie (Scarborough was in Washington at the time, verified by his recorded House votes and the medical examiner confirmed her underlying condition). The President, rediscovering the old conspiracy theorists’ garbage, has recently gone on Twitter to libel Scarborough as a murderer (something he had also done in 2017) and demanded the reopening of the investigation of the MSNBC host, an outspoken critic of the President.
Scarborough’s wife and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, has called on the president of Twitter to remove the President from Twitter because of his mendacity. Klausitis’ widower, Timothy, has written to Twitter president Jack Dorsey to take down the scurrilous tweets that continue to inflict pain on his late wife’s family. Twitter responded by saying it would start labeling lies as untrue; it then proceeded to do it not in the Scarborough situation but only, so far, on a tweet falsely asserting huge voter fraud with mail-in ballots. Trump, of course, doubled down by repeating his cruel lies, attacking Twitter for allegedly stifling his free speech and threatening to sign an executive order restricting social media activities that don’t favor him.
In the fifties, it wasn’t until Welch’s penetrating question reached the collective conscience of the American public that McCarthy sycophants, in and out of Congress, slithered away, public opinion turned against him and his power ebbed. Will this time be different for Trump? Will his deplorable behavior matter for his hard-core base?
There have been some eloquent critiques of what Trump has done, but they are largely from the usual suspects. Unlike other times, however, there have been some voices from the respectable right, such as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board decrying his behavior for debasing the presidency.
For the most part, conservative leaders in Washington have scurried for the underbrush, unwilling to face questions about Trump’s calumny. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Senator Mitt Romney were the sole GOP officials to tell Trump to knock it off. Even the Florida congressional delegation, some of whom served with Scarborough, have refused to stand up for their former colleague.
Obviously, this is just another distraction gambit, to turn the public away from the heartbreaking 100,000 death toll and other examples of Trump’s wanton presidential mismanagement. Sadly, to date, he has largely been successful in ginning up divisive culture wars to inflame his base.
I would like to be proven wrong, but I fear this latest example of Trump’s malevolent cruelty will not cool the ardor of his loyal followers, but, like the coronavirus will lurk in the body politic until we activate the needed treatment. With luck and hard work, Nov 3 will bring a vaccine, effective January 20, 2021.