Unsettling as it seems Americans have a bad habit of becoming what they fear. Let me clarify what I mean by that statement. Sad to say, examples from the past abound.
Immediately after World War One, in 1919 to be specific, the US entered its first Red Scare. The 1917 Russian Revolution had begun to gel as a communist-led government. Lenin announced the Soviet aim of world conquest, resolving to export Soviet Communism world-wide, and the impact on America was harsh. Criticism of the US government was considered treasonous and a new law, The Sedition Act made this clear violation of the First Amendment a law. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in two separate decisions. Non-conformists and dissidents were quickly rounded up and prosecuted by the Justice Department in an episode known as the Palmer Raids. Native born radicals were locked up, Socialist Eugene Debs for one. And foreign born radicals were deported, including anarchist Emma Goldman. The courts, the government, and public opinion merged to reject what they feared– an all-powerful, closed Communist system.
A similar series of misadventures followed the end of World War Two. The truly scary actions of Joseph Stalin: keeping his Red Army in East Germany and Eastern Europe, sealing off the Autobahn into West Berlin, and disavowing the free Polish government in favor of a Communist regime in Warsaw.
In America Congress reacted. The national legislature formed HUAC, the House Un-American Activity Committee, then The Defense Act of 1947 passed, which formed the NSA and the CIA. And finally the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, which limited visas to people with no Communist baggage. Again the irony of the US exerting unconstitutional suppression, silencing critics, and maligning those who resisted, are hard to believe. America became what it feared–closed, intolerant, and suspicious. Fear of infiltration by Communism became a broad pretext to deny many Americans their civil protections. Remember Lloyd Bridges? “Seahunt?” The father of acting brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges? He was blacklisted in Hollywood for a long time, with no proof of cavorting with Communists. And he wasn’t the only one.
So, that brings me to today. The idea for this blog came out of a quick pic crossing the AOL home page. It showed Senator Mitch McConnell stepping on stage to speak at a conservative gathering of some sort. In his hands he holds a rifle, and on his face a proud, defiant grin. And that image has haunted me all day. Finally that little bulb flickered in my mind of what the photo resembled, and I am not happy. It’s happening again.