ELLEN SCHRECKER, ellen.schrecker [at] gmail.com
A retired professor of American history at Yeshiva University, Schrecker is a leading authority on McCarthyism. Her books include Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America and No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism in the Universities.
She said today: “When President Trump accused his predecessor of McCarthyism for supposedly wiretapping his headquarters during the presidential election, he was wrong. Whatever happened — if anything did — it definitely wasn’t McCarthyism.
“Although surveillance of hundreds, if not thousands, of American citizens was a feature of that bad old phenomenon, McCarthyism was a much broader campaign to eliminate an unpopular political, and allegedly dangerous, movement from American life. It could return.
“But in a different form. ‘Islamic extremists’ and their supporters, not Communists and theirs, might be the target. Immigrants already are. Proposed blacklists — of anti-conservative professors, allegedly Russian-oriented websites, and who knows what else — are sprouting up. And, if we think about personalities, we should recall that McCarthy with his wildly fabricated charges of communist subversion was often out of control.
“But, what is critical and what is poorly understood is how much what we call McCarthyism depended on the willing collaboration of liberals and moderates who normalized its anti-communist hysteria. Hubert Humphrey not only backed the Internal Security Act of 1950, originally sponsored by Richard Nixon, but even added provisions for concentration camps for Communists.
“Universities are particularly endangered. Professors are becoming an endangered species as their alleged ‘political correctness’ is being used as a pretext to attack higher education. While right-wing activists create blacklists of undesirable academics, campuses are under considerable pressure to silence critics of the present government in Israel.
“The net effect of the acquiescence of liberals and moderates, not to mention the legitimation of white nationalism by the present government, could result, as it did in the Fifties, in the further silencing of the left, the elimination of substantive controversy, and a normalization of right-wing extremism.”