Home / General / There Is A New McCarthyism in the United States. It Has Nothing To Do With Vladimir Putin. (Except Insofar as Putin Helped to Put the McCarthyists in Office.)

There Is A New McCarthyism in the United States. It Has Nothing To Do With Vladimir Putin. (Except Insofar as Putin Helped to Put the McCarthyists in Office.)

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Based on this thread, there seems to be some confusion about what McCarthyism is. McCarthyism was a state-led campaign to suppress speech (with some private collaborators), based on conspiracy claims that were mostly exaggerated or false. There is most certainly an analogy to this happening in the United States right now:

Since the election of President Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.”

From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

Some are introducing bills because they say they’re necessary to counter the actions of “paid” or “professional” protesters who set out to intimidate or disrupt, a common accusation that experts agree is largely overstated. “You now have a situation where you have full-time, quasi-professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” said Republican state senator John Kavanagh of Arizona in support of a measure there that would bring racketeering charges against some protesters.

No analogy is perfect, but this is a lot like McCarthyism. What is not even remotely like McCarthyism is this:

But I do want to draw attention to an outstanding article in today’s Guardian by the Russian-born American journalist Keith Gessen, in which he clinically examines — and demolishes — all of the hysterical, ignorant, fearmongering, manipulative claims now predominant in U.S. discourse about Russia, Putin, and the Kremlin.

The article begins: “Vladimir Putin, you may have noticed, is everywhere.” As a result, he points out, “Putinology” — which he defines as “the production of commentary and analysis about Putin and his motivations, based on necessarily partial, incomplete and sometimes entirely false information” — is now in great prominence even though it “has existed as a distinct intellectual industry for over a decade.” In sum, he writes: “At no time in history have more people with less knowledge, and greater outrage, opined on the subject of Russia’s president.”

It’s hardly unique for American media and political commentators to speak of foreign adversaries with a mix of ignorance and paranoia. But the role Putin serves above all else, he says, is to cast America’s problems not as its own doing but rather the fault of foreigners, and more importantly, to relieve the Democratic Party of the need to examine its own fundamental flaws and errors…

I’m sure some claims about Putin have been exaggerated. But the possibility that the Russian state intervened in the American election is hardly without basis, like McCarthy’s “list” of Communists in the State Department. But the real problem here is that there’s no suppression of speech here. The alleged harm is not “talking about Putin is causing people to be repressed,” but “people aren’t talking enough about how Hillary Clinton sucks.” The idea that this is an any way analogous to McCarthyism is utterly absurd. And, of course, the idea that the result of the 2016 election has only One True Cause, and it’s imperative to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ the very likely decisive role of the FBI, America’s broken electoral system, and the likely role of the Russian state is transparently wrong even leaving aside the fact that it’s not even slightly analogous to McCarthyism.

And this is the dark irony here — people who worked hard to minimize the threat of Trump ex ante and think the most urgent task of American political discourse ex post is to attack someone who will never be a presidential candidate again are inveighing against an imaginary “McCarthyism” while Trump’s Republican Party is doing the real thing. I’m afraid I’m going to have to give this order to discuss one thing and one thing only about the 2016 election a hard pass yet again.

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