Boston University

Trump’s McCarthyism and What the American People Have Come to Fear By: Emma Geesaman @ Boston University

In the 2016 presidential race, Trump didn’t reassure Americans that they have nothing to fear, rather he pulled the security blanket of American exceptionalism right off the public’s back, exposing it to threats on all sides. He told us over and over again that immigrants are stealing our jobs, refugees are bringing terrorists to our country, drugs and criminals are flowing into the United States from the Mexican border, and we have far more enemies than friends abroad. What would minimize these threats and bring a sense of security back to Americans? A Trump Presidency.

Trump succeeded in instilling enough fear in the minds of Americans on the Right to win the 2016 presidential election. However, Trump continues to employ what Hofstadter termed the paranoid style. Through his rhetoric, Trump has displayed all three qualities of the paranoid style: heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.

Much like Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt, Trump has not faltered in accusing democrats, namely Hilary Clinton, of being corrupt and trying to undermine American democracy by rigging elections and leaking classified information. One of the most famous conspiracies Trump helped to mobilize was that which claimed former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, likely in an attempt to remove him from office. Trump has also followed in McCarthy’s footsteps by vilifying and attacking the media, specifically those networks with ties to the Democratic Party which he has categorized as “Fake News”. Trump accuses these news sources of lying to and manipulating Americans. Trump’s McCarthyism has also divided the public by calling on individuals to be suspicious of Muslims and question the citizenship of Hispanics. Much like McCarthy accused individuals of being communists, Trump accuses Muslim refugees of being terrorists and Hispanics of being criminals who are here to take advantage of the American welfare system and stealing jobs away from deserving Americans. His policy goals to limit the number of refugees coming to America, making vetting processes more extreme, deporting illegal immigrants, and building a wall across the Mexican border all reflect such suspicions. Trump’s foreign policy is also shaped by the paranoid style for example, he has claimed that climate change was invented by China to reduce the competitiveness of American industry.

The success of these tactics during Trump’s campaign is evident in the outcome of the 2016 election; however, the elections that took place on November 7th seem to suggest that Americans have come to recognize and fear a different threat: Trumpism. On Tuesday, Democrats experienced major victories in Virginia and New Jersey. This represents a larger trend of suburban voters coming out to express their distaste with Trump and his policies. Exit polls in both Virginia and New Jersey showed that the share of voters whose ballots were motivated by their opposition to Trump was twice as high as the share of those who said they were voting to support him.

Svolik in “When Polarization Trumps Civic Virtue”, states that polarization forces voters to choose between anti-democratic candidates whose policies they support and democratic candidates whose policies they despise. On Tuesday, the Democrats experienced several victories, but the real winner appears to be democracy. Trump’s core supporters haven’t abandoned him, but his populist authoritarian tendencies and his paranoid style have brought moderate voters out of the cracks to oppose him and have mobilized the groups he has targeted.


1 Comment

  1. Bradly Knox

    November 11, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    I think you might be onto something with the “Trump as McCarthy” analogy. I see that you address a few interesting and interconnected ideas: populism, polarization, and McCarthyism. How might all of these connect? With populist beliefs, we have the “us” versus “them,” right? And populism, thus, drives polarized political party identities. This seems to be very much what was demonstrated during the McCarthy era: “us” (Americans) versus “them” (Soviet agents). However, your take on “Trumpism” (which has been previously used before but not how I have read it with your post on McCarthyism) has interesting differences; and I wonder, how might you tease those out? First, Trump undoubtedly uses populist rhetoric (much like McCarthy) that juxtaposes in stark contrast us versus Mexicans, Muslims, etc. But then your average citizen (reasonable citizen) are not in fear of racial colonialization or infiltration like Americans were for Soviet agents (i.e., “red scare”). So I wonder how you might reconcile: evidence of increasing polarization exists since the ’60s, if we are more polarized today, how is it that we see less “populist effect” with Trumpism (as opposed to McCarthyism)?

Leave a Reply