Radio Free NH: Donald Trump, Have You No Shame?

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Michael Davidow

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire

By 1954, Joseph McCarthy had reached the limit of his usefulness to the Republican Party. His colleagues had long supported his red-baiting because he had been doing his damage to the Truman administration, in particular to the State Department.  Eisenhower’s election changed that calculus, though, so McCarthy’s act was beginning to wear thin. He therefore lashed out in new directions. He attacked the United States Army next.

Its lawyer was a man named Joseph Welch, McCarthy and Welch squared off in the Senate, and with Welch effectively parrying each of McCarthy’s jabs, McCarthy finally accused one of Welch’s own associates of being a communist shill. Welch first apologized for any offense he himself might have given to one of McCarthy’s aides. Then, as he turned to defending his co-worker, he added with exasperation in his voice, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

Per the story we like to tell ourselves, the audience applauded those words, and McCarthy fell silent. That didn’t happen, exactly. The two of them continued arguing for another long moment about the relative merits of McCarthy’s and Welch’s assistants. But the audience did eventually applaud Welch, and those hearings were the beginning of the end for McCarthy. He was formally censured not long after that, and he died not long after his censure. It was probably a mistake for him to pick on the Army.

Welch’s question haunts me these days, because if someone were to ask that of Donald Trump, the answer would be “no, I don’t,” and his audience would hoot and holler with the joy of the hunt. For proof of that, consider his latest criminal charges, and how he is still the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024.

The charges in Florida are simple ones: he mishandled secret documents. Yet for all their simplicity, these charges also illustrate one key truth about Donald Trump, and it’s a new thing in our history: our former chief executive took the presidency as a joke, as just one more way to assert his ego. He was not interested in his responsibilities. He was not interested in his actual work. He used our nation’s highest office as a way to preen in the mirror. 

He took his secret documents, he hid his secret documents, and he flashed his secret documents around his party house in the bright of night with dozens of lawyers surrounding him and begging him not to do so. He thumbed his nose at both his own advisors and the cops on the beat with the cartoon confidence of a spoiled-rotten child flinging another string bean at the dog after having been told to stop that. He did it, looking into our eyes, and daring us to make him stop. It’s ludicrous.

It is all but given that he has no factual defense. Nor do any legal defenses seem to apply. His own former attorney general, that establishment bottom-feeder, Bill Barr, has declared him to be so much toast. But he can still be acquitted if he can do one thing. He can still be acquitted if he can convince his jury to say so. It may only one take one person to hang it. One person, who wants to be a hero to those who love Trump.

I am a fan of juries. I rely on them for my work and I believe that they take their jobs seriously. They listen, they think, they decide. But right now I must confess: I fear that we are asking too much of this one particular jury in Florida. Because we are asking that jury to do our dirty work for us—to rid us of a political scourge. Juries aren’t made for that. Elections are supposed to fix such problems.

It shouldn’t be this way. Both his party and his country should have abandoned Trump long ago. That failure proves many things: the debasement of our national politics, in which personal advancement has become the sole goal of our leaders, rather than governing; the mental illness running rampant in our society, an epidemic compounded of depression, hopelessness, profound adjustment disorder, and a narcissism so vast that it can barely be seen, being mistaken instead for the reality of our times; how one man’s moral bankruptcy can spread, if the ground is ripe for rot.

Another feature of the Army-McCarthy hearings: McCarthy’s right-hand man was a lawyer from New York named Roy Cohn; in fact, McCarthy was defending Cohn in his diatribe against Welch’s assistant, and Cohn was sitting right there, simpering all the while. Roy Cohn later befriended another New Yorker named Donald Trump. Trump likes to talk about how much he misses him. Neither of them ever felt shame.

Davidow writes Radio Free New Hampshire for He is also the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project,  The Book of Order, and The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Davidow’s Chanukah Land can be found here.

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