Conservatives Forsaking Democracy

“Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.”

– Arthur Miller

Once in a very bad time not too long ago, members of Congress launched what became known as the Red Scare, first hunting Communists in Hollywood then by a Republican senator whose name was attached to the career-damaging crusade – McCarthy.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) preceded Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisc., by several years in launching its relentless nine-days of hearings in 1947 hunting for Communists, destroying or sidelining the careers among the more than 300 actors, directors and writers boycotted by studios, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles among them.

Alger Hiss, a State Department official, one of the most renowned of the accused, was convicted of perjury in 1948 for lying to a federal grand jury and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released after three years and eight months.

The bullying McCarthy, an early blustering Trumpian character seeking fame, seized the moment and in televised Senate subcommittee hearings from April to June 1954 he charged the Army, particularly the Signal Corps, with being “soft” on communism. He said there were 205 Communists at the State Department.

No charges ever were filed, the Senate censured McCarthy in December 1954 and he died three years later of complications of cirrhosis of the liver.

The Red Scare together with the Army-McCarthy hearings later were dubbed McCarthyism.

A generation later, conservative President Ronald Reagan, also a Republican, labeled the Soviet Union, as Russia then was known, an “evil empire.” His Pentagon even published an annual slick propaganda magazine titled “Soviet Military Power,” alleging the Russians were catching up to us technologically. It was a device to justify Reagan’s $181 billion military buildup (about $555.1 billion today).

So, it was clear to Americans the Russians were Public Enemy No. 1, whether Republicans or Democrats were in power. That is, until Donald Trump staged one of his out-of-the blue shockers.

He sided with President Vladimir Putin at their July 20, 2018 Helsinki summit by agreeing with him that Russia did not interfere in the 2020 election, igniting a tsunami because he contradicted his own FBI’s assessment of what the Russians were doing.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Commentator Tucker Carlson of Fox News, the Republican Party’s propaganda arm, seems to have taken the Trumpian allegiance to Putin a step further by broadcasting his views that America should side with Russia and not with Ukraine in Moscow’s threatened invasion of the former Soviet bloc country, a democracy for 30 years.

Russia, which seized the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in what marked a step toward Putin’s attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire, has more than 127,000 troops facing Ukraine in its eastern Donbas region. It also has built up armored and other forces in friendly Belarus, which is on Ukraine’s western border, about 140 miles from its capital, Kyiv.

Washington plans to send 3,000 troops to Poland and Romania as a protective measure but none to Ukraine.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-New Jersey, tweeted last week that his office has been receiving phone calls from people who watch Carlson’s show and are “upset that we’re not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine and want me to support Russia’s ‘reasonable’ position.”

Russia has demanded that NATO not expand closer to its border by accepting Ukraine as a member of the alliance and pledging not to try to do the same with other former Soviet bloc countries. The United States and NATO have refused, arguing that countries should be free to choose their allies.

“People get their opinions by watching the news, that’s nothing new,” Malinowski told The Hill newspaper, according to the Guardian. “What is new is we have at least one talk show host with a huge captive audience that is not exposed to any counter-programming elsewhere. I find that very concerning.”

More than 4 million people watch Carlson’s primetime show.

“Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine?” Carlson asked on his Jan. 24 show, according to the Independent newspaper in London. “They’re both foreign countries that don’t care anything about the United States. Kind of strange. It’s all an absurd performance, but it’s all they’ve got in the end.”

Carlson, who has cozied up to Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán, doesn’t view Russia as an enemy. He seems on the surface to be taking an isolationist position, similar to that led by aviator Charles Lindbergh, who wanted to keep America out of World War II. But it appears to run deeper, perhaps another point of contention in the worldviews of liberals and conservatives.

Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told Washington Post commentator Greg Sargent that “Tucker’s argument against escalation is essentially based on the idea that Ukrainian lives don’t matter.”

Sargent referred to a paper by the Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan think tank, arguing that “progressives believe that defending Ukrainian sovereignty has immense stakes . . . [and] to uphold liberal democratic order and to deter creeping strongman authoritarian nationalism, the U.S should be prepared to deploy maximal soft-power leverage.

“But this may be exactly why Carlson opposes defending Ukraine at all costs: He sees Putin as a kind of ally in that international cabal of right-wing nationalists. As Duss told me: ‘In the Carlson-MAGA worldview, Putin is an avatar of white Christian nationalism.’”

“We are supporting Ukraine because it is a democracy, because a war there would cause a terrible loss of life, and because ever since WWII, it has been America’s policy to prevent dictators from changing borders with tanks,” Malinowski tweeted Jan. 25. “We need unity and strength around that principle today.”

Malinowski, born in Poland, an assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Obama administration and in Congress since 2019, posted another tweet the same day.

“Actually, in the 1930s many prominent Americans with millions of followers argued we should appease Hitler for the sake of ‘peace.’ Pearl Harbor put an end to that. I hope that despite our polarized media, we won’t need a similar shock to find unity today.”

Carlson and those who agree with him are taking an already severely divided country back to the 1930s, one of America’s toughest times because of the Great Depression.

If the threat of what certainly would be a terribly costly war for both sides doesn’t unify Americans, perhaps nothing will.


Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.