An Animated Introduction to McCarthyism: What Is It? And How Did It Happen?

During the 1970s, a young Donald Trump was mentored by Roy Cohn, a brash, take-no-prisoners lawyer, who first came to prominence during the 1950s, when he served as the consigliere to Joseph McCarthy and his campaign to expose suspected communists in the United States. In what’s known as the Second Red Scare, McCarthy led increasingly broad and paranoid investigations, trying to find Communists, sympathizers and spies, both inside and outside the federal government. Mostly on the basis of rumor, not fact, “thousands of individuals were aggressively investigated and questioned before government panels.” Blacklists were created. Some were jailed. Careers and livelihoods were destroyed.

Year later, playwright Arthur Miller recalled, “Suffice it to say, it was a time of great–no doubt unprecedented–fear.” “The air of terror was heavy.” “I was sure the whole thing would soon go away.” Eventually a sense of futility gave way to anger, and Miller responded by writing The Crucible, a commentary on McCarthyism wrapped in a drama about the Salem witch trials of 1692/93.

Above, you can watch above a six minute primer on McCarthyism, prepared by Ellen Schrecker, professor emerita of American history at Yeshiva University. An expert on the history of McCarthyism, she has been called “the dean of the anti-anti-Communist historians.” Her books on the subject include: Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America and Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents.

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  • Bill W. says:

    To be fair, declassified FBI documents showed that many of those accused (including Alger Hiss) really WERE Communist spies and agents…but then again, a broken clock is also correct twice a day…

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