America’s Culture War and the Danger of Labels: McCarthyism and Fascism

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) instigated an anti-Communist crusade, “McCarthyism.”  He was noted for alleging large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the federal government and elsewhere. What is important to remember about that time is that our nation was in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. It was the height of espionage on both sides, and the fear of communist spies and subversives in the U.S. was indeed legitimate. 

McCarthy watched the “red menace” everywhere. It became his personal mission to find them, whether real or imagined. What began as a hunt for spies and subversives (few, if any, were found) became a tool to disgrace and destroy those individuals or groups with whom McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) disagreed. It was a very basic process: target and identify an individual or a group and declare them to be communist; find some association or link to the Communist Party and then claim that this proved the targeted individual or group were sympathetic to the Communist Party. 

Never mind that evidence was lacking. For those who worked in government, this allegation was enough to get fired from a job, have security clearance stripped, and forfeit one’s career either for political reasons or to simply prove to the American people that President Harry Truman and the Democrats were too soft on communists. Ultimately, the controversy McCarthy generated led him to be censured by the U.S. Senate.

Today, the term McCarthyism is used to reference what is considered demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents. Sound familiar? 

Today, McCarthyism is not used for accusations of Communism. What now take place are accusations of fascism. Calling someone a fascist is as commonplace in political discourse now as the charge of communism was in the 1950s. These accusers are no different from McCarthy, who carelessly used the term “communist sympathizer” against anyone he opposed or wanted to target. The aim is the same: to destroy those with whom you disagree. 

I wonder if those who casually toss around the accusation of fascism really understand just what it means. Even if they did, do they really care? 

Fascism is a political ideology. The core of fascism is total authority of a dictator who emerges through his own will. Fascism in its historical form was an assault on the freedom of nations to pursue their self-determination and self-interests. Fascists elevated their right to pursue their national interests based on an assertion of their nations’ inherent superiority and the right to rule. Recall the trifecta of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco.

Today, those who vehemently disapprove and oppose the Trump administration, and anything associated with the political right, call their enemies fascists. Subsequently, those who are labeled as such are subjected to utter and complete character assassinations, with outrageous and oftentimes unfounded charges. 

The hurdle for being labeled a fascist should be quite high. Fascism is far more than racism.  Real fascism was Nazi Germany, which dictated absolute obedience to the Führer, whose authority was understood to be above the law. 

Let’s not forget the dangers of labeling those with whom we disagree as fascists. Doing so shuts down all communication and understanding. Our country is better than that. 

Dr. Katherine Harris

Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is an OpsLens contributor, a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany.
Academically, Dr. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from The University of Maryland European Division, a Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, and a Doctorate in Education from Rowan University with an emphasis in leadership and higher education in a global context.

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