mccarthyism | WAMC

mccarthyism

In the long history of American demagogues, from Huey Long to Donald Trump, never has one man caused so much damage in such a short time as Senator Joseph McCarthy.

We still use “McCarthyism” to stand for outrageous charges of guilt by association, a weapon of polarizing slander. From 1950 to 1954, McCarthy destroyed many careers and even entire lives, whipping the nation into a frenzy of paranoia, accusation, loyalty oaths, and terror. When the public finally turned on him, he came crashing down, dying of alcoholism in 1957.

Larry Tye’s new biography, "Demagogue," is a portrait of a human being capable of immense evil, yet beguiling charm. McCarthy was a tireless worker and a genuine war hero. When he made it to the Senate, he flailed around in search of an agenda. Finally, after three years, he hit upon anti-communism.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Politicians and pundits start accusing teachers of being socialists and indoctrinating students into their nefarious way of thinking, and demand an investigation. This actually happened in New York just before the start of the Second World War and it is now seen as the seed that gave birth to McCarthyism after the war.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll look back at that investigation and how it ripped through the school system.

In late summer 1940, as war spread across Europe and as the nation pulled itself out of the Great Depression, an anti-communist hysteria convulsed New York City. Targeting the city’s municipal colleges and public schools, the New York state legislature’s Rapp-Coudert investigation dragged hundreds of suspects before public and private tribunals to root out a perceived communist conspiracy to hijack the city’s teachers unions, subvert public education, and indoctrinate the nation’s youth.

Drawing on the vast archive of Rapp-Coudert records, Union College History Professor Andrew Feffer looks to provide the first full history of this witch-hunt, which lasted from August 1940 to March 1942.

He does so in the new book: "Bad Faith: Teachers, Liberalism, and the Origins of McCarthyism." Andrew Feffer is Professor of History and Co-Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Film Studies at Union College.

As host of “The Lead” and “State of the Union” on CNN, Jake Tapper spends his days bringing attention to some of the biggest political headlines.

Tapper has now brought Washington intrigue and the “swampiness” on this city to his first novel. “The Hellfire Club,” is a political thriller that takes place during the days when Senator Joe McCarthy was carrying out his Communist “witch hunt.”