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Editorial | America, ultimately, will right itself

Published:Thursday | November 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM

America, eventually, will right itself. It usually does. As was the case 62 years ago, in 1954.

Up to June of that year, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, named Joseph McCarthy, was riding high. For four years, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its subcommittee on investigations, Joe McCarthy scavenged the cracks and crevices of American society and its major institutions, attempting, during public hearings, to unmask and humiliate supposed communists and fellow travellers.

Essentially, Mr McCarthy operated a witch-hunt. Yet, he enthralled America, even as, on no or flimsy evidence, he broke people and destroyed lives.

Joe McCarthy's downfall, however, was as swift as it was unexpected. His committee was probing alleged communist infiltration in the USA when Mr McCarthy attempted to implicate Fred Fisher, a young lawyer in the chambers of the army's chief counsel, Richard N. Welch, and by extension, Mr Welch himself.

Mr Welch's defence of Mr Fisher was devastating: "... Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?'

The refrain aroused America's sense of decency. Richard Welch helped to remind Americans of the depth of their democracy and the moral foundation upon which it was constructed. Sometimes they forget.

On Tuesday, Americans elected their next president, in the person of Donald J. Trump, a man who, in the decades since the end of McCarthy era, comes closest in character and ideology to resembling the man who gave his name to this dark period of US history.

Like Joe McCarthy, Mr Trump is a demagogue with a dystopian vision of the United States. His misogyny is notorious. So are xenophobia and ethnophobia. He branded Mexicans rapists and drug smugglers and says he will build a wall on the border between the two countries. He insulted African Americans and attempted to delegitimise the country's first black president.




He has threatened to tear up global treaties on trade and multilateral ones on defence as part of his plan to return jobs to the United States and in fulfilment of his campaign mantra to "make America great again". Mr Trump has promised, too, to fight global terrorism by banning Muslims from entering the US and pledged to launch investigations into his rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump, largely, has articulated a vision of an America that is inward-looking, less embracing of its diversity, and frankly, that has more in common with the far-right movements in Europe that have been moving from the fringes to the centre of the continent's politics. Indeed, taken to the logical conclusion, Donald Trump's policies, will upend the economic, political and foreign policies orthodoxies that defined the United States since the end of World War Two.

Clearly, Donald Trump's message appealed to large swathes of Americans; sufficient for him to form the coalition that delivered the presidency. But fundamentally, it is a coalition of grievance; of people who, uncertain about their lives in a rapidly changing world, know what they are against and are willing to cling to Donald Trump's, thus far, ephemeral plans for a better future. The problem for the world, though, is that whoever who leads America, its largest economic and military superpower, matters. America's economic behaviour affects global markets. It leads military coalitions. Mr Trump controls nuclear codes. America's leader should be thoughtful, steady and worthy of trust.

Donald Trump, maybe, can transform himself. In the end, however, America will heal.