After Donald Trump attacked the family of a dead Army captain, fallen in the field, on the ground that they were Muslims, many were shocked at the new low that the Republican presidential candidate had sunk to.
But as Corey Robin reminds us, the GOP has made a standard practice out of smearing and libelling US military veterans. Who can forget the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth?
But the Lying Swift Boaters were just the highest-profile example. The beta-test for them was former Georgia Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a US Army vet who lost both legs and part of one arm in Vietnam, whose 2002 GOP challenger, Saxby Chambliss, ran TV ads comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Then there Cindy Sheehan, another Gold Star mother mercilessly smeared by the GOP and its supporters for speaking out against an illegal and immoral war.
So if veterans and their bereaved families have been fair game for the GOP for more than a decade, why is Trump's attack on Khan being denounced within his own party? According to Robin, it's the same reason the GOP eventually turned on Senator Joe McCarthy: because he'd become a loose cannon that was doing the party more harm than good.
What finally did Joe McCarthy in was not Joseph Welch. It was the fact that the GOP was getting decreasing returns out of redbaiting the Democrats—redbaiting and McCarthy had helped them get liberals booted out of the Senate and get the Democrats to purge whatever remaining elements of the left they had not already purged in the late 1940s—and the fact that McCarthy had begun to turn on the GOP (and the security establishment), too. Within four short years, their wonder-boy asset had become an increasingly erratic, almost sclerotic liability.
Welch’s question—have you no decency left—could more properly be posed as: Have you no utility left? When the good and the great finally denounce the bad and the worse, it’s not because the latter has crossed some Rubicon of decency; it’s usually because they’re useless or threatening to established interests. And it takes no great act of courage to denounce them; often, that’s just a sign that the object of denunciation is already down or defeated.
Trump’s Indecent Proposal
[Corey Robin/Crooked Timber]
(Image: Max Cleland, American Battle Monuments Commission , Senior Airman Benjamin Wilson, PD)