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"Demagogue": The Living Legacy Of Sen. Joe McCarthy

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A short, concise four-page article of impeachmentof President Donald Trump, co-sponsored by more than 200 Democratic congressmen, may come to the floor of the House of Representatives as soon as tomorrow.  Yesterday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave Vice President Mike Pence 24 hours to convene the cabinet and pursue removing Mr. Trump under the 25th Amendment.  Mr. Pence has long indicated antipathy to that idea.  If that route to removal is not possible, Pelosi has promised to pursue impeachment.  

Last week’s assault on the US Capitol by a mob incited by President Trump was for many a wake-up-call to the dangers of demagoguery.

Mr. Trump, whose four-year term in office has been one of the most divisive and chaotic in US history, is not the first American political leader who has sought to solidify his power by exploiting fears and prejudice and using brutish and inflammatory rhetoric to intimidate and silence his opponents.

Credit photo by Lisa Frusztajer
Journalist Larry Tye is the author of eight books, including his 2016 biography, Bobby Kennedy - The Making of a Liberal Icon.

To understand Donald Trump’s rise to power and the seemingly intractable hold he has maintained over a sizeable portion of the US electorate, my guest today looks to the tactics once employed by Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican whose brief reign of terror in the US Senate during the early 1950s gave demagoguery a new name: “McCarthyism.”

In his new biography of McCarthy, author Larry Tyetraces a direct through-line from Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump, in McCarthy’s notorious chief counsel, Roy Cohn, who would later serve as Donald Trump’s attorney and mentor.

The book is called Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy.

Larry Tyejoins us on Zoom…


Special NPR coverage of deliberations on invoking the 25th Amendment in the House begins today here on WYPR at 6:00.  If the House takes up the impeachment article tomorrow, WYPR will carry NPR’s live coverage of the debate on that issue beginning at 9:00 tomorrow morning.

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