Zelenskyy’s speech is a brave reminder of what is at stake both here and abroad…
Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited America this week. His nation is facing a harsh winter and a harsher future as they try valiantly to repel an invasion of their sovereign nation by a Russian army ordered into battle by Russian war criminal, Vladimir Putin. He spoke in the chamber of the House of Representatives to an American Congress sprinkled with a chorus of Russian appeasers who are threatening to once again do Putin’s bidding by limiting aid to his war-torn country- to a choir of traitors who chose to undermine American democracy. Some, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Hawley, chose overt hostility to the Ukraine leader’s request for American resolve in his fight. They stayed home. Others, buoyed by their ignorance and lack of spine, chose to sit on their hands to demonstrate their reluctance to lend a hand to a fellow democracy in jeopardy. Ukraine is engaged in a fight for its very existence, while some in those chambers were in the throes of selling their souls. Their titular leader (“my Kevin”) is owned by a disgraced former president and a cynical group of power-hungry nihilists who can best be described as the “insurrection caucus” for their support of the anarchists who stormed their chamber on January 6, 2021. McCarthy, for his part, has promised resistance to Ukrainian aid when his party takes control of the House in January.
I am struck by the convergence of history and events- how sometimes they rhyme and sometimes they reveal discordant prose. It wasn’t that long ago that another McCarthy, Tail-Gunner Joe, brought shame and scandal to Congress in the name of fear-inducing patriotism- the Red scare was dissipated by a single withering rebuke from Joseph Welch, a lawyer hired by the Army to protect its interests in the Army-McCarthy hearings fiasco. Mostly remembered for his closing phrase, a fuller rendering of his condemnation of McCarthy’s attack on a young lawyer who worked for Welch’s Boston law firm is enlightening. Young Fred Fisher had been a member of the left-leaning National Lawyers Guild which had represented the American Communist Party and McCarthy chose to tar Welch and his firm by publicly shaming them:
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to theHarvard Law Schooland came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. … Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.”When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:
“Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch interrupted:
“Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr.Cohnany more witnesses. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.”
- Statement by Atty. Joseph Welch, June 9, 1954, Army-McCarthy hearings
The through-line to current events and the 21st century McCarthy is that Joe McCarthy was prompted in his attack on Fred Fisher by committee lawyer, Roy Cohn, who mentored a young Donald Trump in the wiles of criminality and indecency. Welch’s rebuke broke the fever by stating the obvious at the core of the Republican Senator’s self-serving obsession with communist infiltration in American institutions. His initial estimate of 205 hidden communists was whittled down to 81 and later to 57, but in the Army investigation his withering accusations resulted in one unfortunate revelation:
Unable to expose any signs of subversion, McCarthy focused instead on the case of Irving Peress, a New York dentist who had been drafted into the army in 1952 and promoted to major in November 1953. Shortly thereafter it came to the attention of the military bureaucracy that Peress, who was a member of the left-wing American Labor Party, had declined to answer questions about his political affiliations on a loyalty-review form. Peress’s superiors were therefore ordered to discharge him from the army within 90 days. McCarthy subpoenaed Peress to appear before his subcommittee on January 30, 1954. Peress refused to answer McCarthy’s questions, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment. McCarthy responded by sending a message to Secretary of the ArmyRobert T. Stevens, demanding that Peress be court-martialed. On that same day, Peress asked for his pending discharge from the army to be effected immediately, and the next day Brigadier GeneralRalph W. Zwicker, his commanding officer at Camp Kilmerin New Jersey, gave him an honorable separation from the army. At McCarthy’s encouragement, “Who promoted Peress?” became a rallying cry among many anti-communists and McCarthy supporters. In fact, and as McCarthy knew, Peress had been promoted automatically through the provisions of the Doctor DraftLaw, for which McCarthy had voted.
— Barnes, Bart (November 18, 2014). “Irving Peress, dentist who was subject of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hearings, dies at 97”. Washington Post. Washington, DC.
A Hollow Caucus
Sound familiar? The irony here is palpable as Republicans in 1954 were cowardly in support of a thuggish demagogue who used anti-communism as a cudgel to indiscriminately destroy reputations of Americans for political gain. Moving on to the present and another McCarthy questions the Ukrainian president’s motives while ignoring the peril to all democracies should Ukraine fall- all in support of a demagogue who supports a communist regime that threatens the free world. Yes, and all this for political gain.
As Zelenskyy spoke so eloquently about Ukraine and the plight of its people, we cannot help but be reminded that this time around the indecency is directed by the other McCarthy, their Kevin, whose promised resistance to a budding democracy could only aid and abet the Russian war criminal and his American friend in Mar-a-Lago. Zelenskyy stood tall while under the pressure of Donald Trump when he was asked to interfere in the 2020 election by finding dirt on Trump’s Democratic opponent. Zelenskyy is now standing up to a Russian despot who has found support among McCarthy’s cowardly caucus. McCarthy, a Trump sell-out, follows the dictates of his master and his master’s desire for retribution for the foreign leader who told him “No.” The House chamber will soon be controlled by spineless men and women — “hollow and stuffed” men and women who T.S. Eliot wrote of in “The Hollow Men.” The poem’s ending is often quoted by many to describe dire times- how the world ends “in a whimper, not a bang,” words written in 1925 before the creation of the bomb. In this case, another verse that suggests the need to hide their indecencies with a facade is perhaps more appropriate:
Eliot forecasts the abuse of religion (“crossed staves”), the dissembling of purpose (“crowskin”), and the hypocrisy of choices influenced by shifting winds and the vagaries of power.
This Christmas week a foreign leader representing a nation torn apart and struggling for its very existence, suffering the indignities of an illicit invasion offered America an opportunity to rediscover its purpose and its humanity. The reaction of some members of the insurrection caucus pretend that America’s contributions to the Ukrainian will war serve some national purpose other than to prolong the suffering in Ukraine and embolden Putin. As Zelenskyy spoke he made it clear that our contributions pale in comparison to that of the Ukrainian people. Their resistance to evil is a most precious gift to the rest of the free world. The Ukraine president couched his response in language that the Republicans could understand. He declared the aid his nation has received to date to be an investment and not charity, a distinction that was not lost on the more sober members in the chamber.
Zelenskyy reminded his allies in the U.S. and Europe that they had as much or more to gain or lose as Ukraine in what amounts to a proxy war for us, a real war for them. Denying Ukraine’s right to protect its sovereign borders is the equivalent of taking sides with fascists against democracy and freedom. Were Joseph Welch alive today sitting across from Kevin McCarthy’s caucus of cowards one wonders how he would phrase his loathing.
The Shadow of History
Stating the obvious for those who deal in fear and ignorance, President Biden spoke for free men and women throughout the world, drowning out the gutless whispers of the far-right mob who often work in shadows:
“The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy, and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences…”
Without mentioning them, Biden reminded his critics that his administration, unlike the last one, understands the severity of the Ukraine people’s plight and the responsibility we share to help them. Supporting the Russian aggressor through our indifference is simply not an option. The cowardly chorus led by Kevin McCarthy could only sit on their hands and watch as history was unfolding without them:
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
- T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
In the end, their contributions will be inconsequential, insignificant. Their selfishness may well deny others their freedom, but more sadly it will deny themselves any scrap of decency.