Authoritarian Figures in U.S. Politics: How Joseph McCarthy Can Inform Our Understanding of Donald Trump
Date of Award
Director of Thesis
Dr. Kent Germany
Dr. Patricia Sullivan
Senator Joseph McCarthy’s career can help inform our understanding of the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Both men seized the opportunity provided by authoritarian moments in U.S. history in which part of the population felt their way of life was under attack by global and national forces and looked for strongmen who promised to protect them. In the 1950s, the U.S. was in the middle of the Cold War, and the fear of communism was 4 pervasive in the country. In 2016, immigration, terrorism, and cultural shifts in the United States were affecting the country, and the fragmented nature of the media magnified these threats for parts of the Republican Party. McCarthy and Trump took advantage of these moments by presenting themselves as strong leaders who would fight back on behalf of the United States to stop the tides of change. They magnified fears by describing a country in crisis, and they took advantage of these fears by presenting themselves as the only leaders strong enough to do what was needed to protect the United States and by distorting discourse so that they appeared to be the soul arbiters of truth to their followers. Both politicians surged onto the national scene with divisive speeches and capitalized on the subsequent media attention. McCarthy rose to power by fighting the Tydings Committee and the Benton Resolution and helping defeat political opponents in elections. Trump rose to power by winning first the Republican primaries and then the General Election against Hillary Clinton in 2016. McCarthy was then felled when he finally crossed lines the Senate and nation could not ignore. The Army-McCarthy hearings and his Senate censure stripped him of his power. Trump, however, evaded the repercussions of a sexual assault scandal in the run-up to the election. The political success these men experienced provoke questions about the core tenants of the United States’ national identity.
Huddleston, Daniel, "Authoritarian Figures in U.S. Politics: How Joseph McCarthy Can Inform Our Understanding of Donald Trump" (2017). Senior Theses. 167.