Ralph Wise Zwicker was born in Stoughton in 1903. The state’s first Eagle Scout, he graduated from high school in Madison, then attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison before enrolling at West Point.
He went on to become an Army hero in World War II, was in the first wave at Normandy on D-Day, and rose to the rank of major general, winning a plethora of awards and medals.
And yet, there was U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, from a farm near Appleton, excoriating Zwicker in a rambling video clip from 1954 that is part of the new PBS documentary on McCarthy. The notorious Wisconsin senator bellowed that Zwicker was not fit to wear the uniform because he refused to share the Army records McCarthy sought as part of his shameful anti-communist crusade of the 1950s.
Gosh, imagine that. A national Republican politician skewering the best and bravest among us — our military heroes — with no regard for their reputations.
Here are just some of the military heroes Donald Trump has attacked: John McCain, the late U.S. senator, Vietnam era naval aviator and war prisoner; retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen; the family of the late Army Capt. Humayun Khan; James Clapper, former director of national intelligence and an Air Force lieutenant general; retired Adm. William McRaven, the former Navy SEAL behind the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden; former special counsel Robert Mueller, who as a Marine was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for service in Vietnam; former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general; John Kelley, another retired Marine general who spent 45 years in the service; Bill Taylor, the U.S. envoy to Ukraine and a West Point graduate who served as an Army officer in Vietnam; and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, who also testified in the impeachment investigation.
That list is staggering.
Can you imagine how the Fox News-Rush Limbaugh propagandists would have reacted if Barack Obama had similarly criticized even some of those who sacrificed so much?
The reviews and commentaries about the two-hour McCarthy documentary, which aired recently and is available to stream on PBS, did bring predictable headlines comparing McCarthy to Trump in their willingness to destroy reputations in their demagogic pursuits of power.
“How Joseph McCarthy’s Witch Hunt Echoes Republican Trump Worship,” was the Daily Beast headline. “Review: ‘McCarthy’ depicts an affable liar with fearsome power. Sound familiar?” agreed the Los Angeles Times.
In some reviews, the press is criticized for being a willing lapdog to both demagogues, providing a megaphone for sensational lies to gain larger audiences. Yes, there was the heroism of broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, who eventually was central to stopping McCarthy, but that took years. (Worth noting: William T. Evjue of the Cap Times was McCarthy’s bravest and fiercest Wisconsin critic years before McCarthy was censured by the Senate.)
Anyway, that was then, this is now — and in a very major way, then was better.
That’s because in the 1950s you had Republican leaders like President Dwight Eisenhower, who decided enough was enough and signaled it was time for Republicans to put an end to McCarthy’s campaign.
That’s where Zwicker came in. Eisenhower and Zwicker had been close military colleagues. Eisenhower, of course, was commander of all Allied forces in Europe and launched the D-Day invasion. His revulsion at McCarthy’s rants about Zwicker helped move the president to act.
So who resembles “Ike” in the Republican Party of 2020?
It’s certainly not Nikki Haley.
As recently as 2015, as governor of South Carolina, she demonstrated a smidgen of moderation, calling for removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse there.
“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” she said then. Nevertheless, “for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
Now the former United Nations ambassador is apparently angling to either replace Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate or position herself for a post-Trump presidential run. On a right-wing podcast last month, she reversed herself, claiming that the Confederate flag represented “service, sacrifice and heritage” and faulted the media (of course) for making the flag debate primarily about racism.
She has now gone all-in on Trump extremism.
“Nikki Haley calls Democrats terrorist-lovers,” read the recent New York Magazine headline. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, talking about Trump’s decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian Quds Force commander, Haley said Democrats were “mourning” his loss.
“The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates,” Haley said. “No one else in the world.”
The claim is objectively false, as news organizations reported. But it was not a slip of the tongue. She tweeted the same message.
In truth, no notable Democrat has mourned the death of a man who had a hand in many American deaths. Their concern is that it could lead to a war no one — except maybe a crazy, politically desperate Trump — wants. But then, Haley had already gone full MAGA in an autobiography filled with Trump worship.
Her office tried to defend her position, but, as a Washington Post column said, “By Haley’s standard, anybody who opposes a high-profile killing of a foreign adversary would be ‘mourning’ that person.”
Yet Haley is just the tip of the iceberg of Trump sycophancy by Republicans.
As the fight rages over his impeachment, one debate is whether former Trump national security adviser John Bolton will be called to testify in the Senate. He has said he would, and he could well have information highly damaging to Trump.
The GOP wants none of it.
There are three GOP senators some say might buck the Trump party line — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah. In the GOP-controlled Senate, they could advocate that Bolton testify, but their latest comments are wishy-washy and non-committal.
That’s why I chuckle when people suggest that if Trump is gone Democrats could find common ground with “reasonable” Republicans.
Which ones are those, exactly?