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In a long overdue move, a room in the U.S. Capitol has been named after trailblazing former Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith. She is now one of only two women, along with former Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, to have a room in the Capitol named after her (the building has approximately 540 rooms).
The celebration of this important occasion has rightly included reflection on Smith’s legacy. A defining part of Smith’s public service was her willingness to call out a member of her own party, Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, for his demagoguery.
At a time when McCarthy’s fearmongering about supposed Communists in the U.S. government held sway in American politics, Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” speech placed the wellbeing of the nation above her own political fortunes. It was a courageous act at a critical time.
“Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes,” Smith said in her 1950 speech, before criticizing the Democratic administration in the White House at the time. “Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to the nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I do not want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”
Fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear. That might as well be a slogan for Donald Trump’s continued efforts to undermine the legitimacy of an election he very much lost in 2020. The former president has exploited people’s fears, ignored facts, questioned the legitimacy of votes from largely Black cities, appealed to a feeling of white grievance, and smeared a long list of people who don’t share his detachment from reality.
That last bit about being detached from reality, we’d note, comes from Trump’s own former Attorney General Bill Barr. Ongoing hearings held by the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol have shed further light on Trump’s already obvious responsibility for the violence that day. Monday morning’s hearing emphasized how the ridiculousness of Trump’s election fraud claims was obvious even within his own administration and campaign. Those claims, as Barr said plainly in pre-taped testimony, were “bullshit.”
More Republicans need to say this truth out loud, regardless of the political ramifications. That is what Margaret Chase Smith did in 1950 when she pushed back against McCarthyism.
Some Republicans, like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have similarly recognized and called out Trump’s dangerous actions. This is also true for the seven Republican senators, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, and 10 House members (including Cheney) who voted to impeach Trump in 2021. But those Republicans are outliers in a party that now seems to value loyalty to one man over loyalty to truth and the principles of democracy.
Just look at what has happened to Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina since voting to impeach Trump. He’s been called a traitor and faced death threats. And on Tuesday, he lost a primary to a Trump-backed challenger.
“He’s purging. He’s purging. He’s trying to set the Republican Party up as a bunch of yes-men loyalists,” Rice told Politico on Saturday. “Think about that. That’s scary.”
With a potential Trump resurgence on the horizon, it appears that fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear are winning in the Republican Party once again. That isn’t an endorsement of Democrats and their leadership this past year and a half; it’s simply a fact. And a scary one, at that.
More than a room named in her honor, we need more Margaret Chase Smiths to stand up and speak out.