History Repeating

A little over twenty years ago the pop group “The Propellers”, wrote a song entitled “History Repeating”, with vocals by the legendary Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, it proved to be quite a hit!

Here we are coming to the end of 2020, and the thought has struck me that in fact, history has a recurring habit of reminding us it is true.

Like millions of others, I have spent my time in lockdown catching up on some reading. I have to admit to readers I am a bit of an unabashed amateur student of politics around the world. (I know I can hear you saying, it might be a good idea to get a life).

My recent focus has been reading about the notorious Roy Cohn, a New York Lawyer and others who were such an influence on American life in the 1950s and later.

Cohn was known as a hardnosed bully, a fixer and his relationships included the New York mafia and crime families. He came to prominence as counsel to Joseph McCarthy the Junior Senator from Wisconsin during the Senate hearings regarding the exposure of communists in the government and U.S Army.

This period was termed the “Red Scare”, it caused massive disruption in American Society. His tactics were deemed to be brutal and were often described often as Cohn’s “playbook”, never back down, never admit defeat and use every means to gain the results he desired.

As history records, McCarthy used those vicious methods and spurred on by Cohn causing angst to hundreds of people and in some cases causing suicides. His demise came when he took on the U.S. Army accusing them of hiding communists in their ranks, he lost.

It was later to be his undoing as the American Senate censured him; additionally, he was disbarred as a lawyer in the legal system, he died an early death in 1957 from alcoholism.

Cohn’s influence extended to Presidents, and when Ronald Reagan was elected, it was reputed, his wife Nancy called him to thank him for his contribution in getting him into the White House. Later she even offered to get him special treatment at a medical facility when he was reported to be dying of Aids. ( He died in 1996).

The word demagogue in the Oxford Dictionary is described as the following:
a person, especially a political leader, who wins support by exciting the emotions of ordinary people instead of having good or morally right ideas.

History has catalogued several famous demagogues, the notable being, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph McCarthy.

In the modern era, I think it is reasonable to add the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, to that list, who has displayed all the characteristics of such despots.

An interesting fact, early in his career Trumps mentor was one Roy Cohn who he hired upon fighting along with his father the City of New York regarding claims of discrimination against minorities in their renting of properties. They never were found guilty but settled out of court.

One has to acknowledge Trump’s ability to gather followers, using emotive language to engender deep divisions. His legacy may still prevail long after he departs the White House in January. The prospect seems quite frightening.

Trump’s behaviour has followed Cohn’s playbook in his four-year term as President, but like all demagogues, they never seem too able to judge when enough is enough. The President has recently been heard to comment “Where is my Roy Cohn”.

To demonstrate how dangerous the rhetoric that emanates from demagogues and their supporters can be, several people in the 1950s committed suicide rather face the hearings.

Fast forward to 2020 and one of Trumps’s supporters said this. Joe diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who is serving on Trump’s election legal team, said in an interview that the former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director ought to be be “taken out and shot.”

“Anybody who thinks that this election went well, like that idiot Krebs,” diGenova told radio host Howie Carr when asked about Krebs’s interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday night. “That guy is a Class A moron. He should be drawn and quartered, taken out at dawn and shot.”

This is incendiary behaviour and could lead to acts of violence.

I have no doubt a new demagogue will emerge in the future amongst us, the challenge will be, are we prepared to defend our democracies against this type of individual. Please make no mistake we came perilously close to allowing this to happen again in 2020?