The Bulwark, a conservative platform writes of a time when leaders stood up to any outside criticism, and allowed for differences, highlighting a speech given by former Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) who urged the president to act and speak to heal a nation. Called the Declaration of Conscious speech.
This is the same strong female voice that called out Sen Joe McCarthy’s criticisms of any person having opposing thoughts as the norm (Red Scare - and no communism platforms)
It’s worth your time to read Smith’s entire speech (which took her about 15 minutes to deliver). But there are aspects worth highlighting as they apply to the politics of today.
Mr. President, I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership either in the legislative branch or the executive branch of our government.
As our own Congress continues its slow, do-little glidepath to the contentious 2020 elections, and as President Trump tweets while our cities burn, our national feeling is certainly one of fear and frustration.
“I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States senator. I speak as an American,” Smith said. The first of five topics she tackled was how the Senate had become “a forum of hate and character assassination.”
I don’t think I need to tell you, dear reader, that we have problems with hate and character assassination in our politics today, and they start at the top. But it’s corrupted political discourse all the way down—not just down to the level of senators and representatives, but down to local officials. Smith’s intent was basically to indict McCarthy (without naming him) for lobbing accusations from the safety of the Senate. “Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate,” Smith said, “there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined.” Today, it’s the attack machine of the president, his official defenders in the administration, his apologists in conservative media, and his followers in social media who seek to destroy anyone who stands against him.
Smith next tackles “the basic principles of Americanism.” It amounts to a succinct explanation of the “liberal” side of what makes the United States a “liberal democracy”:
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism.
The right to criticize.
The right to hold unpopular beliefs.
The right to protest.
The right of independent thought.
The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs.
Judging by that passage, Smith—who died in 1995, just shy of 100—would be horrified by today’s America. One need only log onto Twitter to see tribalist witch hunts going every which way. Usually, they’re tied to one of these “basic principles of Americanism.” Often, what people said was ill advised or stupid, but the responses are often also ill advised or stupid. People push for firings, retribution. Memories are long. Digital trench warfare goes on and on without end. Donald Trump didn’t create this dynamic, but there’s no doubt that day after day, he makes it worse.
And conservative critics of Trump and Trumpism today often fare about as well as Smith did. After her speech, McCarthy called her (and the six senators who signed onto her declaration) “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs.” Just the sort of juvenile name-calling President Trump relishes.
From the US Senate page
In her 15-minute address, delivered as McCarthy looked on, Smith endorsed every American’s right to criticize, to protest, and to hold unpopular beliefs. “Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America,” she complained. “It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.” She asked her fellow Republicans not to ride to political victory on the “Four Horsemen of Calumny–Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.” As she concluded, Smith introduced a statement signed by herself and six other Republican senators–her “Declaration of Conscience."