Seventy years ago this week, the United States government crapped all over itself and for much of the next decade, the entire country swirled around in the bowl, gaining speed in an ever-tightening circle as a boogeyman that really didn't exist dominated the headlines, helped to foster disastrous political careers, and maybe even scared a few regular Americans.
On October 27, 1947 (70 years ago tomorrow), the House Un-American Activities Committee began the crazy-ass phase of its "investigation" into whether communists had infiltrated the entertainment industry and were using films to spread pro-Soviet propaganda.
The answer to those (and other such) questions should have been, "Who the hell cares?" But, as Stephen Stills would sing 20 years later, paranoia runs deep. Some members of the committee began to take themselves way too seriously and set out to bring down an industry and ruin many lives.
Oddly enough, it wasn't even against the law to be a communist back then. (Even odder, it technically is against the law today. In 1954, at the height of McCarthyism, Congress passed the Communist Control Act, which outlawed the Communist Party in the United States and made it illegal to belong to the party or support any Communist-activity organization. Of course, it's wildly unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has never taken up the case and Congress has never gotten around to taking it off the books. One of the most important test cases at a lower level took place in, of all places, Arizona. In the case of Blawis v. Bolin, a federal district court in Arizona ruled the law unconstitutional and said that the state couldn't keep the Communist Party off the ballot.)
Communism had grabbed a little, tiny bit of popularity during the Great Depression. Its simplistic idea of everybody being the same instead of having a handful of rich people and a whole lot of poor people had its appeal in those tough times. In Hollywood, some of the intelligentsia tried on communism as though it were a sweater they had purchased on sale. A lot of people who would later admit to having gone to Communist Party gatherings for the free food and the chance to pick up chicks.
But it turned out to be deadly serious and the members of HUAC milked it for all it was worth. Careers were ruined, marriages broke up (including that of Chief Rat Ronald Reagan), and people even died. It was an ugly, ugly time for America and one might think that the country and its people would have learned a valuable lesson from its detour into mindless fascism.
Before I forget, I'll admit that there is some propaganda in some films. Movies that are made with passion are going to have a point of view. But that doesn't make them un-American. I remember when I first saw Red Dawn back in the 1980s. I thought it was a right-wing gun nut's wet dream—virile young people using extreme firepower and high explosives against the godless commie bastards. But so what? It was a movie. Besides, it starred Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey (before the career-killing nose job) and Ron O'Neal, who had played Superfly a decade earlier. What's not to like?
Jump forward to today, when First Amendment rights are under attack, often by the vile putrescence that sits in the Oval Office, the person whose No. 1 job it is to uphold the Constitution. I would bet any amount of money that Trump doesn't even know how many amendments there are to the Constitution (there are 27) or how they got there.
(It reminds me of when I went to the national convention of the NRA up in Phoenix. I walked around the hall, offering $20 to anyone who could correctly state the Second Amendment to which they refer on a frighteningly regular basis. Not surprisingly, I still had the 20 bucks at the end of the day.)
And yet still the attacks keep coming from the person that San Antonio Spurs Coach Greg Popovich called a "soulless coward." An NFL guy is un-American because he respectfully takes a knee during the playing of the National Anthem? He is somehow disrespecting the military? How the hell?!
Are we to believe that all of the people who fought and died for this country put their lives on the line so that everybody in America would think and act alike? That's not America; that's the opposite of America.
Then President Draft Dodger, whose racist daddy bought him free from the military, tries to wrap himself in the American flag. Forget the $20; I'd bet everything I own that Trump can't even accurately describe an American flag. (Try it yourself without looking and then see how wrong you are about the stars.)
In these again-ugly times, try to remember that the flag doesn't represent the military or first responders or just decent white people. The flag represents an idea, an incredibly powerful one that people can come together to form a nation that is free and dynamic. And we have the greatest country in the history of the world because of that freedom. Now, freedom isn't always pretty, but even at its most challenging, it's always uplifting and worth fighting for.
Sadly, the Soulless Coward in Chief will probably never understand that.