“Sloppy Joe” and the force of political falehoods

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Louis Menand for The New Yorker in which he discusses Larry Tye’s recently published biography, Demagoge: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 2020). is a twenty-first century Joe McCarthy.”

According to Menand, Tye’s purpose “is to make the case that Donald Trump is a twenty-first century Joe McCarthy.”

Then noting, “McCarthy lied all the time. He lied even when he didn’t need to lie, as Tye thinks is the case with his war record. When he didn’t have any facts to embellish, he made them up. He found that, if he just kept repeating himself, people would figure that he must be on to something.

“He was incapable of sticking to a script. He rambled and he blustered, and if things were going his way he left the room. He was notoriously lazy, ignorant, and unprepared, and he had a reputation for following the advice of the last person he talked to. But he trusted his instincts. And he loved chaos. He knew that he had a much higher tolerance for it than most human beings do, and he used it to confuse, to distract, and to disrupt.”

When Joseph Welch arrived in Washington to join the legal defense team for the U.S. Army, “he knew that he could not beat McCarthy on the facts, because McCarthy would just make up new facts. He saw that the only way to destroy McCarthy was was to give him the opportunity to destroy himself. He let McCarthy rant and rave and bully and interrupt for thirty days, and then, as the clock was winding down, he closed in for the kill. It was a pure rope-a-dope, and a lesson possibly, for Joe Biden.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Louis Menand has contributed to The New Yorker since 1991 and has been a staff writer since 2001. His book The Metaphysical Club was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians. He was an associate editor at The New Republic from 1986 to 1987, an editor at The New Yorker from 1992 to 1993, and a contributing editor at The New York Review of Books from 1994 to 2001. He is the Lee Simpkins Family Professor of Arts and Sciences and the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University. In 2016, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama.

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