Dalton Trumbo is a name most people might not recognize. Trumbo the movie, however, will be a movie many will remember. This memorability, hopefully, will be tied to disgust over the shameful past associated with the Congress’ “House Un-American Committee”.
HUAC is a testimony to wanton disregard for the individual protections embodied in the Constitution. Regrettably, HUAC is written indelibly into our past. Or is it?
Dalton Trumbo was a prolific (and successful) Hollywood screen writer in the late 40s and 50s, just as the cold war began. Trumbo had been a member of the Communist Party and was an unashamed believer in socialism. Following World War II and the great fear which the axis “Communism versus Capitalism” was generating, the US political stage was set for hypocrisy, demagoguery, and self serving fear mongering.
And on this stage many including Richard Nixon, Joe McCarthy, and in the Hollywood world, Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, all danced to tunes designed to reinforce fear, and maintain status quo.
HUAC used subpoena powers to accuse Americans from all sorts of backgrounds with the famous question, “are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party”. Those subpoenaed were ask to “name names” when in fact the names were already known.
HUAC goal seemed to be characterizing certain fellow Americans as somehow untrustworthy if not outrightly a danger to the greater country. There were even proposals that these “communists” be rounded up and put in interment camps. Hmmm.
Slowly Americans grew resistant to the constant fear mongering and began to see both the injustice and the outright lies which HUAC was spreading. Screen writers like Trumbo, writers like Arther Miller, and entertainers like Pete Sieger were once again recognized for their talents and not their past (legal) political affiliations. A great sigh could almost be heard across America as the 60s broke.
And now, a relatively short time later, we are seeing and hearing the use of fear and convenient Constitutional ignorance return. As in the past, fear provides a political crutch to many who seek a greater role in governance. To be sure they seek “governance” their way with Constitutional adherence optional.
Donald Trump has offered the most polished and effective populist rhetoric, but he has been closely followed by the rest of the GOP field. For at least part of the American voter segment, Trump’s tirades work. Draped in the American flag, these Americans cheer when Trump promises to deny basic Constitutional protections to many Americans simply based upon religion or ethnicity.
Trumbo, the movie, shows us the problem is not with the hypocritical, demagogical, fear mongering politicians, rather it is with a weak and unthinking public. The time is approaching when Americans can muster strength from just thinking, and reject the HUAC past. When Americans visit the voting booth, they can speak loudly and clearly.