Trust No One: Joe McCarthy and the Politics of Fear

By Richard L. RSS Mon, March 1, 2021

Alternative facts.
Demonize and Destroy Your Opponents.

Does this sound familiar? Former Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) has been dead for 63 years, but the political tools and techniques that he pioneered are as fresh as today’s headlines. As Americans struggle to understand the long-term impact of a presidential administration like no other, the Free Library is proud to present a virtual lecture series in which some of the nation’s most respected historians, thinkers, and commentators explore the life of an American demagogue and the dangerous legacy he left behind.

Join us via Zoom this Spring for five compelling programs:

The Rise of Tail Gunner Joe
Wednesday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Dr. Richard Norton Smith

Who was Joe McCarthy? How did one of the laziest men in the U.S. Senate transform himself into a political powerhouse feared by millions? Professor Richard Norton Smith, a distinguished presidential historian and biographer, is an expert on the Republican Party. He is currently writing a biography of former President Gerald R. Ford. A frequent PBS / C-SPAN commentator, Professor Smith is also the author of the definitive biography of Nelson Rockefeller.

The Man Who Knew Everything: J. Edgar Hoover & Joe McCarthy
Wednesday,  March 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Dr. Beverly Gage

At the time that the McCarthy crusade began, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was the most powerful anti-Communist in the U.S. On the surface, he was strongly supportive of the Senator from Wisconsin, but what he actually did remains shrouded in mystery. This is just what Professor Beverly Gage intends to illuminate. The Yale historian is currently at work on a new Hoover biography, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the American Century. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Dr. Gage is a frequent commentator for both PBS and NPR.

Dangerous Friends: How the Friendship Between McCarthy and the Kennedy’s Blighted the Lives of John & Robert Kennedy
Wednesday, April 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Dr. David Nasaw

For the fiercely anti-Communist Joseph P. Kennedy, Joe McCarthy was both a cause and someone to befriend. The Kennedy patriarch gave him money and encouraged the Wisconsin Senator to date two of his daughters. McCarthy gave Robert F. Kennedy his first real job outside the family. Professor David Nasaw has written critically acclaimed biographies of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Kennedy. He just published The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War. Dr. Nasaw recently retired from teaching at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  

Death by a Thousand Cuts: How a Broken Promise Destroyed Joe McCarthy
Wednesday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Dr. Peter Siskind  

During the Army-McCarthy Hearings, the Senator from Wisconsin faced a new kind of opponent. The U.S. Army was represented by Boston attorney Joseph Welch, who concealed an instinct for the jugular behind the appearance of a kindly grandfather. In preparing his case, Welch had been assisted by a junior lawyer with left-wing connections. Prior to the hearings, McCarthy had promised Welch that the young man’s name would never come up. However, with multiple TV cameras on hand to record every moment, things began to heat up quickly. Soon, McCarthy lost his temper—and broke his promise. As McCarthy’s aide, Roy Cohn realized instantly, this was the beginning of the end for Tail Gunner Joe. Dr. Peter Siskind of Arcadia University is an expert on 20th-century American politics and the development of suburban America. Prior to Covid-19, he regularly took students to Vietnam as part of a course on the Vietnam War.

The Strange Afterlife of Roy Cohn
Monday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m.  
Marie Brenner

With Joe McCarthy racing toward a steep decline, his chief aide moved to New York City and reinvented himself as a power broker and political fixer. During these years, Cohn served as a tutor and a political mentor to an up-and-coming real estate tycoon, Donald J. Trump. Among the lessons that Cohn taught were "never apologize, never explain" and that the best form of defense was always to be on the attack. Trump never forgot Cohn, who died in 1986. During the four tumultuous years of his presidency, Trump was often heard to say sadly, "Where is my Roy Cohn?" Marie Brenner, who spent hours interviewing Cohn, is a Writer at Large for Vanity Fair. She has become so successful turning her magazine articles into films, that Brenner has become a major Hollywood producer.

All events in this series are free and will be presented virtually using Zoom. You can register for each program individually.

Please join us as we explore how the McCarthy era still shapes our national politics in 2021.

The "Trust No One: Joe McCarthy and the Politics of Fear" series is made possible by generous support to the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation from Elizabeth Gemmill and Murray and Lonnie Levin.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

Leave this field empty

Add a Comment to Trust No One: Joe McCarthy and the Politics of Fear

Email is kept private and will not be displayed publicly
Comment must be less than 3000 characters
I have another commitment at 7:30 pm on March 10. Will the program be viewable later?
Ann Lesch - Philadelphia
Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Maxime - BĂ©nin
Wednesday, May 4, 2022