Senator Joe McCarthy (photo by Yael Joel)
Growing up in Milwaukee in the 1950’s, I was acutely aware of Senator Joe McCarthy and his pernicious witch hunt for alleged communists. He wreaked enormous damage and ruined numerous lives before he was brought down, but it’s nothing compared to what Donald Trump could do—indeed, what he’s already done—to damage our country.
I was especially tuned in to McCarthy’s doings because my father, Wallace “Chink” Lomoe, was Managing Editor of the Milwaukee Journal, then a nationally respected liberal newspaper, which offered up-close investigative journalism throughout the McCarthy era.
Back then, at the height of the cold war, Communism, and Russia in particular, struck terror into the heart of Americans, and rightly so. Less than ten years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, worldwide nuclear annihilation was a genuine threat, and I never expected to live long enough to turn 21.
Fast forward sixty-odd years to today’s surrealistic political scene, where Donald Trump openly kisses Vladimir Putin’s ass and encourages Russia to hack into American computers to uncover classified information. He’s far crazier, far more dangerous than McCarthy ever was, and as the Republican nominee for President, he’ll soon have access to classified information.
I could ramble on and on, but plenty of media pundits are already doing that, so instead, I’ll offer up the following poem, which I wrote in 2010. At the very least, it should offer you a few minutes of diversion.
My Mother and Senator Joe
My mother stands in the kitchen,
hands busy at the red Formica countertop
with cratered moon design, assembling a tuna casserole,
one of her six recycled recipes unchanged since World War II.
Eager for tales from the trenches of the Journal newsroom,
we await my father’s coming. Once a promising reporter,
now the Managing Editor’s stay-home wife, my mother
plays out the Fifties dream of suburban bliss.
Daddy’s finally here. He mixes double dry martinis,
regales us with stories of his day. Senator Joe stopped by,
forgot his briefcase in my father’s corner office,
returned in panic to reclaim it. Daddy had been too ethical
to sneak a peek at those fabled lists of Communists,
or maybe he just ran out of time.
Later that spring, my mother and I ride the open tramway
deep in a subterranean tunnel beneath our nation’s capital,
sightseeing in sooty claustrophobic blackness
while far above us, cherry blossoms blaze in April sun
and Daddy hobnobs with his fellow editors in smoky hotel suites.
The roofless tram cars ferry politicians to and fro
shielded from public scrutiny on their appointed rounds,
like miners seeking coal.
The tram’s deserted now, except for Mom and me
and a smarmy thickset man with blackish bristles on his sagging jaw.
“What a pretty little girl,” he says, and smirks. My mother, ever gracious,
public smile fixed in place, exchanges pleasantries as the tram chugs onward
through the filthy darkness of the tunnel. At last we disembark
and go our separate ways. “Who was that nice man?” I ask. Her features morph
to a Medusa mask of frightening fury.
“Don’t you ever call him a nice man again,” she snarls.
“That was Joe McCarthy.”
Later that night, back in our hotel room, I watch in helpless disbelief.
She’s huddled on the carpet, head against the bed,
wracked by wrenching sobs. As in the blackened tunnel, once again
I’ve glimpsed a woman whose moods I scarcely know.
My childhood sense of safety teeters and cracks. “What’s wrong?” I ask.
She forces a teary smile. “Oh, nothing,” she says. “Don’t worry. I can’t imagine
what came over me.”
The Capitol subway in an undated vintage photo*
When I began this blog, I never intended to veer into politics, but this year I can’t seem to help it. Along with my ambitions as a writer, I seem to have inherited my parents’ political genes. As always, I’d love to hear your comments. Subscribe and stay tuned.
*I’m borrowing the McCarthy photo from the LIFE magazine collection, and the Getty credit seems appropriate. My father hired Edward K. Thompson, who later became LIFE’s Managing and then Executive Editor for many years and remained a close family friend.
*This vintage photo of the Capitol subway is much as I remember it from the early 1950’s. It still exists today in a much updated version, with three branches connecting the Capitol, house and senate buildings. Security is tight, and visitors are allowed only with close supervision.