Stephen F. Cohen struck a very sensitive nerve in many Nation readers and contributors when he compared the rush among Democrats and progressives to link the Trump campaign and administration to Russia to the anti- Soviet mania of the McCarthy era. As a "red diaper baby" who experienced McCarthyism as a child, Katha Pollitt claims to argue with some authority against Cohen in the May 8/15 issue. She's not the first, however, to argue that the ideological specificity of McCarthyism as an anti-left movement makes the word an inappropriate label for the questioning of a right-wing government. The "use of immense state power against ...fairly powerless ordinary people," she claims, isn't the same as "calls by Democrats to investigate whether Russian agents hacked the Democratic National Committee at the behest of Vladimir Putin, or whether Trump's financial interests are tied up with Russia." But I still don't see why McCarthyism should be unanalogizable, or why it should never be ascribed to the American left. The M-word is simply the American word for the global tendency to discredit a political opposition by accusing it of acting in the interest of hostile foreigners -- which is what Pollitt herself still suspects Trump of doing.
Pollitt also scoffs at Cohen's description of liberals' Trump-Russia inquiries as "Kremlin-baiting." She dislikes the term, it turns out, because it presumes both Trump and Russia innocent. She hints that the defensiveness shown toward Russia by Cohen and others is one part cowardice and one part misunderstanding of the current Russian regime. Putin's Russia is "a capitalist kleptocracy run by an autocrat and an enemy of human rights." Leftists who discourage investigations of Trump for Russia's sake fail to understand that Russia "now embodies everything they oppose." Here, however, Pollitt misunderstands her own opposition. The leading critics of 21st century McCarthyism can be found on the anti-interventionist right and the anti-imperialist left. Neither group is really interested in what sort of regimes take power abroad, but are united in a belief that the U.S. does more harm than good, not only to foreigners but to its own people, when it tries to dominate the world. What they oppose is an American hegemony project, and they see Democratic Russophobia as part of such a project. Pollitt doesn't seem to realize this because she sees Putin's American defenders as the Democrats' enemies. We'd probably need to see some of the charges against Trump proven, and then still see Democrats lose the next elections, before people like Pollitt can see this issue more clearly.