Near the height of the cultural stranglehold Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wi.) held over the United States as he accused prominent media figures and government officials of being communists, playwright Arthur Miller had the courage to debut his satire of McCarthyism, “The Crucible.”
That play turns 64 years old this week.
Today, amid the lies and false accusations President Donald Trump’s administration has already slung less than a week into his presidency, Miller’s masterpiece from 1953 certainly holds new relevance.
Although it seems obvious now, cartoonist and writer Nathan Gelgud made a connection between Trump-related anxiety and the warnings of “The Crucible” all the way back in 2015. For the publication Signature, Gelgud compared the “blowhard” nature of the two, writing about how even despite their political power, both figures had achieved a dangerous dominance of the country’s “airwaves.”
Here’s the concluding passage from Gelgud’s article, which was made before Trump had won the presidency:
There’s a comparable blowhard all over the airwaves right now, who — like McCarthy — is puffed up with hubris, who (we expect) should soon be discredited, and who tells blatant lies with impunity. McCarthy lied about supposed communists lurking among us. Donald Trump lies about immigration, history, himself, and supposed Muslim civilians whom he saw celebrating on rooftops during 9/11. McCarthy held public office, and Trump doesn’t. But he has, for much longer than many expected, held our attention, which could turn out to have a more lasting impact.
The Huffington Post sent Gelgud a few questions over email to get a better understanding of his article and illustrations on Signature. The below interview, which occurred before Trump’s inauguration, has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What first inspired you to make this connection?
A new collection of Arthur Miller plays was coming out, and three of his plays were either being performed on Broadway or about to be. So I wondered what Miller’s take on the presidential campaign would be. My way into political subjects is almost always through artists or writers, as you can see in the comics I did last year for The Paris Review, which were all about writers and poets like Ed Sanders, Amiri Baraka, and Allen Ginsberg engaged in politics in 1968.
Did you believe Trump could win the presidency when you first made this argument? You originally wrote of him ― “who (we expect) should soon be discredited.”
No, not at all. The possibilities of what a Trump administration might actually accomplish are terrifying, but in retrospect, the victory itself shouldn’t have been so surprising. What did we learn? That the United States is a racist, sexist country? That people who have been systematically ripped off and deprived of education are angry and confused enough to vote against their own interests? I think we already knew this stuff.
Have your views changed since the article, and in what way?
Well, I’ll tell you — this is especially fitting in the context of us discussing McCarthy and the communist witch hunts — the most dispiriting thing that happened since I did that piece is the way that the DNC systematically sabotaged Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, and the way that primary voters who were sympathetic to his ideals were afraid of nominating him. That’s how McCarthyism lives on — even people who claim to believe in redistribution of wealth, fair health care, living wages, and accessible education, still reject those ideas out of fear.
In one of your cartoons you have Miller saying that he believes America changed during McCarthyism. Do you feel as if Trump has had a similar effect, even before he’s entered office?
I can’t say that for sure, but we can use this opportunity to see our country more clearly. We can have compassion for people who were confused and angry enough about their own feelings of helplessness to vote for Donald Trump. We can start trying to elect officials who want to try to address the way we deprive people of the wages, education, and care that they need and deserve.