Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Art (1912-2010) is not an actor that many people know. Although he did a few movies, he was best known for his books “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, of which a television series was made. My mother used to tell the story of when I was a child and said that I wanted to be just like Uncle Joe when I grew up…a BUM. I’m sure the word “bum” came from my father who never much liked my uncle, and apparently, I meant a bachelor (a challenging word for someone my age at the time). This is the kind of thing in Art’s books and television series (basically a talk show with very young kids). It’s sad how tragically true my wish had come.
Art was actually an excellent actor, and well on his way to the top. Unfortunately, he was a victim of McCarthyism (circa 1947). For those who don’t remember it, senator Joseph McCarthy (R) basically began investigations of presumedly communist activity and sympathy under President Harry S. Truman’s (R) executive order that all federal employees be screened for “loyalty”. The result was the equivalent of an “American Inquisition”, bursting the bounds of federal employees and going after citizens, including an inordinate amount of focus on Hollywood. Individuals afraid for their own careers and reputations were coerced into naming names of people who were communists (whether or not it was true). Those who refused to cooperate were “blackballed” and could not find work because of the false accusations of the McCarthy committee.
In essence, these victims had their reputations and careers burned at the proverbial stake. Art Linkletter was one of these victims. By all accounts, a gentle and sweet man, he spent the rest of his career looking for “scrap” roles to keep active. He began a recovery, but at an age where he never really had a chance to fully rebound.
He’s on my mind because I thought I saw him in a movie today, although it turned out to be another actor who was a contemporary of his. This story had always bothered me. In my youth, I had two of his books, and they were among my favorite with hilarious comments from children. Every time I read them, I couldn’t help but think of the tragic pathway he took that led him to such a project. And I think of the similarities in the stories of the history of the ancient Spanish Inquisition, and recent political history.
Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have staffed his office with his opposition. He saw the value of hearing those who disagreed with him on topics in order to understand both sides of the issues. Trump was the opposite. He was famous for putting his allies next to him and firing them rapidly if they showed any form of disagreement, which he seemed to view as “disloyalty”. This was not only true of his cabinet members, but of the leaders of various federal agencies as well as media. He was open hostile to most media outlets and favored those that were willing to repeat his party line, whether or not it was the truth. By the time he was voted out of office, there was nobody left with the courage to warn him of the legality and ethics of his actions. Today he is under investigation for many of the things he did while in office (especially in conjunction with the January 6 insurrection).
His insistence on “loyalty” turned out to be a double-edged sword. Many of his most loyal cabinet members are refusing to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with investigations, but on the flip side, he also made many enemies by his constant firing of those working with him. Amid the news of charges for failing to respond to investigators with his loyal cronies comes a flurry of “tell all” books adding fuel to the fires that he now finds himself over.
But more than anything else, I keep thinking of the similarities between his actions, those of McCarthy’s committee, and the Spanish Inquisition. In all cases, there were those who followed and supported these investigations, actions and their methods regardless of how unjust or suspicious. To me, every time Trump tries to bring legal action to impede the investigations (such as asking the courts to deny access to his records), it just seems like another attempt to cover up the truth. If he were truly innocent, why is he afraid of these investigations? Perhaps he fears he will be treated as he treated others during his term.