The portrayal of foreign-policy and national-security professionals as untrustworthy and disdainful elites was central to Senator McCarthy’s crusade against alleged Communists in the federal government in the 1950s. In a 1950 speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, when McCarthy launched his inquisition, he ridiculed Secretary of State Dean Acheson as a “pompous diplomat in striped pants,” and then extended his accusation to the entire class of professionals who populated the Foreign Service.
“It has not been the less fortunate or members of minority groups who have been selling this nation out, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on Earth has to offer—the finest homes, the finest college education, and the finest jobs in government,” McCarthy declared. “This is glaringly true in the State Department.”
Governor Wallace reprised similar themes during his third-party bid for the presidency in 1968. Though Wallace is remembered most for his resistance to racial integration in Alabama, he also appealed to his preponderantly white working-class audience by radiating hostility to experts. He denounced “pointy-headed bureaucrats” who rode bicycles to work in three-piece suits, carrying their briefcases.
Dan T. Carter, a Wallace biographer and an emeritus professor of history at the University of South Carolina, hears distinct echoes of Wallace’s arguments in the case lodged by Trump and his defenders against the professionals who have testified in the past few weeks. At the core of the argument against the witnesses, Carter notes, has been the implication that because “they have very high levels of education, very high levels of knowledge, that somehow sets them apart from the good common sense of Americans.”
Also central to the conservative pushback has been the claim that, in questioning Trump’s actions, officials like Vindman and Yovanovitch are trying to impose their policy views over those of the president, who allies portray as embodying, almost mystically, the will of the people.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed this explicitly in an appearance with Laura Ingraham on Fox News Tuesday night. After Ingraham suggested that Trump was under siege from the “permanent foreign-policy class,” Gingrich argued that the complaints against Trump were rooted in his refusal to accept those officials’ consensus about global affairs. “There is an entire class of people who believe that they should be making the decisions, that the Constitution does not exist, and that the elected officials chosen by the American people are inferior to the brilliance and genius of the career civil service,” he insisted.
Donald Trump Jr. offered a similar argument after the testimony last week of the first three witnesses: Yovanovitch, Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, and Deputy Secretary of State George Kent. “America hired @realDonaldTrump to fire people like the first three witnesses we’ve seen,” he tweeted. “Career government bureaucrats and nothing more.”