For at least half a century, the bedrock of confidence in democracy’s future has been its unquestioned stability in Europe and North America. The United States and Britain survived the near-total obliteration of democracy by the fascist powers in World War II. Then the re-establishment and rapid consolidation of liberal democracies across Western Europe—and especially in Germany and Japan—laid the foundations for the global expansion of democracy that followed.
After World War II, there was only one other serious challenge to America’s democratic way of life. That was the dark period in the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy and his political allies launched a witch-hunt against alleged and imagined communist sympathizers that stifled civil liberties and ruined the lives of many innocent people. The McCarthy era was an ugly one, but the threat was ultimately confronted and defeated by the forthright actions of courageous Americans in the media (such as Edward R. Murrow), in politics (such as Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith), in the law (such as chief counsel for the Army Joseph Welch), and in the judiciary (led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren). Many of these Americans, like Smith and Warren, were from McCarthy’s own Republican party.
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