What Impact Did Joseph McCarthy Have on American Society?

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Joseph McCarthy had a negative impact on American society in that he compelled the American public to enter a state of anti-communist hysteria so severe that innocent people were maligned, ostracized, blacklisted and in some cases, imprisoned. According to the Reference Dictionary, McCarthyism is defined as “the political practice of publicizing accusations of disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence.”

Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin, rose to prominence as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He accused thousands of American citizens of being communists or communist sympathizers. Prominent among the accused were many Hollywood celebrities, government employees, union activists and educators. Suspicion was often regarded as proof, and witnesses were threatened into revealing lists of supposed communist sympathizers to protect themselves. Many of the accused were publicly disgraced and lost their jobs. McCarthy used television to make many of the hearings public.

McCarthy’s downfall came in 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings, which were broadcast live on television. He began to attack and insult decorated members of the armed forces, causing President Eisenhower and the U.S. Senate to censure him on 46 charges of abusing his legislative powers. In 1957, McCarthy died of complications brought on by severe alcoholism.