Columnist

President Trump has summoned Joseph Welch from the grave. Welch stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954 when the demagogic Wisconsin Republican smeared Welch’s associate, Fred Fisher, as a communist sympathizer. When McCarthy persisted, Welch earned his way into every Bartlett’s by saying, “Have you no decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” McCarthy had none and neither does his heir in slime, Donald John Trump.

The latest evidence is Trump’s attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democrat. Omar, whose true talent may be sloppy, irresponsible speech, clumsily referred to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by saying “some people did something,” which, taken out of context, shockingly trivialized mass murder. Predictably, her remarks were indeed taken out of context, first by the journalistically squalid New York Post and then by the object of its affections, the president of the United States.

The New York tabloid put a picture of the burning twin towers on its front page with the virtually neon headline, “Here’s your something,” and then, “2,977 people dead by terrorism.” The New York Post is Trump’s virtual brain trust. So it was no surprise that Trump followed up with a tweet declaring “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” along with a video showing Omar saying the offending words and segueing to images of Lower Manhattan after the terrorist attacks.

The White House was instantly criticized for that tweet as yet another attempt by Trump to incite hatred. Quickly, a good chunk of the flash mob that has materialized to seek the Democratic presidential nomination came to her defense without any of them suggesting that she think before she opens her mouth. She has, after all, said some doozies. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she tweeted back in February, implying that overwhelming congressional support for Israel is bought by Jewish money. She apologized for the tweet. But then she told a D.C. audience that American supporters for Israel are pushing “for allegiance to a foreign country.”

That was a shockingly dumb remark that Congress could not bring itself to condemn on its own. Instead, it subsumed into a general condemnation of everything vile: bigotry directed at “African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others.” It is that “and others” that managed to render the whole exercise both silly and offensive.

Here is a fact: Omar was elected by 267,703 people in Minnesota. Here is another: There are 327.2 million people in the United States. Omar is a first-term representative, chairperson of no committee and should matter little. That she does matter is partly attributable to her being a political exotic and partly to her gift for offensive statements. If you listen to the entirety of her remarks about the 9/11 attacks, even if you want very much to find them offensive, you will come away uncertain. The supposedly clear case dissolves under scrutiny.

Actually, it was not Omar who denigrated those terrorist attacks. It was first Rupert Murdoch ’s New York Post, then his Fox News and, finally, Trump. They were the ones who exploited this horrid crime for political purposes. They are intent on making Omar the face of the Democratic Party — a caricature that’s thoroughly leftist, repellently anti-Semitic, frighteningly nonwhite and terrifyingly non-Christian. The end is nigh.

As Trump has repeatedly shown, he has no shame and he has no empathy. His continuing feud with the quite dead John McCain seems out of Shakespeare — some deranged character haranguing the ghost of an old foe. Trump’s inability to appreciate how intensely McCain suffered as a prisoner of war in Vietnam evinces a meanness and moral rottenness that shames both himself and the many in his party who look the other way.

But in the way a Typhoid Mary can spread a disease but is immune to it, so is Trump immune to shame. He has, though, infected the Republican Party. It has to know that Trump is exploiting the horror of 9/11 to rally the faithful for his reelection effort, but it says nothing. The party has become a kind of horror film, Republican after Republican arising from a swamp — the living dead, marching toward political survival, lacking only a soul.

Omar is both as important and unimportant as Fisher, the young lawyer attacked by McCarthy and defended by Welch. They were both meant to represent larger forces — communism in Fisher’s case and Islam in Omar’s — but they came instead to represent something their antagonists did not intend: victims of a shameful abuse of political power.

Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.