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John F. Kennedy meets with supporters in Havre de Grace as he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in May 1960. Future U.S. senator Joseph D. Tydings, Kennedy's Maryland campaign manager, stands to the candidate's right.
John F. Kennedy meets with supporters in Havre de Grace as he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in May 1960. Future U.S. senator Joseph D. Tydings, Kennedy's Maryland campaign manager, stands to the candidate's right. (Aegis Archives / Baltimore Sun)

If you are looking for some relief from the daily exercise in obscene chaos inflicted on America and the rest of world by Donald Trump and his partners in dishonesty, I have a book for you to read. "My Life in Progressive Politics" is the autobiography of Joseph D. Tydings, a Marylander raised in the lap of luxury who could have spent his life as a wastrel but chose instead to spend it in honest and courageous service to his state and nation.

Apart from wealth, President Trump and former U.S. Sen. Tydings do have one other thing in common: As a young man, Mr. Tydings spent a lot of time at Mar-a-Lago, then a private home built by his step-grandmother, Marjorie Merriweather Post. But in Marjorie Post's time, the motto carved into the stone beneath Mr. Tydings's grandfather's crest was simply Integritas, which translates from the Latin to "integrity" or "honesty." Under the latest owner, that motto has been replaced with "Trump," which translates to the opposite of integrity or honesty.

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In the spirit of his family motto at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Tydings spent his entire political life fighting against Maryland's corrupt political machinery and the forces of evil at work in Washington, beginning with his leadership of the Maryland Young Democrats in the 1950s when he successfully faced down an Ocean City hotel owner who was refusing to allow African-American members attending a meeting there to sleep in his establishment.

Trump is paralyzed by the fear he will be exposed as a fraud.

In 1954, Mr. Tydings was elected to represent Harford County in the Maryland House of Delegates, the beginning of a seven-year career in the state legislature, where he took on the entrenched leadership of his own party over such issues as savings and loan companies that were fleecing innocent Marylanders thanks to a lack of oversight.

"I was appalled no one was doing anything about it," he says in the book, which was co-written by John W. Frece, a former State House bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun. "One major reason things were allowed to go on unchecked… was that some top politicians in Maryland… were involved with and profiting from these fly-by-night operations [including] A. Gordon Boone of Baltimore County, soon to become Speaker of the House."

In the meantime, Mr. Tydings had developed a friendship with John Kennedy who was launching his campaign for the presidency in 1960, and he went to work on Kennedy's behalf. He developed a relationship with the family strong and intimate enough for the Kennedy brothers to reward him after the 1960 election, offering to appoint him U. S. attorney for Maryland.

Mar-a-Lago’s original owner tried turning the Palm Beach oceanfront estate into the Winter White House. President Donald Trump made it happen 80 years later.

"The thought that I would become a federal prosecutor simply scared the hell out of some powerful leaders of the entrenched Democratic organization in Maryland," he writes.

With good reason. One of the biggest cases of his tenure as federal prosecutor was the indictment and conviction of Eastern Shore Congressman Thomas Johnson for taking bribes. Maryland House Speaker Boone was also indicted under Mr. Tydings on charges connected to the savings and loan scandals of the 1960s and eventually tried and convicted; he served 13 months in federal prison. At one point, Mr. Tydings recalls, U. S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy called him and exclaimed: "My God, Joe, can't you ever find a Republican to indict?"

Mr. Tydings hired deputies who would go on to distinguished careers, including Benjamin Civiletti, who later served as U.S. attorney general, and Stephen H. Sachs, who would go on to prosecute his own share of Democratic politicians as U.S. attorney and who later served as Maryland attorney general.

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings, center, receives a proclamation after being named a Harford Living Treasure by the county council on Tuesday night. With Tydings are, from left, Council President Billy Boniface, Tydings' nephew Joseph Davies, Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and Councilman Chad Shrodes.
Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings, center, receives a proclamation after being named a Harford Living Treasure by the county council on Tuesday night. With Tydings are, from left, Council President Billy Boniface, Tydings' nephew Joseph Davies, Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and Councilman Chad Shrodes. (The Aegis, Bryna Zumer)

In 1964, running with a slogan "Working for Maryland, not the machine," Mr. Tydings was elected to the U.S. Senate, where in a single six-year term he aggressively fought in support of civil rights, Medicare and Medicaid, protection of the environment and a variety of other progressive causes.

Finally — and fatally — he fought for gun control, anticipating incorrectly that his own reputation as a hunter would give him broader support. But that, combined with his opposition to the war in Vietnam, brought the conservatives and Nixon's White House out in force in the 1970 election.

The National Rifle Association went after him with a slogan "If Tydings wins, you lose" beneath a photo of a pipe-smoking hunter and his son sitting at a lakeside covered by a big X.

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tydings–McDuffie Act. Maryland Senator Millard Tydings (pictured above) co-sponsored the measure, which

But the most effective attack came from the Nixon White House, which planted an untrue story in Life Magazine claiming Mr. Tydings used his prestige as a senator to persuade the government to grant $7 million in loan guarantees to build housing projects in Latin America for a company with which Mr. Tydings had been associated. A State Department review of the accusation later completely exonerated Mr. Tydings, but the Nixon White House deliberately delayed release of the findings until after Mr. Tydings had lost the election to Republican J. Glenn Beall Jr.

Mr. Tydings thus suffered a political demise painfully similar to that of his adoptive father, Millard Tydings. The elder Tydings lost his bid in 1950 for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate after Wisconsin Democrat Joseph McCarthy, whom he had investigated for falsely charging that the State Department was riddled with communists, circulated a fake photograph of Millard with his arm around U. S. Communist Party leader Earl Browder.

So, sadly, the Tydings family political experience demonstrates that the threat to democracy represented by the Trump regime today is not unprecedented, but hope resides in the abiding power to resist, as Mr. Tydings did and as he exhorts his own grandchildren and their peers to do in his memoir's epilogue. "Devote a portion of your lives to public service," he writes, "and help this wonderful country overcome the severe problems it currently faces."

G. Jefferson Price III (gjpthree@gmail.com) is a former Sun foreign correspondent and editor.

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