The Demagogue

I attach here a portion of a most interesting opinion piece from the Washington Post that is making the rounds on the web. It is by Michael Gerson and the title is “Trump is the Demagogue our Founding Fathers feared.” It is most interesting.

In a dangerous world, fear is natural. Cynically exploiting fear is an art. And Trump is a Rembrandt of demagoguery.

But this does not release citizens from all responsibility. The theory that voters, like customers, are always right has little to do with the American form of government. The founders had little patience for “pure democracy,” which they found particularly vulnerable to demagogues. “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs,” says Federalist 10, “may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” A representative government is designed to frustrate sinister majorities (or committed pluralities), by mediating public views through “a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.”

Trump is the guy your Founding Fathers warned you about. “The question is not ‘Why Trump now?’ ” argues constitutional scholar Matthew J. Franck, “but rather ‘Why not a Trump before now?’ Perhaps some residual self-respect on the part of primary voters has driven them, up to now, to seek experience, knowledge of public policy, character, and responsibility in their candidates. The Trump phenomenon suggests that in a significant proportion of the (nominally) Republican electorate, this self-respect has decayed considerably.”

With the theory of a presidential nominee as a wrecking ball, we have reached the culmination of the founders’ fears: Democracy is producing a genuine threat to the American form of self-government. Trump imagines leadership as pure act, freed from reflection and restraint. He has expressed disdain for religious and ethnic minorities. He has proposed restrictions on press freedom and threatened political enemies with retribution. He offers himself as the embodiment of the national will, driven by an intuitive vision of greatness. None of this is hidden.

The founders may not have imagined political parties as a check on public passions, but that is the role the GOP must now play — as important as any in its long history. It is late, but not too late. If he loses in Ohio and Florida on March 15, Trump may well be held below a majority of delegates at the Cleveland convention. And then this chosen body of citizens should play its perfectly legitimate role and give its nomination to a constructive and responsible leader.

The reference to the “wrecking ball” has to do with what Gerson says Trump is: the “Republican electorate’s” tool to destroy the “old political order.” But anyone who believes that the Trump phenomenon is all about folks who are sick of politics as usual, and that’s it, are fooling themselves. He has shown us the ugly underbelly of this nation, folks who have been afraid heretofore to shout out their hatred and bigotry in public. This man has made it not only acceptable, but even admirable. It’s no wonder the rest of the world is looking askance at this country and the hatred and even violence that has clouded this election thus far.



2 thoughts on “The Demagogue

  1. Great post about a sober topic. The media has been sloppy on reporting on the “anger” of Americans, lumping it all together. I have written before that there are two kinds of anger toward Washington. The larger anger set is DC’s inability to collaborate and get things done. Then there is the anger from the Tea Party crowd, in particular, that you should not compromise and it must be done our way. Ted Cruz represents this group and is the reason for the first group’s anger. So, he cannot be a solution as he is the problem.

    As for Trump anger, over half of the GOP electorate has been voting against their economic interests for some time. These mainly rural, undereducated folks are not benefitting from throwing their lot with the GOP. Outsourcing, offshoring, uneven trade, suppressed wages, technology are all trends over the last 35 years. Yet, at its underbelly is a profit motivation, which feeds right into the GOP narrative. A living wage would help these folks. Investing in renewable energy and repurposed assets would help these folks. Expanding Medicaid and embracing the ACA would help these folks, giving them more to spend and saving rural hospitals.

    Then there is the demographic issue, which is key. The white majority is headed toward a plutocracy in the next three decades and that scares people. And, if they were not scared, folks like Limbaugh, O’Reiily, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Cruz and Trump will make them scared.

    • Thanks for the added insight, as usual. I really thought the man would go away by this time. But the American people are more gullible than I thought. They hear only what they want to hear — many of them.

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