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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Demagogue defines the word as:

Someone who becomes a leader largely because of skills as a speaker or who appeals to emotions and prejudices.

"Demagogue" almost always carries negative connotations. But all politicians strive to be great speakers, and all do their best to appeal to voters' emotions. As far as "prejudices," well, one person's prejudices are another person's facts. It all depends on your viewpoint. 

Often, when political enemies hurl charges of demagoguery at each other, it contains more than a trace of jealousy. (Since I don't have his appeal, I'll accuse him of demagoguing the issues.) 

All the current Presidential hopefuls -- and all their handlers -- pride themselves on having their finger on the pulse of America. But there's only one man who milks the public mood like a maestro, and that's Donald Trump.

Yesterday he referred to Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who achieved infamy by raising the price of a pill from $13.50 to $750, as "a spoiled brat."

This, of course, mirrors the reaction of the virtually everybody who'd heard about Shkreli. Trump didn't propose any policy changes, so there was no political cost to his comment. He merely said what everyone else was thinking -- which made all those people think, ah, Trump's my kind of guy!

Yesterday Trump described Hillary as "shrill." Hillary's True Believer feminist supporters don't think that, but the vast majority of other people do -- even if they're Democrats. So Trump once again connected with a large segment of voters who thought, wow, Donald thinks just like me!

When Trump said, during the first Republican debate, that he had no time for political correctness, he connected with all the voters who feel the same way -- and he got points for honesty.

And when Trump said we should stop all illegal immigration immediately, he echoed a sentiment that, according to polls, two-thirds of Americans share.

Trump's poll numbers reflect that ability to connect. That ability to demagogue, if you prefer. (And I'm not using the term pejoratively.)

It's a pretty safe bet that Trump surrounded himself mostly with yes men at his various corporations. So he's gotten used to shooting from the hip -- with a shotgun -- and having his flunkies laugh at all his jokes and insults. It must be gratifying, even addictive, and a hard habit to break. Trump, in his new role as politician, has certainly made no apparent effort to go cold turkey. So, he now treats the voters as his yes men. And, in a weird sort of way, a large portion of them have obliged by becoming such.

Meanwhile, the other candidates are trying so hard to not offend anybody, that they appeal to nobody. (That does seem to be the essence of mainstream Republicanism these days.)

Who'd have thought a billionaire real estate tycoon would be best at connecting with the common man?


Anonymous said...

I get a kick out of Trump, thoroughly enjoying the reactions of the other politicians. Trump is a character.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
Yes, "kick" is the right word, because he appeals to our emotions. The other politicians try to appeal to our intellects, which makes listening to them like doing homework.

Anonymous said...

Very good response on your end - so true!

- Susan

John Craig said...

Thank you Susan.

Taylor Leland Smith said...

He's definitely good at the non-answers.

Q: How will you bring the American Dream back?

Trump: Look. We can bring the American Dream back. That I will tell you. We're bringing it back. Okay? And I understand what you're saying. And I get that from so many people. 'Is the American Dream dead?' They are asking me the question 'Is the American Dream dead?' And the American Dream is in trouble. That I can tell you. Okay? It's in trouble. But we're going to get it back and do some real jobs. How about that man with that beautiful red hat? Stand up! Stand up! What a hat!

John Craig said...

Taylor --
I don't know what's wrong with you, that sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

Mark Caplan said...

The names normally associated with demagogue are Hitler, Mussolini, and Peron, so the word carries quite negative associations.

John Craig said...

Mark --
I'd add Stalin to that list and maybe subtract Peron. But, I agree, and that's sort of my point: the word is only used in a negative fashion, but when you look at the actual definition, in a way it's what all politicians aspire to

Steven said...

yes, who'd have thought.

A big part of his argument is 'im great at building stuff. I'm great at doing deals. I'm a super successful business man who has made billions and I'll bring that effectiveness to the presidency'. I find this argument quite convincing but how good is his business record really...didn't he inherit a lot of money from his dad? How good has he been at making that money grow? Has he built great things?

John Craig said...

Steven --
my understanding is that he inherited approximately a $40 million empire from his father (that was in 1975 or 1980 dollars) and expanded it quite a bit, so overall his business record is good. But he's had some significant failures along the way, such as Trump Air.

I actually find his argument less than compelling, but I think that with a President it's more important that we have a guy who's simply pointed in the right direction, has the right instincts. He can hire advisers if he gets elected to flesh out his plans. (You don't think Obama personally mapped out all the details of Obamacare, do you?) And after eight years of a guy who's instinctively anti-business and pro-immigraiton, people have a thirst for the opposite.

mark said...

I don't think politicians try to use their intellect to win my vote. Other politicians are just more boring and less willing to alienate potential voters. The Donald is exciting because he isn't afraid to alienate and offend people while still seeming like a guy who would get a huge number of votes in a general election. Who will be our next President? I would put Trump fourth or fifth in terms of likelihood of getting to(the hard part) and winning a general election. Those are great odds when you consider that there are 20 plus candidates running for President. Politics is like TV before cable when you wanted to be the most accessible show out of 3. Trump is more honest than most politicians it that he clearly shows his emotions during debate. Of course, I also think Obama is pretty honest in that he is a pessimist who doesn't cloak that side of him. It is also kind of depressing. Who is likely to be the next President of the United States? I would go with Hillary, Biden, Rubio, Trump and Kasich. Any thoughts?

Mark Caplan said...

Pope Francis - demagogue?

Think of his crowd-pleasing humility shtick. He named himself after the humblest of saints. Think of the staged, heart-rending routine with the 5-year-old immigrant boy who "broke through the police cordon" to beg the pope to intervene on behalf of his illegal-immigrant parents.

He attracts enormous, deliriously rapturous crowds whose members faint and cry and shout and wave hysterically. He grew up in Argentina during the the Juan and "Evita" Peron era, where anti-capitalist, poor-pandering demagoguery was brought to the peak of perfection.

John Craig said...

11:26 mark --
I have no idea who the favorite should be at this pint. We haven't even had the first primary yet. All of the people you named have weaknesses electorally, but at this point, I'd say Trump has a decent chance.

John Craig said...

Mark Caplan --
Excellent point -- Pope Francis very much fits the mold. And he does use his office to promote a certain political agenda. And the crowds that he attracts do act like those fainting, screaming crowds of girls who greeted the Beatles when they first arrives in the US.

By the way, I wasn't saying that Peron wasn't a demagogue above, merely that he's not one of the names most commonly cited.