Demagoguery

The Washington Spectator arrives via my snail-mail (many thanks to Gerald Stinson!), so I can’t link to the article, but the most recent version contained a fascinating essay by one Patricia Roberts-Miller, who is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

She begins by acknowledging a recurring question posed by most sane Americans: why in the world hasn’t Trump’s obvious incompetence, constant lying and childish language and behavior undercut his standing with his base?

One answer to that question–an answer that research continues to confirm–is that the base shares his racism/White nationalism, and for his base, that animus outweighs everything else. But Roberts-Miller provides a different–albeit not inconsistent–analysis, involving the language of demagoguery.

She cites to a rhetoric scholar who analyzed Hitler’s use of language and characterized it as a “relentless repetition” of the “bastardization of religious thought.” The “religious ways of thinking” that lent themselves to bastardization included identification of a common enemy, allied with scapegoating and projection.

Demagoguery, she points out, “displaces policy argumentation with praise of “us” and condemnation of “them.”

Roberts-Miller also says we should not be surprised by Evangelical Christian support for Trump, since conservative Christian Germans overwhelmingly supported Hitler and conservative Christian Americans previously supported slavery, segregation and lynching.

Although she takes care to say that Trump isn’t Hitler, she admits the parallels are troubling. Hitler railed against a socialist Parliament, internationalism (what we would call globalism), the presence of aliens, rampant immigration, liberalism and the liberal media (which he claimed was “stabbing him in the back”).

And of course, he promised to “make Germany great again.”

Roberts-Miller says that Trump’s use of demagogic rhetoric is less important than the fact that his “rise to power was fueled by a demagoguery that reflected the racist, xenophobic, misogynist and authoritarian values” of today’s iteration of the GOP. As she notes, Trump didn’t bother with dog whistles; he just came right out and said shocking things–“and the GOP media machine didn’t condemn him for it. They justified it, promoted it, and repeated it.”

So here’s where we are in today’s America. In a country and an era where the structures of democracy no longer work, we are governed–thanks to vote suppression, gerrymandering, and the current operation of the Electoral College–by a minority of our fellow citizens who subscribe to a set of pernicious beliefs and act out of a set of visceral resentments that are inimical both to America’s founding values and to human rights. Rather than finding Trump’s inarticulate use of language bizarre and repulsive, his language actually speaks to them. It reinforces their sense of grievance and their belief in their own victimization.

We’re getting a master class in demagoguery.

19 thoughts on “Demagoguery

  1. I too applaud Adam Schiff’s remarks to the Republicans on the Committee yesterday, and I will be using that same tactic in the future to counter any Trump supporters who get into my sights with their bs. I urge others to stand up and speak out fearlessly and forcefully until our words become a roar that drowns out and silences the lies and the hate.

  2. patmc; I have proudly watched Rep. Adam Schiff on CNN and MSNBC 4 or 5 times this morning. He has consistently stood his ground throughout this entire Trump administration against the current, whatever name you want to apply to Trump & Co., he never falters in keeping the truth in the forefront. The same is true of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer. The Republicans are still hiding behind their Boy King as he repeatedly and continuously lists his imaginary virtues and brilliance as he childishly uses insulting name-calling to identify his imaginary enemies. He has drug the RNC down to his level in the Washington, D.C. swamp and we are up to our ass in alligators – even with the Democratic majority in the House.

    Time to dig in our heels, circle our wagons, load our muskets against their semi and full-automatic weapons and recognize Trump’s “sticks and stones” as merely the words of a fool.

  3. Adam Schiff is a patriot and the personification of democratic values in a society where a substantial minority of the population fits Sheila’s description of those who live in a democracy but are not imbued with either the Athenian or the modern model of just what a democracy is and isn’t about, having been victimized by greed, racism and some religions that provide a setting for authoritarian values, as defined by George Lakoff, retired brain scientist, and others.

    Authoritarians represent the very antithesis of democracy, which is a system that depends upon submission to authority based on consent of the governed as expressed by majority rule. Thus Hitler’s Nazi Party, like Trump’s today, was a minority party but, preying on the prejudices and victimhood (Treaty of Versailles, reparations to the French, rampant inflation etc.) of rank and file Germans, Hitler seized all power, and I need not write how that turned out.

    Trump is not exactly a Hitler, but they do hold some attributes in common, chief of which is the burning desire to dictate unencumbered by those of us who believe in democratic values and institutions. If he is successful in selling victimhood, hatred and vengeance with his phony populism, then like the 169 year experiment of democracy in Athens, prepare yourselves with a figurative invasion of Roman legions (aka dictatorship), all of which inspires me to often write that democracy is our most precious asset held in common, and one of the last few things left worth dying for.

  4. i still look back at the past, iran contra,barr,bush,reagan. this is the same ol round. though Schiff is in the hot seat, republicans will bash what they want. but, we still have to see where julian assange and stone,manafort.were and what,they were doing. though mueller has sigend off, theres still the question of stone and assange met and did, send those wikileaks,in time with the hillary campaign ,where,she had no way to clean it up,or make rebutals etc. no russian did not collude, stone and assange did. if mueller is to be called to congress, this should be front and center. though mueller maybe acting on charges that have a chance at conviction of trumps mob, russians etc,like many cases,if it doesnt stand, it wont pass muster. no charges didnt suprise me,after rereading bushes pardons christmas eve 1991, with barr as the cheerleader. this country hasnt changed, and its darker than ever. trumps word play in mich,is a typical hitler esque mob rally.the uninformed,ill educated,and ignorant,being led by the king of rats.. take a look,at chris hedges and r naders latest, damning to say the least. we are failing in public speach,awareness,and the news media has been the pied pipper of this overture.
    when social media has made its way into billons of lives,and all we see is more ignorance, the billionaires must be just singing all,the way to,the bank. all,they need to do now is make a plastic card for all,your transactions,and its complete, total control of the masses…sick..

  5. Republicans in Congress do give us great theater, lousy government, but great theater. It’s just too bad the Trumpers don’t know the difference.

  6. It’s easier to promote mindless demagoguery here than it was in Germany. Between our education system’s failures and the glut of mind-controlling advertising, most people don’t stand a chance but to follow the loudest voice in the room.

  7. As an old curmudgeon, I would suggest another enabler of the Trump era, our somewhat unfettered culture of “anything goes” , particularly in terms of degradation of language (what used to be curse words are now every other word) and glorification/explicitness of violence and crime. These not only increase fear and discomfort, but also serve as a “plate” for the sharp-edged chaos we live in.

  8. I again watched the movie, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House” this morning. From movies I often find quotes which fit this current administration, whether actually spoken by those portrayed in the above movie or not…they fit. Regarding the Nixon administration Mr. Felt stated, “…confusion is control…”; we cannot argue with the daily confusion, turmoil and chaos we deal with under Trump. When told he was suspected of being “Deep Throat”, Mr. Felt asked why they didn’t fire him, he was told “The only thing worse than keeping you is firing you.” Any arguments that fits Trump’s endless accusations against Robert Mueller but his refusal to fire him? Regarding leaks from the White House; Nixon believed “it’s time to clean out the FBI”, Trump has certainly been doing that beginning with his firing of Mr. Comey.

    The Nixon administration and Watergate was at that time considered to be “…the most critical Constitutional crisis in history” No one could possibly foresee this Trump administration and the many “…gates” we have been confronted with in 26 months of Bannon’s “deconstruction” of the presidency and democracy.

  9. Demagogues, have long been a part of American politics and cultural. The invention of the radio, TV and internet has provided the Demagogues, with universal platforms to communicate. Everyday, you can find some media outlet preaching hell fire and damnation for non-believers and followers. Ohh, and send us some money too.

    Authoritarianism allows for the personal vicious attacks against individuals and groups. The followers of President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence view these attacks as proof of the “Strongman” aura. You can see in President Agent Orange the same jut jawed posing like Mussolini. The chants of lock her up, lock them up and build the wall are as mindless as praying for conversion therapy of gays.

    A woman’s right to control her body cannot be permitted as woman are second class in the Evangelical and Catholic Churches. The strongman with the cassock, or robes or other trappings of authority determine the woman’s place.

    For roughly eight years Obama was harassed by a variety of birthers, including then Citizen Agent Orange concerning his birth certificate. Now it seems the Mueller Report will be carefully redacted before it is released. This reminds me of when Nixon released his transcripts before a TV audience, which left out his obstruction, which was revealed on the actual tapes.

    The Democrats running for President need to stick to the issues.

  10. All absolutely true and absolutely terrifying. So what to do, that’s what matters now. As far as I can tell, the candidates who have succeeded in places (eg, Italy) that have moved away from similar leaders didn’t do it by focusing on and condemning all the time the demagogues (which was a major factor in why Hilary Clinton lost). Instead they offered alternative and constructive approaches to the issues that had contributed to the demagogue’s support in ways that connected. The candidate I’m seeing right now who is doing that the best seems to me to be Pete Buttigieg. He acknowledges the reasons (and notes which are actually legitimate and which not) people voted “to burn the house down” and suggests appealing and sensible responses. I met him last summer while assisting with a documentary, and he gave by far the best interview I’ve ever heard. He is both smart and savvy. The more I see of him in action in this campaign, the more impressed I am.

  11. Of course Trump and his gang of thieves with power are both symptoms and catalysists of changes in our society probably brought about by what liberals fear; plutocracy and the emergence of society where the poor are poorer and the rich are richer. The death of the American Dream and the middle class are now not debatable. In fact a symptom of the symptom is health care. Trump makes the point now that the poorer poor will bear the brunt of disease while the wealth enjoy concierge health care.

    What many of the poorer poor don’t realize is that at his “rallies” they are not who he supports at all, they are examples for the wealthy of who he controls. Like the “animal trainers” in old circuses he snaps his whip, the downfallen snarl and snap on cue, and the wealthy not in the cage but in the TV audiance throw money.

    At the moment the only way to get American back is to outvote those who don’t realize yet their role in this moment in history. They are the gladiators and the lions are happy to see them as they are hungry to demonstrate who really has the power when the time comes.

  12. Trump wants us focused on his supposed incompetence and ignorance. I my opinion he has a plan and is executing it well. This man is dangerous and could well topple our republic. We wring our hands over his stupidity while he does incredible damage to our country. Remember his statement that he loves the uneducated. He has the hallelujah crowd and the racist believing his bullshit and they will probably never abandon him.

  13. “In fact God told me last night that Donald Trump’s name has been written in the Book of Life. He’s guaranteed a place in heaven. In fact, he’ll also be a real estate mogul in heaven and have his own Trump Towers.” Pat Robertson on the 700 Club

    The fact that the man of whom he speaks has shown everyone on numerous occasions that he lies, cheats, steals, bullies, disrespects and demeans those he considers his inferiors at every opportunity would lead you to think that those attributes were christian.

    Having just finished reading Pete Buttigieg’s book and listened to him speak to the issues at hand on several interview programs, I agree with Carol Johnston. He is definitely someone I will be following with great interest. I hope to find out more about his ideas regarding healthcare and education before I commit to any financial support.

  14. At one and the same moment Trump is deconstructing every aspect of American healthcare and selling his followers the vacuous notion that Republicans will be known as the party of healthcare. He himself knows there are no Republican healthcare plans on the table or in the works, and nobody in his party is willing to accept the challenge of authoring such a plan. He is eliminating – or trying to – guarantees of insurability for those with pre-existing conditions, which will, over time, cost the lives of some of the walruses in his audience flapping their flippers to show approval. He’s like a man on the make who is surreptitiously stripping his date of her clothing while she remains blissfully unaware of what is about to happen to her.

    As Sheila points out, we’ve sold him short. A lifetime of practice has made him master demagogue and in today’s dumbed-down America that will take a man a long way. Most of us think he is far too ignorant to concoct a plan. But self-preservation requires that we suspend our disbelief and pay very close attention.

  15. Bravo to everyone for covering this so well in their comments but the article in question is really chilling and is an excellent summation of the type of demagoguery that Uncle Adolf pioneered in that led the most literate country in Europe 90 years ago into a death spiral. If we are going to save ourselves and our country from perhaps a similar fate we had better all wake up and do it fast.

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