Demagoguery and Democracy
a book by Patricia Roberts-Miller
(our site's book review)
What is demagoguery? Some demagogues are easy to spot: They rise to power through pandering, charisma, and prejudice. But, as professor Patricia Roberts-Miller explains, a demagogue is anyone who reduces all questions to us versus them. Let's take a deeper look at us versus them, keeping in mind that this life context is antithetical to democratic thinking. In a true democracy, there is win-win in action, with disagreements leading to compromises in which all parties win something. Democracies are inclusive, and marginalization of any group is antithetical to healthy democratic thinking.
This us versus them form of black and white thinking is rejected by those willing to think for themselves and avoid anyone trying to do it for them, and us versus them has no place in a true democracy with regards to the citizenry.
Us versus them thinking is intrinsically win-lose thinking. This us versus them context is, unfortunately, the way U.S. citizens have always been raised. Our schools are all about me versus them. They teach the highly competitive win-lose context, except for Montessori schools, which teach win-win, which this website strongly supports. But are their students as competitive as normally schooled American workers? That's actually the wrong question. Are their students happy and successful? is the correct question. The answer is yes.
Who started out in Montessori schools? Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, and Julia Child to name just a few. Win-win education makes them BETTER entrepreneurs, not worse, and they EMPOWER those they work with, not disempower, which win-lose people are wont to do. Besides, win-lose American education has been failing worse by the year, so isn't it time we try something new?
The authoritarian childraising methods have a goal of obedience. This is a good goal for dog training but is inappropriate to use as a childraising goal
Not all U.S. citizens have always been raised win-lose. Here is a link to Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs that are win-win in nature. Authoritative methods use the win-win strategy of both parents and kids win—no one loses. This is the healthiest method for kids and parents and it creates the healthiest families and communities and world. Authoritarian parenting programs invariably raise win-lose citizens because their strategy is to have parents win and kids lose. This isn't good for anyone. This reward and punishment authoritarian method (do what I say or this negative thing will happen to you) of dealing with kids will not produce the healthiest kids.
A good method is to WORK WITH while a bad method is to DO TO. The Authoritative Parenting Programs, on the other hand, will produce the healthiest results possible. The authoritarian methods have a goal of obedience. This is a good goal for dog training but is inappropriate to use as a childraising goal. See Discipline That Works. Many unenlightened religious organizations teach reward and punishment, authoritarianism, doing to, and obedience seeking. More enlightened religious organizations, like the very best primary schools, teach working with, not doing to.
The us versus them nonsense is at the center of Trump's ideals, philosophies, strategies, and personality—his upbringing was the epitome of win-lose, and his life's guiding motto is to win at all costs
The us versus them nonsense is at the center of Trump's ideals, philosophies, strategies, and personality. His upbringing was the epitome of win-lose, and his life's guiding motto is to win at all costs. Even his board game has that motto. Donald Trump's board game Trump states "it's not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!" which is a way of saying that there is no intrinsic joy in doing or playing anything, there's only real joy if you kick someone's ass. This win-lose context is a perfect example of the hollowness of most steep-gradient-nurturance-raised people, who are run by oedipal and sibling rivalry emotions that drive them to succeed by climbing over the corpses of rivals, and in the process completely missing the point to life. To understand all this in depth, consult Flat-gradient Nurturance versus Steep-gradient Nurturance.
Trump's demagogic presidential campaign was a perfect example of the triumph of demagoguery and the failure of democracy. His us versus them demonization of minority groups should have been swatted down by everyone as unacceptable in a democracy. But instead, the promiscuous media was thrilled to have a sensationalistic new phenomenon to explore, and they fell right into Trump's trap wherein he captured the lion's share of media attention. Hillary talked about issues, Trump talked about hate, indulging in racist hate speech toward minorities, women, media, even insulting heroes and the disabled.
Our media whores sold out our democracy for the cheap sensationalism of hit pieces, smears, and hate speech
The media was responsible to go where the issues were, rather than catering to Trump's ugliness. They failed us utterly. Trump's campaign strategy used the cynical calculus that the media whores would go where the ratings were, pursuing substantive issues only as long as Trump wasn't acting up again with more divisive, outrageous antics. Since Trump never let up during the entire election, the big orange narcissist got most of the attention, and Hillary only got the rightwing's planted smears, insults, and sexist character assassination, which the media carried instead of talking about her platform. Once again, OUR MEDIA WHORES SOLD OUT OUR DEMOCRACY FOR THE CHEAP SENSATIONALISM OF HIT PIECES, SMEARS, AND HATE SPEECH.
Trump knew this would happen. It happened for Hitler in the 1930s and Trump's bedside nightstand contains Hitler's best speeches, in English. Demagoguery and yellow journalism sells more papers than democratic discussions. "If it bleeds it leads" took on new meaning when Trump sunk to new lows, discussing Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycles: "blood coming out of her whatever."
But it kept the attention on him 24/7 and we were learning all about the media-controlling, demagogic, Trump version of winning at all costs. He won. So it worked. But in the Bible's Matthew 16:26 it says "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" This was positively not on Trump's mind as he conned his way to the White House. (And he isn't the first: Obama's Enemies List: How Barack Obama Intimidated America and Stole the Election.)
But Trump's "win" was at what cost? The democracy stopped working. Actual politics stopped working. The media watchdogs stopped working. The election worked for Trump, who expertly exploited every entity's worst insincts, playing us like a violinist. As in Hitler's time, hateful demagogic methods exploited people's basist instincts and used the most extreme form of us versus them to win, which, to Trump, meant everything. Screw morals. Screw ethics. Screw fairness. Screw decency. Screw democracy. Screw everyone who didn't agree with him.
Where were the media watchdogs during the election? They stopped working and joined the circus—the Trump Circus!
This isn't politics. It's the disgraceful degeneration of what's left of a failing democracy. We were conned by an expert at The Art of the Deal, where in business, too, only winning counted for Trump. Paying contractors didn't count—only getting free work from them and then getting rich from what they built. See Democracy—an American Delusion.
Why is it dangerous? Demagoguery is democracy’s greatest threat. It erodes rational debate, so that intelligent policymaking grinds to a halt. The idea that WE never fall for the demagoguery scam—that all the blame for falling for it lies with "THEM"—is equally dangerous. Citizens are responsible for their democracy, not some nebulous "them."
The new ayatollah of the alt-right and white supremacists: the Ayatollah Trumpowski
How can we stop it? Demagogues follow predictable patterns in what they say and do to gain power. The key to resisting demagoguery is to name it when you see it—and to know where it leads.
Demagoguery and Democracy is one of those rare books that is simultaneously approachable and complex, timely and timeless, and absolutely indispensable for understanding not just how to confront demagoguery, but also how to strengthen democracy.”—Ryan Skinnell, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at San José State University, and author of Conceding Composition: A Crooked History of Composition’s Institutional Fortunes
Patricia Roberts-Miller, PhD, is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Fanatical Schemes: Proslavery Rhetoric and the Tragedy of Consensus, Voices in the Wilderness: Public Discourse and the Paradox of Puritan Rhetoric, and Deliberate Conflict: Argument, Political Theory, and Composition Classes
If we ever lose our alternative media websites and publishers, or if we let Trump's demagoguery get out of control, all is lost and fascistic stormtroopers will be goosestepping their way to our door
The author's arguments are well illustrated with examples that are sometimes abstract, sometimes drawn from personal experience, and sometimes historical. The historical arguments focus on the antebellum South, Weimar and Nazi Germany and the internment of those of Japanese ancestry in World War Two. Although Roberts-Miller acknowledges that demagoguery has its roots way back in Ancient Greece, she noticed that it became the main mode of U.S. public discourse in the days leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq—the U.S.'s worst military blunder yet.
Iraq War—the U.S.'s worst military blunder yet
Roberts-Miller rejects the conventional understanding of the term ‘demagoguery’ (comprising rhetorical appeals to the emotions rather than to the reason of the masses), preferring to define it as a form of identity politics in which the world is seen in binary, polarized terms, so that ‘they’ are automatically assumed to be evil while ‘we’ believe ourselves to be oozing with integrity, authenticity and virtue. A demagogue's followers tend to be nearly immune to rational argument but Roberts-Miller spells out many of the fallacies they are subject to and suggests ways they can be—preferably kindly—reasoned with.
Roberts-Miller says that "Demagoguery is about identity. It says that complicated policy issues can be reduced to a binary of us (good) versus them (bad). It says that good people recognize there is a bad situation, and bad people don’t; therefore, to determine what policy agenda is the best, it says we should think entirely in terms of who is like us and who isn’t. In American politics, it becomes Republican versus Democrat or 'conservative' versus 'liberal.' That polarized and factionalized way of approaching public discourse virtually guarantees demagogues, on all sorts of issues, and in all sorts of directions. Demagoguery is a serious problem, as it undermines the ability of a community to come to reasonable policy decisions and tends to promote or justify violence, but it’s rarely the consequence of an individual who magically transports a culture into a different world. Demagoguery isn’t about what politicians do; it’s about how we, as citizens, argue, reason, and vote. Therefore, reducing how much our culture relies on demagoguery is our problem, and up to us to solve."
The pushmi-pullyu: a perfect symbol of U.S. demagogical political gridlock
"Good disagreements are the bedrock of communities," she says. "Good disagreements happen when people with different kinds of expertise and points of view talk and listen to one another, and when we try, honestly and pragmatically, to determine the best course of action for our whole community. Our differences make our decisions stronger. Democracy presumes that we can behave as one community, caring together for our common life, and disagreeing productively and honestly with one another. . . . [Demagoguery] is the first step on what the sociologist Michael Mann has identified as a journey that can end in genocide, classicide, or politicide—that is, mass murder on the basis of race, class, or ideology. Democracy is hard; demagoguery is easy."
Roberts-Miller says that demagoguery is polarizing propaganda that motivates members of an ingroup to hate and scapegoat some outgroup(s), largely by promising certainty, stability, and what Erich Fromm famously called ‘an escape from freedom.’” Fromm, a brilliant 20th century thinker, is pointing out that if humanity cannot live with the dangers and responsibilities inherent in freedom, it will probably turn to authoritarianism (people like Trump). Using the insights of psychoanalysis as probing agents, Fromm's work analyzes the illness of contemporary civilization as witnessed by its willingness to submit to totalitarian rule. (He uses 1930s to 1940s Germany as an example.) He says that attachment to materialism and conformity and authoritarianism in the mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm does not lead to freedom and integrity, but to regressive and degenerative tendencies. With real freedom, people must make their own choices and not immaturely seek an authoritarian father figure to take care of them, making decisions for them, which is psychological regression, cultural regression, and political regression all at the same time.
Neocon television pundits help the shadow government upend our democracy, mostly representing the verbal version of fake news and alternative facts
A basic principle of democracy is that the ability of the general public to make appropriate decisions depends to a large degree on the quality of public discourse. The more that the public has the ability to argue together about issues of common concern, the more that the polis approaches the goal that political theorists have called "deliberative democracy." But talk show pundits are the unfortunate replacements for public discoursers in 2017, and they often represent the verbal version of fake news and alternative facts. So the ability of the general public to make appropriate decisions has been compromised to the point of it degenerating into impotent token gestures due to the pathetic quality of public discourse. Charles W. Lomas, in his oft-cited article, defined demagoguery as the process whereby skillful speakers and writers seek to influence public opinion by employing the traditional tools of rhetoric with complete indifference to truth. In addition, although demagoguery does not necessarily seek ends contrary to public interest, its primary motivation is personal gain. This is Trump-think if anything ever was.
Consult: Lomas, Charles W., The Agitator in American Society. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968 and Lomas, Charles W., Dennis Kearney: Case Study in Demagoguery." Quarterly Journal of Speech 41 (1955): 234-242 and Lomas, Charles W., The Rhetoric of Demagoguery." Western Journal of Speech Communication 25 (1961): 160-168
See Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Delusional Democracy—Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior), and Understanding the F-Word: American Fascism and the Politics of Illusion.
Talk show pundits are the unfortunate replacements for public discoursers in 2017, and they often represent the verbal version of fake news and alternative facts
"[Julius Caesar] used his immense wealth to fight his way to the highest ranks of political power. . . The more the establishment spoke against [the demagogue named Julius Caesar], the more the common people loved him. And so the masses cheered when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in 49 B.C. and swept away the career politicians. He promised to shake things up and he did, but it wasn’t long before he proclaimed himself dictator for life. He was killed on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. But by then it was too late. The structures of republican government had been laid waste and the voice of the people was silenced for the rest of the Roman Empire." (Source: What History Teaches Us About Demagogues Like The Donald, Philip Freeman, Time)
Alexander Hamilton warned: 'Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.'
What Aristotle most feared: democracy feeding on itself and thereby destroying itself
"[Trump] is a human distillation of the maxim that democracy 'is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.' In all that, he may well represent just what Aristotle feared: democracy, feeding on itself. And thereby destroying itself. Which is a fear, it’s worth noting, shared by the Founders. As Alexander Hamilton, summoning his reading of history and human nature, warned: 'Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.'" (Source: What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Demagogues’, Megan Garber, The Atlantic)
Dictator Obama - The Worst Is Yet To Come points out that since Obama "elected" himself dictator, the country suffered. One must ask oneself: why not Trump?
Obama wants you to believe I AM NOT A CROOK, but you know better—he should have been impeached! Did we really want a leader who used intimidation, threats, and smears against private citizens and who aided Islamist supremacists like the Muslim Brotherhood in their global war of conquest? Barack Obama used IRS audits to punish his political enemies, which is an impeachable offense. Yet we didn't act and the press "watchdogs" stayed silent. They were more like lapdogs than watchdogs!
"[Trump's] flamboyant personality and unusually aggressive speech have prompted both journalists and academics to label him a demagogue. If this assessment is accurate, Trump may be positioned to become the latest in a category of leaders who have historically left devastating legacies. . . . Demagogues pander to audiences by identifying a root cause for all their problems in the form of a scapegoat, or possibly scapegoats. . . . Demagogues arouse and then capitalize on their audience’s resentment and paranoia. By stoking a sense of outrage, humiliation at a loss of influence, or an obsession with the perceived decline of society, demagogues are able to compel their followers to renounce due process and rule of law in their rush to marginalize, expel or punish the scapegoated outgroup. . . . Demagogues cast themselves as truth-tellers, as the ultimate authority on matters of importance. Audiences are discouraged from seeking other viewpoints, and questions or criticism are treated as a great betrayal. . . . Trump clearly has many of the characteristic behaviors and rhetorical strategies of a demagogue. . . . Trump is not an aberration; he’s the end product of years-long Republican political strategy that exploited white resentment and nurtured xenophobia." (Source: Digital Demagogue: The Critical Candidacy of Donald J. Trump, Amy E. Mendes, Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, Vol. 6, No.3/4, 2016, pp. 62-73)
Trump clearly has many of the characteristic behaviors and rhetorical strategies of a demagogue; he is not an aberration; he’s the end product of years-long Republican political strategy that exploited white resentment and nurtured xenophobia
Author Steven Rockefeller underlines the risks of freedom in a discussion of Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. He points out a parallel with Eastern Europe's democracy movement and with all of modern history. Contemporary Mideast freedom movements highlight the point. Can people handle the danger, risk and insecurity of freedom or would they prefer the safety, security and stability of being controlled by the state? It's a choice, in Frommian terms, between the stagnation and regressiveness—but pseudo-security—induced by following the authoritarian conscience and the risky growth and scary progress induced by following the humanistic conscience. Or, in Maslow's terms, the choice is between growth and safety, as in The Psychology of Being—one of the best books ever. Demagoguery leads to authoritarianism, regressiveness, and giving up freedom for the pseudo-security of being taken care of by a charismatic leader who if given the chance will proceed from authoritarianism to dictatorship.
Like all of those who’ve demonstrated uncommon wisdom in the 20th century, Fromm realized that authoritarianism is often the problem, never the solution. He was one of the first to realize, like Fritof Capra, that the ecological-holistic paradigm should replace the materialistically obsessed reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm. He was an early advocate of The Third Wave, with its knowledge as power, and win-win cooperation, and humanistic context, as opposed to the Second Wave, with its materialistic context and its mass man and power from wealth and coercion, although, of course, there were no such terms as the first, second, and third waves until the Tofflers coined them in their The Third Wave book in 1980. Fromm's brilliant, prescient book The Revolution Of Hope came out 12 years before that (1968) with some of the important concepts of Toffler's books.
Fromm was a genius and humanist of the highest calibre
Fromm was a genius and humanist of the highest calibre. His book Escape From Freedom looks at the paradox of man's need to escape control by others and his subsequent inability to cope with the anxieties of freedom. Demagogues are waiting in the wings to exploit this dilemma, vowing to take care of us poor citizen-sheep—for a price. Aren't they sweet? Fromm lived through the collapse of democracy in Germany and the rise of Totalitarianism. How could they have surrendered their freedom that way? Identity politics, scapegoats, vengeance, loyalty, and hate all mixed up into an evil brew. Sound familiar? It should—it explains the rise of Trump. Get the point?
Toffler notes that industrial civilization no longer offers any attractive models to emulate for the rest of the world; although others envy Americans’ materialistic wealth and glamorous styles, they often abhor the loose morals, shaky ethics, and crime statistics we take for granted here. This makes people (i.e., Middle Easterners) who would have emulated American values and attitudes instead opt for regressive and fanatical factions’ viewpoints and beliefs—groups which at least seem to have solid ethics, morals and infraction enforcement. They traded freedom and humanistic potentials for the pseudo-security of a religion that dictates their every move, freeing them of the burden of thought or choice.
The 2016 election farce demonstrated nothing if not that Second Wave mass political structures are malfunctioning disastrously—and now we have a narcissistic demagogue in the White House who lost by 3 million votes!
As is spelled out in Powershift, “What is happening is a sky-darkening attack on the ideas of the Enlightenment which helped usher in the industrial age. . . . secularism is in retreat. What do advocates of democracy have to put in its place? So far the new, high-tech democracies have renovated neither their outdated [Second Wave] mass democratic political structures nor the philosophical assumptions that underlie them," says Toffler. The 2016 election farce demonstrated nothing if not that Second Wave mass political structures are malfunctioning disastrously—and now we have a narcissistic demagogue in the White House who lost by 3 million votes!
The U.S. oligarchy works for the shadow government neocons and the oligarchs—the rest of us can go sit on the beach and pound sand up our asses
The citizens are but cash cows giving the neocons and oligarchs the money to fulfill their desires for more power and wealth, empire building, less regulations, and lower taxes on the rich
When democracy fulfills its promises, citizens do not need to turn to demagogues for solutions. Since the 1980s, politicians haven't even made a serious effort to make democracy work for the people. The U.S. oligarchy works for the shadow government neocons and the oligarchs. The rest of us—from their viewpoint—can go sit on the beach and pound sand up our asses. Our needs are not their concern. We are but cash cows giving them the money to fulfill their desires for more power and wealth, empire building, less regulations and lower taxes on the rich. See Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
We are at a fork in the road, one fork toward the path of humanism and hope and wisdom, and the other toward regression, loss of freedom, neocon-led war, empire building, death, destruction, and environmental disaster. Choose.
Demagoguery and Democracy is a stimulating read. Roberts-Miller makes a very powerful case that we need to think about how we argue and not just what we argue, as well as clearly identifying what makes particular arguments good or bad. And her examples are superb.