by Kim Pederson…….
Rachel Maddow made an interesting and scary comparison on her MSNBC show Tuesday night: what if Donald Trump were George Wallace reincarnated? If you don’t remember, Wallace was governor of Alabama for sixteen years and ran for president in 1968 as an independent, the last independent candidate to win state electoral votes in a presidential election. For most of his adult life, George was a vitriolic segregationist, although he reportedly renounced those views later in life. He was also a populist, that is, someone who runs for office appealing to “the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general population [by railing] against the prevailing status quo interests of any predominant political sector.” Sound familiar?
Although Donald Trump is not a segregationist (at least not to our knowledge), he is definitely a populist. The point Maddow made is that DT is using many of the same campaign tricks as GW to incite his followers into what appears to be mindless agreement, approbation, and opprobium. So that raises another question: how does someone making nonsensical, unproven, and often outright false statements persuade the masses to unplug their brains and start looking for lynch ropes, metaphorical or otherwise? This is a question not just for today but for all time because it has been happening ever since someone figured out that climbing up on a rock and haranguing the crowd below can have magically gratifying and empowering effects.
According to the world’s go-to public domain and sometimes reliable information source, academics define populism as an ideology that “pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice.” And there you have it in a nutshell. The slogan/mantra that Wallace and Trump embrace is a simple one: “Demagoguery Works!”
To grab another quick Wiki definition,
a demagogue or rabble-rouser is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower socioeconomic classes to gain power and promote political motives…. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.
It’s always easy to point fingers. We, however, have no one to blame but ourselves for our tendency toward simpletonicity, our penchant to become WallaceHeads, TrumpHeads, or, most chillingly, HitlerHeads. It appears we cannot escape the dark side of ourselves. As a most eminent philosopher instructed us, “Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”
No, we can’t escape our dark side. We can, however, choose not to go down that path. Or, if we happen to be on it already, we can turn around and head back the other way.
*”George C Wallace” by User:Tilden76. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.