That Trump has gotten this far says something about our vulnerability to demagoguery

Sure, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson is reliably, predictably liberal. It’s no surprise that he recommends that readers of his column vote for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. But the first couple of paragraphs of his column this morning nonetheless demonstrate the change the Trump candidacy has brought about in the way we think and talk about politics, thus:

On the debate stage Sunday night, we saw a lifelong public servant with total grasp of the issues and concrete plans to take the nation forward. And we saw a fraudulent boor who knows nothing about anything and brags about groping women. Let’s not pretend anymore that we have an actual choice.

Let’s not pretend there is any question about who “won” the debate, because only one candidate — Hillary Clinton — actually debated. Donald Trump did nothing but spew dangerous and incoherent nonsense, demonstrating in the process how fortunate we are that his electoral prospects finally seem to be circling the drain.

All the smart people seem to agree that Trump’s electoral prospects are bleak. Political numbers maven Nate Silver currently rates the chances of a Clinton victory at 83 percent. Nate Cohen of the New York Times makes it 87 percent. I don’t like these odds-making exercises, but I confess I check both Nates every day. It’s hard to imagine how Trump would climb out of the abyss into which he has taken his party. But, as the philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra noted, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

I assume Trump will yet try to do something to drag Clinton down to his level. (It’s way too late to imagine that he, himself, will rise to a higher level.) But just getting this far — for a man with obnoxious personality, his uninspiring life story, and his total inability stop lying or lay out a coherent vision of what he would do as president to get the nomination of a major American political party — tells us things about ourselves, our system, our vulnerability to authoritarian demagoguery, that cannot and should not be ignored.  

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/11/2016 - 04:34 pm.

    People have been gullible forever. Every mob has seemed like a good idea until the reality is too close to deny and the fingers are burned. The difference is that this time there has been an entire wing of the media constructing an alternative reality for several decades. The Republican beneficiaries of the nonsense fanned the flames, and now their fingers are getting burned.

    Now here’s some forward thinking–should President Obama or President Clinton issue a Presidential pardon for Trump, post-election? Because all of the scams and cheats by Trump that have been uncovered (such as his phony charity) may have legal consequences that will extend well into the next President’s term (which will feed into the reverse “revenge prosecution” narrative raised by Trump in the last debate).

    • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 10/12/2016 - 12:59 pm.

      Should Trump be pardoned?


      • Submitted by Thomas Eckhardt on 10/12/2016 - 04:04 pm.


        No pardons. These are suits that were filed before the campaign started. If further suits develop, those will be filed by private citizens, not the AG. Big difference there.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/12/2016 - 04:30 pm.

          There are the civil suits which would be carried out by individuals, but there are potential criminal penalties, for example the financial misuse of his “charity”.

          Personally, I don’t think there would be a greater shaming of Trump than a pardon issued by a President Clinton. But the issue of the irreducible deplorables remains as a great challenge for getting a new administration underway and the removing of governmental action against Trump illegalities would remove him further from the public presence that he has.

  2. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/11/2016 - 08:46 pm.

    Let me be the ….

    first to mention the film, ” Gangs of New York !” Demagoguery like fire needs other elements heat,fuel and an oxidizing agent which usually is oxygen. Maybe if some cannot or will not face the present reality they can view the film looking for the elements and project to the present and maybe self assess as to the reasons they are Trump supporters. Or maybe not. But nevertheless unless the self assessment is done. Rinse,wash,repeat will be our political future.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/12/2016 - 12:12 pm.

      Double Feature

      Trump reminds me of the main character in A Face in the Crowd: a fast-talking huckster who cons the masses into making him their hero.

  3. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 10/12/2016 - 08:19 am.

    This is the end…

    At a Pence led Trump rally this week a woman stands up and first speaks of the inevitable voter fraud that will cheat Trump from his deserved victory and then calls for revolution if Clinton should be declared the winner because society as we know it will soon end in a Clinton presidency.

    Yes, my dear, we may again be tortured with the devastating effects of another Clinton presidency:

    1. The best “right track / wrong track” optimism in 50 years.
    2. Record job creation and lowest levels of unemployment.
    3. A balanced budget.
    4. A declining debt (even though Dick Cheney told us to pay it down too fast would be a problem)

    I get that Hillary is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea; but, the clueless raging of the Trumpians of our impending doom is way, way, way beyond any reality.

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 10/14/2016 - 10:23 am.

      And very tellingly, Pence merely replied “Don’t talk about that” and then he moved on to a new topic.

      He DIDN’T say that the woman was wrong to think that, that she was wrong if she would actually carry out her revolution, or that her plan was the antithesis of democracy.

      No, he merely said that she shouldn’t be saying these thoughts out loud.

      A person committed to the idea of a democracy would have forcefully rejected her plan and put her in her place.

      Instead, Pence implied that she should “hold that thought” and revisit it after the election.

      Scary stuff.

  4. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 10/12/2016 - 10:03 am.

    Look To The Philippines ?

    Should one look no further to The Philippines to see what happens when demagoguery moves from words to actions?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/12/2016 - 11:30 am.


      Or to Trump’s own Russia, where his buddy Poutine has trashed the economy to the point where he has to engage in foreign wars to distract his citizens from his screwups.

  5. Submitted by Cindy Oberg-Hauser on 10/12/2016 - 02:27 pm.

    Trump vs GOP

    Here’s an interesting article that presents one attempt to explain why the main GOP powers are dropping Trump only after his sex talk leak.

    No pity for the party that holds such a distorted view of people but can put up with all of Trump’s faults. Too bad it looks like they haven’t learned anything other than keeping a tighter control on the party process.

  6. Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/12/2016 - 06:26 pm.

    Vulnerability to demagoguery

    Humans have a tendency toward authoritarianism. It derives from our initial condition of existential ignorance and fear, and the desire for security above all else. It is an atavism.

    Creating and keeping a society is the project of overcoming this underlying existential condition; seizing the concept of one’s own freedom to extend oneself into the realm of, and engage, the “other”; and tirelessly building outward a framework of mutual responsibility and trust. Working always to enlarge the realm of “us” and shrink the realm of “them.” This is the work of self-governance.

    For the past 48 years or so, without cease, the Republican establishment has pursued an electoral strategy of thwarting this project, cultivating ignorance and stoking fear against an endless concourse of false threats and false enemies to maintain a base loyal to an authoritarian appeal. (The Democratic establishment has pursued its own strategy, also anti-democratic but not oriented on manipulating the authoritarian tendency.)

    This Republican electoral strategy has been profoundly destructive of the project of building a society. It is the main cause of our present state where we, as a society, are disabled from acting to address any of our serious challenges; where a third of us are so frightened of self-governance that we choose nihilism instead; and where the center, clearly, is not holding. As cannot be over-emphasized, Trump is not an aberration, he is a well-anticipated result.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/12/2016 - 09:16 pm.


    So after reading this article and commentary, one may think that Democrats never use demagoguery and never fall for it. But, as an example, wasn’t supporting Obamacare without reading the law “falling for demagoguery” especially considering that even Dayton now calls it unaffordable?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/13/2016 - 07:55 am.

      It’s hard for me to see a genuine attempt to solve a real problem as demagoguery.

      What strikes me as real demagoguery are the dozens of repeal votes and thousands of strident speeches by Republicans but not one solid proposal in all of Obama’s term for addressing a complex and growing problem.

      You seem to think that medical costs would not have risen if Obamacare were not in place. That is absolutely wrong. In fact, the trajectory of total medical costs under Obamacare was reduced.

      But hey, stand by your mailbox waiting for the check the medical industry will send you for all of those mythical savings if Obamacare is repealed. But be prepared for a long wait.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/13/2016 - 09:09 pm.

        Problems and solutions

        There were real problems in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1933 but supporting Bolsheviks and Nazis was falling for demagoguery. So even if we assume that health care was a problem, voting for a healthcare law without reading it just because Obama said it was good is a perfect example of demagoguery and falling for that…

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/13/2016 - 12:08 pm.

    Trump isn’t the problem

    Trump will over politically after the election. It’s important we not let the brilliant light of Trumps train wreck blind us to the fact that this whole sick affair has been decades in the making, and the intellectual rot that’s crippling the republicans and American conservatives will remain after Trump is gone.

    Remember the republicans started with 17 possible candidates and NONE of them were much if any better than Trump. Trump just managed to dazzle the republican base in a more spectacular fashion than any of the other candidates but the tunnel vision and magical thinking that characterize the republican mind is still in tact within the party leadership.

    Step back from Trump, look at Pence, Christy, Paulson, Mills, Walker, Ryan… etc. The problem is a sudden emergence of a demagogue, the problem is liberal denial regarding decades of demagoguery. Liberals and democrats should long ago recognized and forcefully challenged this rot but instead they just pretended the white house changing hands. When they went right, instead of going left democrats went righter. To the extent that we’re vulnerable to demagogues it a failure rooted in parties dedicated to the elite rather than the people.

    As for our vulnerability, it’s important to remember that America isn’t buying Trump and he was never actually popular. It was a little nerve wracking for a few weeks there but the smoke is clearing and the train has no brakes.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 10/15/2016 - 05:31 pm.

    Hard to believe:

    There are so many American voters that cannot connect the dots, lack logical thinking skills and are so susceptible to this endless BS. Demagogue is too big of a word for those folks, need to stick with B.S. They lack the ability to understand what they don’t understand, that makes it really difficult. They have seen their savior and he comes forth with Orange hair, and folks the guy is right, he could shoot 5 people in times square at high noon, and call the 2500 witness’s liars and these folks would believe him and keeping marching in step.
    What was that Mark Twain Quote? “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

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