Friday, August 31, 2012

Rhetoric: "Demagogue"

Politicians often complain that their opponents are "demagogues" or are "demagoguing" an issue. It's clear that this is a criticism, but what does it actually mean?

A demagogue refers to a person who incites the people to some cause or belief. As a negative description, a demagogue manipulates people, or pushes the to some sinister cause.

So, calling someone a demagogue is frequently an accusation akin to "negative politics" or "fear-mongering" or maybe caricaturing someone as having evil intentions.

Whatever the case, anyone who uses the term needs to explain exactly what they mean by it, and then prove that what they're saying is true. If they can't be clear what their accusation is, or they can't demonstrate that the accusation is true, then they're not saying anything we need to pay attention to.


EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
Clinton will have to campaign with unwavering poise against the most dangerous and unpredictable variety of opponent—a demagogue who is willing to trespass every boundary of decency to win power.
-- Pundit David Remnick, retrieved June 12, 2016, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "they'll say anything" rhetoric.

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During an exclusive Republican gathering here [Park City, UT] on Friday, billionaire mega-donor Meg Whitman challenged Paul Ryan over his endorsement of Donald Trump – and, in doing so, compared the presumptive GOP presidential nominee to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Whitman and Ryan are present for Experts and Enthusiasts, an annual summit convened here by Mitt Romney that brings together his top donors and major political figures. Part of the day’s program included a discussion session between Ryan and former broadcast journalist Campbell Brown.

At one point, according to two sources, during a question and answer session, Whitman, the billionaire chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard, challenged Ryan over his decision to support Trump. In framing the question, according to the sources, she compared Trump to past historical demagogues including Hitler and Mussolini.
-- Former gubernatorial candidate (R-CA) Meg Whitman, June 10, 2016, as related by Alex Isenstadt of Politico.

Comment: This is both "demagogue" and "comparing" rhetoric, though without direct quotes and context, it's hard to evaluate whether the rhetoric is appropriate.

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"There are a lot of Republicans, including myself, who find him morally repulsive. And he’s just not — there are some things more important things than winning an election. And supporting a guy who tears at the social fabric, who insults the office of the presidency by being completely unprepared for it, who plays on bigotry and fear, who is the sort of demagogue our founders feared would upset the American experiment in self-government, well, that kind of guy, you just can’t support, even if it means a defeat."
-- Pundit David Brooks, March 18, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Brooks is accusing Trump of being a bigot and a demagogue who uses scare tactics (he is also perhaps using the language of disgust: "morally repulsive").

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"Barack Obama's a world class demagogue. That language there is designed to divide us."
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), March 13, 2016, responding to remarks made the previous day by President Barack Obama.

Comment: Cruz is accusing Obama of being divisive and being a demagogue.

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Trump's rise is the return of the demagogue
-- Pundit Jill Abramson, February 29, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric.

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Trump has stoked xenophobic fears and used his crass showmanship to mark out this territory. His tactics of strong demagoguery make it completely understandable to lament his success.
-- Pundit Salena Zito, January 31, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Zito is accusing Trump of bigotry, and of being a demagogue.

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SANDERS: It is time, in my view, for us to have the courage to take on the insurance companies, take on the drug companies and provide health care to all people at an affordable cost.

CUOMO: The criticism is to pay for this, what you're really asking for is one of the biggest tax hikes in history. And that is the criticism.

SANDERS: But, Chris, that is an unfair criticism for the following reason. If you are paying now $10,000 a year to a private health insurance company and I say to you, hypothetically, you're going to pay $5,000 more in taxes -- or actually less than that, but you're not going to pay any more private health insurance, are you going to be complaining about the fact that I've saved you $5,000 in your total bills? So it's demagogic to say oh, you're paying more in taxes. Let's also talk about we are going to liminate -- eliminate private health insurance premiums and payments not only for individuals, but for businesses, as well.
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), January 25, 2016, during the Democratic Presidential Candidates Town Hall Meeting, hosted by Chris Cuomo of CNN.

Comment: It may be false or misleading to say that taxes would have to be raised to pay for Sanders' policies, but would it be "demagogic"? Are false or misleading statements only made by demagogues?

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My friends and colleagues have said in National Review’s recently published symposium almost everything that there is to be said on the matter of Donald Trump, the vicious demagogue who currently leads the Republican presidential pack in national polls. I myself have written a small book on the subject. Forgive me for turning to one other aspect of the question, which is that the candidacy of Donald Trump is something that could not happen in a nation that could read. This is the full flower of post-literate politics.
-- Pundit Kevin Williamson, January 24, 2016.

Comment: Williamson is using "demagogue" rhetoric, as well as "stupid" rhetoric in describing Trump supporters as not being literate.

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"What he’s proposing would not have prevented any past mass shooting. So why would it prevent the next one? So you’ve got a president indulging in an illusion. … And that’s why the issue of guns is such an insight into liberalism. Because what happens here is – what matters should be the results. … We’ve got this moral posturing, feel-good politics, it doesn’t matter to the left, what they propose will not stop gun violence, it just makes them feel good like they are doing something positive. They think it looks good, they think it sounds good, and the fact that no lives are going to be saved by what the President’s proposing doesn’t matter. That shows you how shallow modern liberalism is, and how it’s all about emotion rather than reason, and the appearance rather than reality. … But I’m watching him cry with tears streaming down his cheeks, now maybe it was genuine, to him – I can’t read the guy’s heart. … You’ve got an Alinskyite, master politician and a demagogue attempting to use emotion to counter reason."
-- Pundit Sean Hannity, January 5, 2016, referring to President Barack Obama's gun policy speech that day, during which Obama cried while referring the the Newtown school shooting.

Comment: Hannity is accusing Obama (and liberals more generally) of being divorced from reality, intentionally rejecting reason and facts. He is also using "demagogue" rhetoric.

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The terrorists and demagogues want us to be scared. We mustn’t give in
-- The headline of an opinion piece by George Soros, December 28, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "fear-mongering" rhetoric.

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"I think that the more than the American people understand what Trump stands for, which among other things is his assertion that wages in America are too high. He wants to, quote/unquote, "make America great." And here's a guy who's a billionaire who thinks that wages in America are too high. He thinks that we should not raise the minimum wage. He wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to his millionaire and billionaire friends. But I think creating and playing off the anxiety and the fears that the American people have, the fears about terrorism, the fears about our economy, and becoming a demagogue about that, and then trying to get us to hate Mexicans, or to hate Muslims, I think that is a strategy that is not what America is supposed to be about. What I believe, in contrast to Mr. Trump, is that we bring our people together to focus on the real issues, which is the disappearing middle class, massive income and wealth inequality. A corrupt campaign finance system. The fact that we're not effectively addressing the international crisis of climate change. The fact that our kids can't afford to go to college. And moms and dads can't afford child care. Those are the issues that we have to focus on. And we have to look at the greed. The greed of corporate America. The greed of Wall Street, which has had such a terrible impact on our economy and on millions of people. So, I'm trying to bring people together to take on the wealthy and powerful who have done so much to hurt the middle class. Trump is trying to play on fears and divide us up."
-- Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), from an interview on CNN, aired December 24, 2015. His remarks concerned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Sanders is accusing Trump of exploiting fear, of being a demagogue, of inciting bigotry, and dividing the country.

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Now look at Trump's behavior over the past few days. He has displayed a level of irresponsibility that borders on recklessness. This is a time when the essence of leadership is clarity and restraint -- when even politicians should put aside their usual braggadocio and self-aggrandizement for the good of the country. Trump has done the opposite. He appears to be inflaming the situation deliberately, to advance his presidential campaign. It's rare that we see this level of demagoguery in U.S. politics, but it's frightening. His divisive comments play so directly into the polarizing strategies of our terrorist adversaries -- who want to foment Western-Muslim hatred -- that a case can be made that he has put the country at greater risk.
-- Pundit David Ignatius, November 25, 2015, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "divisive" rhetoric.

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ROGER: Ronald Reagan successfully brainwashed about 45% of the nation's people with the help of Rush Limbaugh. And if you use keywords like “socialist” and “demagogue”, they right away think communist and they will not vote for you. And if you want to fix this problem, you can’t just do what you’re doing and shout out words like “demagogue”, they love demagogues. They don’t understand what the word even means. Go to a Republican bar and sit there and talk to them, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. You first have to fix the brainwash problem, and you first have to slowly fix the brainwash problem by bringing back the equal time laws that Ronald Reagan got rid of.



SVART: For the last 40 years the far, far right has really systematically built up institutions to control the discourse. … And they've really dismantled the public sphere. They've really deregulated. … And another thing that they've done is they've flooded the airwaves with their mantra, including how socialism is evil and the government in general is evil and inefficient. And they just repeat it over and over again, ignoring facts, and it really is true that it has an impact on how people engage with politics.
-- National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America Maria Svart, October 18, 2015, responding to Roger, a caller on C-SPAN Washington Journal.

Comment: Roger is using "stupid" (i.e., "brainwashed") and "demagogue" rhetoric to describe Republicans and conservatives. Svart is demonizing Republicans and conservatives; they generally want smaller government, but that doesn't mean they believe all government is evil. Svart is also accusing Republicans and conservatives of not caring about facts, and she is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature (implying that Democrats, Socialists, liberals and progressives don't also repeat false assertions).

***
For Mr. Obama, it’s never about honest differences over policies. His political opponents have to be portrayed as morally callous, cruel and motivated by the basest considerations while Obama presents himself as the avatar of the common good. Mr. Obama is, in fact, a cynical demagogue.
-- Peter Wehner, October 2, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric. While it's true that Obama sometimes demonizes his opponents, Wehner is himself demonizing Obama by saying that Obama never allows honest differences over policies.

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A few weeks ago, I predicted in a column that the Iran deal would become the foreign policy equivalent of Obamacare–Republicans would keep hammering it, even if they had no way to defeat it. This would be cynical and solipsistic; but I have absolutely no doubt that this is what the majority of Republicans will do. Next week, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and other Troglyditic all-stars will hold an anti-deal rally in Washington. Other circuses are sure to come. … Instead of standing with the demagogue Netanyahu–and the show-boating Republicans–AIPAC should consider standing with the Israeli intelligence and military establishment, some of whom favor the deal and some of whom don’t but all of whom agree that now that it’s a done deal, there is a need for coordinated strategy.
-- Pundit Joe Klein, September 3, 2015. His remarks concerned the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Iranian nuclear deal.

Comment: There's all sorts of rhetoric going on here: "cynical"; "subhuman" (in the form of "Troglyditic"); and "demagogue".

***
Trump is America’s answer to Hugo Ch├ívez. … Republicans like to think of America as an exceptional nation. And it is, not least in its distaste for demagogues. Donald Trump’s candidacy puts the strength of that distaste to the test.
-- Pundit Bret Stephens, August 31, 2015, in an article entitled, "The Donald and the Demagogues".

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric.

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Trump made his initial mark in this campaign with demagoguery about illegal immigration. But with the exception of Jeb Bush, the other GOP contenders have basically the same position: Seal off the border with Mexico, if necessary by erecting a physical barrier.
-- Pundit Eugene Robinson, August 11, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric.

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Demagogues like Donald Trump exhaust the patience of the political press corps because reporters fundamentally misunderstand the candidates' appeal. Reporters like to think that logic and reason hold sway, so they believe a demagogue can be easily disarmed by exposing his crimes against logic, his pandering to the uninformed and his manipulative emotionalism. They’re entirely wrong—as the last month of The Donald’s unlikely rise to the top of the Republican presidential heap has demonstrated day after day.
-- Pundit Jack Shafer, August 10, 2015.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric.

***
This is the essence of Walker’s appeal — and why he is so dangerous. He is not as outrageous as Donald Trump and Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), but his technique of scapegoating unions for the nation’s ills is no less demagogic. Sixty-five years ago, another man from Wisconsin made himself a national reputation by frightening the country about the menace of communists, though the actual danger they represented was negligible. Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy, but his technique is similar: He suggests that the nation’s ills can be cured by fighting labor unions (foremost among the “big government special interests” hurting America), even though unions represent just 11 percent of the American workforce and have been at a low ebb.
-- Pundit Dana Milbank, July 23, 2015. Milbank's remarks concerned presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI).

Comment: This is "demagogue" (and perhaps also "fear-mongering") rhetoric. Plus, it seems like Milbank is knocking over a straw man: Walker has certainly criticized labor unions, but has he really said that they are the source of all the nation's problems?

***
What Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism – a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.
-- Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), July 16, 2015. Perry was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: This is "demagogue" and "stupid" rhetoric.

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“We have to reject this demagogue. If we don’t we will lose and we will deserve to lose.”
-- Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), July 12, 2015. He was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: This is “demagogue” rhetoric.

***
Ohio Governor John Kasich lambasted Clinton after a campaign stop in Concord, New Hampshire. “For her to say that there are Republicans who are deliberately trying to keep people from voting is just pure demagoguery,” he told reporters

Kasich added that he doesn't “know who put her up to this,'' but said the election should be focused on “who's going to improve America, not who's going to divide America better than somebody else.”
-- Governor John Kasich, June 5, 2015, as reported in a story on Bloomberg by Emily Greenhouse and Mark Niquette.

Comment: Kasich is using "demagogue" and "unify the country" rhetoric.

***
"And if you hear people during the course of the future campaigns, over the next several months and into next year, if all they’re doing is demagoging -- if all they’re saying is, “we have to do something about these illegal immigrants,” but then when you ask them, okay, what is it that you want to do, then they don’t have a good answer, or they pretend that we’re going to somehow deport 11 million people, even though everybody knows that the economies of Miami, New York, Chicago, the entire Central Valley in California would collapse -- so they’re not being serious about it -- if you hear people not being serious and not being honest about these issues, then you got to call them on it."
-- President Barack Obama, February 25, 2015, during town hall on immigration.

Comment: This is "demagogue" rhetoric, albeit hypothetical or speculative. Plus, it's a false choice to suggest that you must either deport all 11 million illegal immigrants or legalize them: you could instead do neither.

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Examples from 2014.

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Examples from 2012.



(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

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