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The Normalization of Demagogy

I’m hoping these are not ordinary time, politically speaking. If they are then the United States is in trouble. For the first time a fascist, racist, xenophobic demagogue is the presidential nominee of a major political parties. Though it sounds melodramatic, these are dangerous times. But let’s start with a little good news.

Nate Silver plots the likelihood of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being elected president on his website FiveThirtyEight. As I write this on the morning of October 18, 2016, Silver calculates Clinton’s chances of winning at 87.7% and Trump at 12.3%. (He predicts that the Democratic Party has a 76.0% chance of gaining control of the Senate.) This wasn’t always so. Even two weeks ago many polls indicated the race was close. But by now we all know what happened. The infamous video of Trump and Billy Bush speaking abusively about how they treat women was released by the Washington Post. Finally, upon hearing Trump say he could freely grab women’s pussies because he is famous, Republican leaders began withdrawing support. But let’s just remind ourselves what was acceptable for the GOP before the video. Trump:


  • Encouraged Russia to hack Clinton’s email and impact the US election;
  • Says he admires Putin;
  • Incites actual physical violence at many of his campaign rallies;
  • Suggests his opponent can be stopped by assassination;
  • Calls his opponent a devil;
  • Says he will imprison his opponent when he’s elected president;
  • Calls Mexicans rapists and criminals;
  •  Advocates racial profiling;
  • Advocates killing of terrorists families (a war crime);
  • Advocates using torture;
  • Denies climate change, declaring the idea is a Chinese plot to undermine the US;
  • Denigrates prisoners of war;
  • Criticizes a Gold Star Family;
  • Declares he will build a huge high tech wall on the Mexican US border;
  • Advocates expelling 11 million people from the US;
  • Advocates refusing all Muslims entry to the US (unconstitutional);
  • Declares a judge is not suited to reside over cases he is involved in because the judge is Mexican (the judge, of Mexican descent, was born and raised in the US and is a US citizen);
  • Implied a female moderator at a Republican Party debate was unfair to him because she was menstruating;
  • Uses derogatory and sometimes brutal and violent language towards and about women;
  • Publicly mocked a disabled journalist;
  • Promoted changes to the libel laws that would restrict freedom of speech;
  • Claimed he knows more how to defeat ISIS then US generals even though he has had NO military experience;
  • Threatened to undermine NATO by refusing to automatically support NATO members in times of conflict;
  • Seems relaxed about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and even using them in Europe “because it’s a big place”;
  • Claims, because of his fame, he can grab women by their pussy.

 I know this is not an all-inclusive list of Trump statements and policies, but nonetheless, at this point we should all be alarmed. This is a candidate for the presidency! And remember, most GOP leaders and millions of Republican voters supported Trump through all the above outrage. It seems many candidates for public office are first concerned about their own careers, second their party’s success, and third the common good and the welfare of the country. But given the nature of Trump’s political movement, it’s support by most, if not all, Nazi and white supremacist movements, its undercurrent of violence, we must ask why it took so long for the Republican leadership to unendorsed Trump.

There are several things disturbing about the Trump candidacy. First, of course, is the man himself. He is a dangerous, inept, unqualified, pathological liar. Nonetheless, we have been, and continue to be, inundated by the media coverage of Trump. As Les Moonves, CBS Chairman, said:

"It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS…Donald's place in this election is a good thing. Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now?...The money's rolling in and this is fun. I've never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."

It is naïve to think that the CEO of a major media company would consider the common good and the health of the country over profit. But what happens when a people see and hear a demagogue day after day? Well, at least in part, the person and his (in this case) rhetoric become normalized. It’s like pornography going mainstream. We cannot keep up with his blatant lies and so we make jokes. Shock fatigue begins to set in. And while Trump may still surprise us from time to time, it is possible that when the next Hitler/Putin admirer and hero of the alt-right comes along, we won’t be surprise but will take it in our stride. The media embrace of Trump is normalizing demagogy.

Second, the Republican Party leadership has been, by and large, cowardice. This mess belongs to the Republican Party. The Party over the past few decades, moving ever rightward, embracing Christian fundamentalism and right-wing ideology, created this monster. Unfortunately, what Republicans created is now a problem for all of us. I have come to believe that the best thing for the country is for the GOP to be crushed in the election, thus forcing the party to recreate itself. I actually do think the US needs a good conservative party. Unfortunately, given the way the congressional districts have been established, it is unlikely that the Democrats will retake the House. Will losing the White House and Senate (and thus control over the Supreme Court) be enough to force change upon GOP? We can only hope.

Third, millions of American have voted for Trump and will vote for him on November 8th. When we Americans lose an election we grumble, complain, and often protest. However, Trump is adding a new and dangerous element to the mix. He is openly declaring the election is fixed even before it has taken place. No other presidential candidate has ever done this before. The man who often suggests violence is a legitimate reaction and solution to a problem (let 2nd Amendment people take care of Clinton if she is elected), and at other times actually calls for violence (telling people to hit protesters at his rallies), is now priming his followers to reject the the election results if he loses. It does not matter that there is no evidence of electoral fraud being orchestrated, that state governments control the electoral process in their states, and that there has never been any evidence of large scale electoral fraud in the US. As President Obama said, Trump should stop his whining

Nonetheless, he has told his supporters to monitor polling stations, and he obviously doesn’t mean their own. The racism in his speeches is not subtle. One supporter is reported as saying:

"It’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally…I’m going to make them a little bit nervous."

So, if Trump loses the election, which is looking likely, what percentage of his followers will accept Clinton as their president? Will any become violent? Dan Bowman, a Trump supporter, was quoted in the Boston Globe literally calling for a revolution:

"If she’s in office, I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot. That’s how I feel about it. We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it’s going to take… I would do whatever I can for my country."

Trump has given people the permission to hate, to use violent language, and in some cases to use physical violence. He is making no effort to dampen down the anger. Indeed, in continues to encourage it. Civility is out the window. Rejection of the electoral process is now his main thrust. These are not good times for our democracy. But then again, demagogy never is.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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