Demagogues

The demagogue is the creature the Founders of America most feared: the authoritarian-style leader who would stir the passions of the mob and use them to overthrow the more moderate democratic norms and checks and balances of the republic in order to stay in power. Yet the United States has had a flirtation with demagogues for much of its history, from James Henry Hammond to Joe McCarthy and beyond.

Author James Fenimore Cooper named four key characteristics for identifying demagogues:

  1. They claim to be of the common people, working against the elites.
  2. Their appeal rests on a visceral, almost mystical connection with the people, who seem irrationally attached to the leader.
  3. The demagogue manipulates the emotional connection with their followers, using it to further their own benefit and ambition.
  4. They threaten to break rules and laws.

Tactics of Demagogues

What do demagogues do? Let’s just say they don’t have the best track record of being concerned with the ethics of their behaviors. Here’s what’s in the demagoguery playbook:

Famous demagogues in history

  • Adolf Hitler
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Joseph Stalin
  • Vladimir Lenin
  • Andrew Jackson
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Huey Long
  • George Wallace
  • Father Coughlin
  • Joseph McCarthy
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Donald Trump
  • Mao Zedong
  • Fidel Castro

see also: American fascists and the global radical right