Theodore Roosevelt (TR), historian, conservationist, hunter, explorer Rough Rider, hero of San Juan Hill, legislator, police commissioner, governor, Navy assistant secretary, vice president, Nobel Peace Prize winner, father of the Panama Canal and five children, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and – when integrity demanded – founder of the Bull Moose Party, was NOT a demagogue. TR was born in 1858 – and died on January 6, 1919.
A demagogue is someone who … exploits the public mind, calculates how to make political points, enhance their reputation with knowing falsehoods, overstatements, misrepresentations, misdirection, omission, hyperbole, and grandstanding.
The demagogue is not about patriotism or history, not about conservation or exploration, not about heroic self-sacrifice, advancing rule of law, not about understatement, scholarship, innovation, or being self-effacing, or what philosophers call “other regarding.”
The demagogue works to make much of less, shine bright light of false glory or victimhood to boost themselves, mischaracterizing whoever needs to be defamed or derided so they, or their party, can be viewed as all-knowing, glowing, optimal.
Often the demagogue misfires. He or the group they led think the public is less smart than the demagogues, dim, easily distracted, misled. Big words are used with indiscretion, like insurrection, and in their arrogance think common men fools.
But demagogues are less charismatic and convincing than conniving and craven. They have a story they want to tell, are willful about retelling it, play to prejudice, tend to hysteria, histrionics, finding a victim to match their favored villain.
Demagogues are sure-footed, but on loose dirt. They are lifted by authority, even when others doubt their storyline or emphasis. They love to be part of a group, as it offers political validation, permits multiple shots at a preferred target.
One thing often missed is that demagogues, like weak animals herding, like to work in groups as much as individually. Psychology experts note that they “rail against imminent threats” play to “dark feelings” and “social turmoil,” and do not – obviously – play fair.
In a nutshell, demagogues are “uncredible,” not able to make the world end by asserting it has ended, that it is about to end, or that one person is the villain of the century, even if they play every card. They misunderstand how far acts will support their hyped, horrified history.
Perhaps the Wall Street Journal last week offered the best example in modern times. On their editorial page, a piece ran entitled “The Uncredible January 6th Committee.” This piece, balanced and analytical, noted this new Committee on Public Safety is about to flop.
They inquire, “Can Americans trust the findings of a panel whose members began with a preconceived narrative and blackballed any dissenting voices?”
The writer notes: “Adam Schiff is the House face of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax and secret Ukraine impeachment proceedings,” and “Mrs. Pelosi had more than 200 Democratic members to choose from, yet her picks allow Americans to dismiss the committee instantly.”
They continue: The committee is “the worst type of Washington leak machine—dribbling documents, texts, emails and inside tidbits about who was up for a grilling next and what was coming out of depositions” and pushed text messages “altered” to “falsely malign” a former “White House Chief of Staff.”
Broadly, they ask: “Is it fair for the nation to be skeptical of a committee that has trampled any number of institutional norms and practices in the name of returning us to institutional norms and practices?”
They note “Mrs. Pelosi’s veto of Republican members,” “directive to telecom and social media companies to preserve the communications of private citizens—including members of Congress—but to keep the targets in the dark so they would have no opportunity to litigate,” then “the flurry of criminal referrals to the Justice Department with no debate,” and “more recent, jaw-dropping decision to subpoena sitting members of Congress.”
Objectivity is not the strong suit for demagogues, never is, not important. Facts serve the demagogues’ purposes – get twisted to it or omitted. Asks the writer: “How can Americans be asked to trust a committee whose work Democrats are openly broadcasting as a political operation?” and aiming to distract from “Biden’s liabilities.”
If the date January 6, 2021, was a bad day for America, with criminal acts occurring inside the US Capitol, capping a divisive, debilitating, trust-puncturing election, it was not the end of humanity, end of the Republic, not savior for the dying Democrat Party.
Most of all, it was not worthy of wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, after six other investigations offered reports, just to put on a big show, trumpet more base demagoguery.
As this chapter closes, as we think about good and great, poor and pathetic, the range of leaders this nation has had – and those we have now – my mind is fixed on the date, as surely by others.
I will always look back across the expanse of American history, so much of what happened on so many memorable dates, how to stack their significance, and what to do with this one – and I know, very well. When the demagogues try to reorder my mind. cause doubt, hype and shout, make me duck or hide, no go. January 6th for me will always be, the day that TR died.
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