Last Sunday a local columnist here in Joplin, one Geoff Caldwell, wrote that Senate Democrats had dishonored all on the 9/11 anniversary, and that includes all the war dead from ” . . . Valley Forge to Vicksburg, Bastogne to Baghdad, to the 9/11 sky above Pennsylvania, . . . ”  Their sin?  They used the filibuster to prevent the president from having to veto a bill condemning the anti-nuclear treaty with Iran.  Of course, for some reason the writer failed to call for an end to the filibuster rule.

I was inspired to write the following letter to my editor:


credit: democratic

Demagogue. n. Someone who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.

A demagogue is identifiable. He generalizes the opposing party as collectively faulty or evil. He wraps himself in the flag and proclaims the other party unpatriotic or even traitorous. (Perhaps surprising to some, Democrats can be patriotic.) He directly or by inference denigrates cultures and religions different from his own. He promotes American military action as the prime solution to world problems, this despite the obvious nation-building failures of Vietnam and the trillion-dollar mistake that was the second Iraq war. War is cathartic and quick, the aftermaths not so much.

He appeals to fear, such as fear of terrorism. But according to the NY Times, since 9/11:

 . . . nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists . . .



In his farewell address, George Washington spoke of the dangers of political parties, something he knew well from Europe’s experience. John Adams agreed. They knew that compromise and cooperation were essential. Their fears have proved well founded. Partisanship reached the breaking point in 1861 and has resulted in gridlock and near government shutdown during the past 7 years. The American experiment is in danger. Two wars proved that military might alone can not fix the world and we cannot afford to rebuild the world in our image, even if it would accept the offer.

Demagoguery is thick in the current primary campaigns. Will “we the people” let it win the day?

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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9 Responses to Demagoguery

  1. Jim in IA says:

    I certainly hope it doesn’t win the day. In days past, fewer people had an audience from the soapbox. It was hard to gather a crowd that would support you. Today, everyone has a soapbox. They are followed by dozens or hundreds on their various social platforms. It makes it simpler to get attention and cheering supporters. Sadly, it seems to do little for advancement of good and positive ideas. I am thinking of your quote on the sidebar by W. H. Auden. “We are here on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.”

    I appreciate your thoughts. Keep stating them.


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I wonder, Jim. You make a good point about the ease of communication today as compared to, say, Lincoln’s time. I recall a photo of the Gettysburg speech showing a vast crowd. I looked it up. It was estimated at 15 to 20 thousand. It is impossible, I think, to parse the motivations of those people. Some came to see history, some out of fear of the war, some merely curious. Were they more or less well-educated than the body politic today? I think that too is arguable. What is clear to me though is that demagoguery today has lost none of its efficacy, despite the much broader and quicker availability of factual information.


      • Jim in IA says:

        I’ve seen that photo and wondered how people could hear if they were far away. They must have had printed copies for some speeches. But, those don’t seem to appear in antique collections.

        Your last sentence makes a valuable point. We don’t seek out the facts any better today than in the past. People know how to use the spoken word to their advantage.


        • Jim Wheeler says:

          I’ve read that orators of that day were often praised for their strong voices and endurance on the stump. Abe’s voice was said to be “high-pitched” but I suspect it carried well.


  2. “The American experiment is in danger.” Yes, this is something I’ve thought about a lot the last couple of years. At least since we heard the leader of a strong political party say that they were going to do everything they can to see that the duly-elected president fails. These are worrisome times.


  3. aFrankAngle says:

    Well played Jim. In terms of your local writer, I yield to this great American orator …


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