Demagogues and Democracies – The Rise of One and the Fall of the Other

“There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

– John Adams

“Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy.”

– Plato

“Politics: the art of using euphemisms, lies, emotionalism and fear-mongering to dupe average people into accepting–or even demanding–their own enslavement.”

― Larken Rose

The history of democracies – Rome, for example, or Germany and Italy before WWII – all ended when demagogues arose, fanned the flames of discontent among the people, only to subvert the democracy that they used to get elected, and become dictators (Ceasar, Hitler, Moussilini). And there are dozens more examples in history and modern times where this has happened to democracies.

It might sound alarmist, but today many among our historians and elder statesmen and other students of government are publicly expressing utter shock at the tenor and verbage in the current US political campaign – as well as that in some European democracies – emanating from the conservatve right and the candidate(s) they support, who are telling us how the governmental system is broken and corrupt and needs to be changed.

It gives one pause. Could it happen, will history repeat itself yet again? Surely not, at least never in America, where there is a constitutional system of checks and balances that prevent that possibility, right?

Maybe not in this election, but in this year’s campaign season the seeds of contempt for our democracy are being strewn broadly, reinforcing the belief that congress can do nothing because of the political divide, that a highly politicalized supreme court cannot be trusted to interpret correctly the constitution, and that career politicians are all corrupt.

That’s how dictatorships always begin, especially when the people buy-in to the lies, emotionalism and fear-mongering of a candidate – who presents himself as a savior for those who feel disillusioned with the current government’s form and function, or feel oppressed or marginalized and believe the world as they once knew it is slipping away – and vote that person into office.

Yes, it could even happen here. A possible scenario:

In the not so distant future, once in office, all it would take is the president, in response to some real or manufactured “threat” to national security and the safety of citizens – due to, say, increased terrorism and fear – to declare martial law – suspending parts or all of the constitution – and for the other two branches of government, congress and the supreme court, to acquiesce to the perceived will of the people behind their leader.

I say, “it could”, because there is precedent. Lincoln suspended several constitutional articles and rights – notably habeas corpus – during our Civil War. Fortunately, cooler heads restored constitutional supremacy after his assassination and the war’s end, but there’s no guarantee of that should it happen again.

As scripture says, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

One can only hope that people will hear – willing to listen and understand – and see the demagogues for what they really are.

And to heed history’s warning to never allow them power.

– Bill

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