Demagogues Like Us

During a news conference earlier this week, president Vladimir Putin praised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as an “absolute leader in the U.S. presidential race.” He also added compliments like ” brilliant and talented,” to describe Mr. Trump.  After hearing about these compliments, Mr. Trump responded by saying, “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Mr. Trump went on to note Mr. Trump’s high poll numbers. In a separate interview with Joe Scarborough, he also mentioned, in an indirect insult to our President, ” at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” During that interview the host, Joe Scarborough mentioned that Putin has killed journalists and political opponents in the past but Mr. Trump casually replied by saying that the U.S. does the same thing.


Image courtesy of: The BBC

Now you can see how this is concerning for various reasons. Firstly, Mr. Putin sanctioned the unlawful annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine just to keep the Ukraine from developing closer ties with the west. That alone flies in the face of American values of independence and free rule. Secondly, Mr. Putin has utilized the media, much like Mr. Trump to push their agenda–Mr. Putin directly and Mr. Trump indirectly.  Thirdly, to not condemn violence against a people group, and actually condone it, is not a virtue that a current or potential president should have.

Both New York Times journalist Charles Blow and Professor Michael Signer wrote interesting  articles on demagogues—-Singer’s piece was in the Washington Post . In Singer’s article he quotes author James Fenimore Cooper who described demagogues as meeting four criteria, “they posture as men of the common people; they trigger waves of powerful emotion; they manipulate this emotion for political benefit; and they threaten or break established principles of governance.” When you hear Vladimir Putin railing against Western involvement in Russia’s affairs or Donald Trump talking about placing a wall to keep immigrants out you can see some of Fenimore’s criteria being fulfilled in both men.

One of the interesting things is that these characteristics are seen in long-time Superman arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. He is a character who defines himself as a man of the people, defending the world from the evil alien, Superman. This is rhetoric that we have seen in our political discourse before.

In the series Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, it explores this characters thought process—this is someone who truly sees himself as the good guy in this story.

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But thankfully in the end the good guy wins out. That, at least, gives us hope.

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