The Demagogue’s Playbook

By Eric Posner. This podcast episode with Posner is excellent.

What, according to Posner, is a demagogue?

“Despite it’s overuse, ‘demagogue’ has a core meaning that has remained stable over millennia. It refers to a charismatic, amoral person who obtains the support of the people through dishonesty, emotional manipulation, and the exploitation of social divisions; who targets the political elites, blaming them for everything that has gone wrong; and who tries to destroy institutions—legal, political, religious, and social—and other sources of power that stand in their way. The demagogue is frequently considered to be (and in many cases actually is), crude, vulgar, and violent—contemptuous of manners, civility, and norms, which the demagogue sees as structures that keep the elites in power.”

Reminds me of someone, I just can’t put my finger on it.

Taking A Pass On Human Empathy

Susan Glasser in The New Yorker, “Fifty Thousand Americans Dead from the Coronavirus, and a President Who Refuses to Mourn Them”.

Impossible to argue with this description:

“To the extent that he discusses those who have died, he tends to do so largely in self-justifying, explicitly political terms, framing the pandemic as an externally imposed catastrophe that would have been much, much worse without him.”

Or this opinion:

“The numbers of dead citizens he throws about, meanwhile, seem to be abstractions to a President who believes that even the subject of mass death is all about him.”

Glasser with much needed historical context:

“Honoring the dead has long been one of the tests of American Presidential leadership. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was, after all, not just another political speech but a remembrance of those who were killed in the bloodiest single battle of the Civil War, in which some fifty thousand Americans became casualties and about eight thousand died. Twenty-five years ago this week, Bill Clinton’s lip-bitingly empathetic response to the Oklahoma City bombing, in which a white supremacist blew up a federal building and killed a hundred and sixty-eight people, was seen as a key moment of his tenure. He was dubbed the ‘mourner-in-chief,’ at a time when he was languishing politically. That speech is often said to have saved his Presidency. More recently, Barack Obama wept from the White House lectern in speaking about the deaths of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, and gave arguably the speech of his lifetime in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, singing ‘Amazing Grace as he mourned at a funeral service for nine African-Americans killed by a white supremacist at a church massacre. Even those Presidents who aren’t particularly good at speechifying—think of the two George Bushes—have considered public commiseration amid national tragedy part of the job description. Have we ever had a President just take a pass on human empathy, even of the manufactured, politically clichéd kind?”

Showing empathy is not something he could be coached to do, even if he was coachable. I wonder, do his supporters, some which are empathetic people, look for it in him or not?