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Demagogue

May 19, 2019

Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men”, Author Columbia Pictures, Source “All the King’s Men (1949) – Trailer” on https://www.youtube.com/, (PD as published w/o a copyright notice)

In the 1949 drama “All the King’s Men” Broderick Crawford portrays a country lawyer who initially attempts to fight corruption, then thrives on it.

Having abandoned the ideals he publicly espouses, Willie Stark adopts the guise of a populist, and champion of the underdog.  Invoking God in his speeches, Stark does build roads, schools, hospitals, and dams – all in name of the people, but for his own political and financial benefit.

The Kingfish

The film was based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, and inspired by the career of the notorious demagogue, Huey P. Long a/k/a “The Kingfish”.  Governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932, Long served in the US Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935.

Genuine improvements were made in infrastructure, education, and health care during Long’s tenure.  But he blurred the lines between federal and state authority, establishing an authoritarian regime dependent on patronage, election fraud, voter intimidation, and graft.

Nonetheless, at the time of his death Long had 25 million radio listeners, and was receiving as many as 60,000 letters a week from his supporters.

Recognizing a Demagogue

In the film, most of Willie Stark’s followers overlook (or do not recognize) his flaws.  Those closest to Willie, however, see him for what he is.  The situation with Huey P. Long was much the same.

The term “demagogue” is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.”  Pres. Donald Trump all too clearly fits this definition [1][2].

The question arises whether American voters have the capacity to recognize a demagogue, and whether the rest of our elected representatives have the courage to oppose one.

Abuse of Power

Demagogues, like all political strongmen, abuse power for the sake of personal gain.  They smear opponents, employing lies as political weapons until it is difficult for their followers to distinguish the truth.  They seek to punish their enemies and divert attention from their own crimes, perverting the prevailing justice system to enforce personal vendettas.

Unfortunately, this can be enormously effective.

The Balance of Power Threatened

Our forefathers anticipated such an eventuality.  For that reason, they established a tripartite government with power divided among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

At least one of those three branches must stand firm against abuse.  If not, the balance is fundamentally threatened, and our democracy placed in grave jeopardy.  No degree of economic prosperity can make up for that.

Judgment

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

-Edmund Burke

There are legal measures available to address the abuse of power.

Tragically for the nation, it appears that those with the ability to take corrective action do not have the political will to do so.  Our elected representatives view themselves as captive to public opinion (or what they take to be public opinion).

In an effort to retain their own power, many are ceding ever more power to a demagogue, undermining the rule of law, and doing permanent damage to the institutions on which this nation was founded.  In short, they are putting their own well-being ahead of the nation’s.

The Christian Response

This view is not popular among Christians, certainly not among Christian leaders.  But Christians of every political stripe ought to be down on their knees, praying for the nation and their elected representatives (Pres. Trump included).

[1]  Washington Post, “The constitutional crisis is here” by Eugene Robinson, 5/21/18, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-constitutional-crisis-is-here/2018/05/21/deaf19b2-5d27-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fdda0c8a94a1.

[2]  Washington Post, “The crisis is here” by Jennifer Rubin, 5/9/19, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/05/09/crisis-is-here/?utm_term=.1291b98f59fe.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse https://avoicereclaimed.com

 

 

 

11 Comments
  1. I didn’t have the term, but I recognize the description as true. Thanks.

  2. Unfortunately, Anna, regardless of whether we are Democrats or Republicans, the vote for president has become choosing the lesser evil. Personally, I’m not comfortable with Christian leaders publicly supporting candidates because politics is so divisive.

  3. Very well written, Anna! 📝🏆🏆🏆 And, alas, so true regarding DT. 😕

  4. Thank you for your courage for writing and posting this Anna! I think it’s right on target.

    • Thank you, Nicodemas. That means a great deal to me. It was a difficult post to write.

      • I understand. I think it’s unfortunate many Christians do not understand this type of view. Congressman Amash may not be a Christian (I’m not sure either way) but he had some great insights recently. Peace my friend and be wonderfully blessed.

      • Peace and blessings to you, too, my friend. Thank you for your support.

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