We’ve heard numerous people in both political camps call Donald Trump a “demagogue” throughout the election season. It did nothing to stop his supporters from putting him in the White House, but that doesn’t make the fact that Trump is a demagogue any less true. And given what we know about history’s demagogues, we know Trump is already following the same trajectory which means we can predict the arc of his presidency — and it’s looking like it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
In a recent interview with Mother Jones, CNN’s Van Jones said we should hope for the best from a President Donald Trump, but expect and prepare for the worst because it’s likely that Trump will “follow the usual pattern of demagogues”:
The usual pattern of demagogues is to promise the moon, fail to deliver, and then blame vulnerable others for those failures. He’s promised the moon. Now he has power. He’s going to fail to deliver. He’s not going to be able to bring a bunch of coal jobs back and a bunch of factory jobs back in this global economy. Period. Because you can’t. It’s not going to happen.
And when Trump fails to bring back these jobs he promised to millions of people in this country, he’s going to need a distraction and will likely start a war, blame immigrants, blame Muslims, or even blame Black Lives Matter for his failures. He’s already appearing to be flopping on repealing Obamacare, which was one of his major campaign promises to the working class.
Jones’ summation of a Trump presidency is basic, but history tells us so much more about demagogues and what they do to their countries. Take, for example, a piece in The Washington Post, by the author of “Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies,” Michael Singer, which examines in detail the four indicators of danger a demagogue brings to their country.
A demagogue “imperils his country in the international arena.”
Trump has schmoozed Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout his entire presidential campaign, even after the U.S. received intelligence Russians were purposely influencing our election. Trump has promised to torture the families of terrorists in the Middle East. And he’s promised a uniform ban on Muslims entering the country, which could destroy the inroads we’ve made with allies in Egypt and Jordan by painting all Muslims with a broad brush.
In short, Trump, if he makes good on these promises, will lower our standing in the world and put a giant “Kick me!” sign on the back of America. His tough, and quite illegal stances, on torture, will ruin our country’s image and be used as a recruitment tool for terrorists for generations to come. And our allies might be forced to flee us.
Our standing in the world underwent serious reconstruction after President George W. Bush left office through tireless diplomacy under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Trump threatens to undo all that and more. And if Jones is right, we’re looking at new wars as a distraction to his inability to lead domestically.
A demagogue surrounds himself “with incompetent and dangerous advisors.”
Check, and check. The current names being floated for cabinet members are filling the country with worry. Reince Priebus for Chief of Staff. Steve Bannon, the white supremacist anti-Semitic former CEO of Breitbart, as Chief Strategist. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani as Secretary of State. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the racist Arizona sheriff who just lost his seat in Maricopa County due to years of lawsuits, incompetence, and charges of racial profiling and contempt, is being floated as head of the Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Ben Carson, who believes vaccines cause autism and likened Obamacare to slavery, is being floated as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former Gov. Sarah Palin, climate change denier and deranged cuckoo, is named as a contender for Secretary of Energy. The list goes on and is quite literally what nightmares are made of.
These names all have something in common: These people are either incompetent, dangerously stupid or flat-out dangerous.
A demagogue rises to power by manipulating his follower’s passions, then “falls prey to passions of his own.”
Trump may not be a racist, but he’s #1 with racists. He has ignited all sorts of fires across the country by denigrating Muslims, Jews, Latino and Hispanic immigrants, people with disabilities, women, and black people. And Trump won the election by a majority of white voters. Trump saw the country’s resistance to becoming more inclusive to all beliefs and races and religions. He saw the rampant sexism in this country towards women’s equal pay, protection of reproduction rights, and equality. He saw the country’s resistance to the LGBTQ community. And he offered his poor followers a refuge away from all of it.
Trump promises the country will say “Merry Christmas” again. Trump promises to undo “political correctness gone wild,” you know, political correctness that makes it bad manners to call someone a nigger or a bitch or a kike. Trump promises his base that they can go back to beating people down and back into their places when America was “great.”
But his own passion is himself. His narcissism will have to be coddled at all costs. He may say political correctness is a terrible thing, but when Hillary Clinton called his supporters “deplorable” Trump wailed for the rest of the election. He opened the lid on a can of ugliness and it’s likely to blow up in his face.
A demagogue “threatens their dissenters.”
Done and done, but there’s much more to come. Along the campaign trail, we saw Trump lash out at members of his own party who questioned his motives, ideas, or comments and threatened they would lose re-election for opposing him.
During a presidential debate and numerous campaign rallies Trump said he would appoint a “special prosecutor” to look at Clinton’s emails and “she would go to jail.”
He sends his millions of Twitter followers to harass and threaten people he doesn’t like. And he threatens to rewrite libel laws as president to prevent journalists from writing unflattering pieces.
And when thousands of people across the nation gathered to mourn and protest the election results, Trump tweeted “So unfair!” As if he believed being president-elect means everyone has to like him now.
This was all just dandy with Trump’s base of supporters, but now that he wields real power, and he’s been confusing as to what exactly he has in store over the next four years, this allergic reaction to any and all dissent will bite many in the ass. And when his base support realizes they’ve been conned and they’re not actually being delivered the moon, they will feel Trump’s wrath as well.
We’ve elected a demagogue, but demagogues are only successful if their country turns over and let’s them walk on their backs. So as Jones said, hope for the best, but expect and prepare for the worst.