The shortest way to ruin a country is to give power to demagogues.— Dionysius of Halicarnassus(20 BC)
Democracy in a pure, unregulated form is a step away from dissolving into the rule of a mob. Democracy flirts with tyranny. Democracy gives the most power to those who least know how to use it. It is, in the words of Winston Churchill, the worst form of government. The only catch is that it’s better than all of the others. The greatest threat to modern regulated democracies is the demagogue. The word sounds like some Grecian myth, but it’s far scarier. A demagogue is someone who exploits the lowest common denominator in the widest demographic to gain power in a democracy. They use explosive, emotional, alarmist, reactionary politics. They pile on prejudice, forming an "us" and a "them". They claim to know all the answers. They kill democracy.
The best way to understand demagogues is an example. There are many, from Alcibiades to Hitler to Boris Johnson to Marine Le Pen. Donald Trump, however, has been the loudest and most obvious and works as a good case.
He consistently attacked immigrants to America and made it a central push of his administration with the ban on travellers from Muslim countries, destructive policy changes and calls to violence against BLM protestors. He has crafted a persona as strong man, both physically and mentally, a man of the people, a powerful man, someone who is willing to take the right move when everyone else is too spineless. He constantly attacks opponents and critics, including mocking a disabled reporter and creating nicknames such as Sleepy Joe, Fat Jerry, Dumbo, Low energy Jeb, Lying Ted and crooked Hillary. He has put himself in direct opposition to the media, consistently attacking the validity and worth of media. He calls many criticisms “fake news” and was, “the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid”.
It is here that democracy falters. This is the loophole, the coding bug. Us. Human nature is the weak point in any political ideology. In democracy, it is exploited through the demagogue.
If demagogues prey on ignorance, emotion, and mistrust then the best cure is education. We must combat ignorance if we are to protect democracy. Critical thinking, informed political debate, transparent policies, open and free media form this solution. Nelson Mandela said this best: “An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of democracy.”
We need to educate ourselves, consume media critically, and truly seek to understand. Engage in civil and constructive political discussions with those you talk to. Do not ignore your emotions, but understand and control them. Vote. Protest. Speak out. Educate yourself. Educate others.
Who can save democracy? You can.
And for democracy’s sake, be careful when someone tells you they know all the answers. Even me. Especially me.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons