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Letter: Beware demagogues who preach populism

“Populism is a little like pornography, in Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s characterization: it’s hard to define, but one knows it when one sees it.” – Hugh Gusterson, researcher

Populism, a movement that bears no conscience for self-restraint, is frequently given the benefit of the doubt by our media outlets, universities, and so on. Yet, the problem of the demagogues ought to challenge one’s self to greet populism – on both sides of the political spectrum – with great skepticism.

Demagogue, an ancient term, is equivalent to popular leader. However, the term is more currently recognized as a person who gains political popularity by exciting the emotions, passions and prejudices of the common people – and therein lies the issue.

Political thinkers and philosophers have warned against the rise of demagogues within the realms of democracies since ancient times, and rightfully so. The problem of the demagogues is that the demagogue himself succeeds in making the true complexities of politics and government appear to be easily accessible and comprehensible to the common man. This is why populist political candidates almost always run impractical or “empty promise” campaigns.

Consequently, any aspect of reasoning, as promoted by the demagogue onto his followers, will consist solely of irrational emotion, and lack any encouragement of scholarly or thoughtful insight. This problem will then slowly lead the people of a nation away from sensible thinking and toward irrational and incoherent forms of cheap populism.

We as Americans need to be cautious not to elect someone with such characteristics of a demagogue to any higher United States office. Assuming that such a respected office is clothed with unique powers and awesome responsibilities, such a character and lack of intelligence is beneath the office.

Mark S. Steffenilla

SUNY Brockport

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