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Vile Humiliations

I hesitate even to start this piece because I know that at the mention of a certain U.S. presidential candidate, those reading it will dismiss what I have to say as having no value, worth or ideas meriting serious consideration.

Why wouldn’t they, when I’m naming a person who, according to most in the media, both social and otherwise, is an out-and-out sexist, a racist, a virulent anti-Muslim bigot and, worst of all, a demagogue the likes of which (or so they contend) we haven’t seen since Adolph Hitler?

For fun, I took a casual poll among my friends, acquaintances, as well as a dozen or so people I happened to be talking to when I was out and about. I asked them if they knew what a demagogue was. No one did, most answering the question with the name of the above-mentioned U.S. presidential candidate.

Knowing that I was unlikely to hear back, I nevertheless sent emails to various online columnists whom I’d heard or read using the word demagogue, asking them if they could honestly say they knew the meaning of the word without looking it up in the dictionary, or checking on Google.

Demagogue is from the Greek “dēmos” = the people, and “agōgos” = leading, leader. The Romans adopted the Greek idea of “separating the orders” of society into bleaks“leading” citizens, known as patricians (aristocrats, government officials, military leaders, scholars) and “ordinary or common” citizens, known as plebeians: those that required leading, as opposed to those who were to do it.

The candidate who shall not be named, though he’s rich, educated and should qualify as a patrician, is taken to be nothing more than a rank plebeian. Just as bad, or even worse, he’s working to persuade his fellow plebeians that it’s time they had more of a say in how the country is being run, or more to the point, why it isn’t running for ordinary citizens the way it is for patricians.

Like the true demagogues of ancient Rome and Greece (there were more than most are aware), the candidate who shall not be named is appealing to “popular desires and prejudices, rather than by using rational argument.” He’s “espousing the cause of the common people,” the plebeian orders.

Who knows how chaotic things will become if this “leader of the people” takes charge, into what turmoil, violence and woe the U.S.A. will be thrown if this “deranged” individual gets his hands on the nuclear firing codes. Armageddon is surely at hand if we give him and his “people” power!

Ironically, or so it seems to me, it was the party of the unnamable candidate’s adversary who, only forty or so years ago, were themselves crying for this very thing. Power to the people.

They’d had enough of racism, of government corruption, of fruitless, financially crippling wars their government was waging with the help of new technologies provided by the military-industrial complex as it was then called, on behalf of the nation’s major financial institutions and corporations.

It seems to me the candidate opposing the one who shall not be named, has turned the tables, had a change of heart. Why has “power to the people” become anathema to the very ones who first espoused it?

I realize there was a candidate vying against the adversary of the candidate who shall not be named. He appealed to plebeian “desires and prejudices,” “espoused the causes of the common people,” practiced his own kind of demagoguery as the people’s leader, and was branded a kook, a Communist and a madman (though not necessarily in that order) for it.

He was indulged and tolerated for a time in order to placate his fellow plebeians (and get their votes at a later date), but his well-meaning, enthusiastic and widely admired efforts were brought to bay in the end by his opponent’s better grasp of patrician ways.

The media, whose chief product is fear and who, as many believe, peddle tragedy, disaster and catastrophe for huge profits, have Americans running around like so many Chicken Little’s, shouting that the sky will fall should the demagogue who shall not be named manage to assume power.

The cry goes up. How will he know what to do? How will the people that work for him know what to do? He hasn’t presented any plans or policies, only cockeyed, half-baked and hare-brained ideas on how the coop will be run once he’s head rooster. Why, it’s right out of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and we all know how that turned out.

Jeb Bush, a patrician from one of America’s most patrician families, said at the outset of the election campaign when told that the candidate who shall not be named was intending to run against him: “Hey, it’s an election. This is America. You go to the people and try to convince them you’re the best person for the job.”

Sure the candidate who shall not be named has his foibles, his flaws and his failings, says things and behaves in ways that, all things considered, he probably shouldn’t, but which one of us doesn’t?

He’s got the courage of his convictions, all the confidence in the world that he’s up to the challenge, and millions of people (even an increasing number of patricians) believe that he is.

He has family values, gets along and works with his children, is on good terms with his ex-wives, has shown himself to be a quick study about most anything and, above all, he seems genuinely to enjoy traveling the country meeting and talking to people, day in and day out, thanking them via Facebook and Twitter afterwards for the opportunity he had to get together with them: messages in which, at least so far, he never asks for their vote, only that they help him make America great again.

As even Barack Obama might admit, the candidate who shall not be named sure has a lot of chutzpah, “audacity” he called it when he himself ran for president; and possibly the same kind of hope he had when, as a mere community organizer, he put his own name forward in 2008, his message that he stood for nothing more than “change that people could believe in.”

“Hell,” he might even go on to say, “My ancestors weren’t even plebeians. They were slaves. The Greeks and Romans didn’t even consider them human beings. If American society has progressed to the point someone like me can become president and, by many accounts, do not a half-bad job, I don’t see any reason why someone like the candidate who shall not be named, despite his plebeian background, can’t do a half-bad job too if he gets elected.”

What gives? I want to ask. Why all the ire, the umbrage, the vicious contumely? What shape is democracy in if, as Shakespeare would have put it, we can’t even say a man’s name without having “vile humiliations” visited upon our heads?

Paul Illidge is a writer/ghostwriter of creative non-fiction, fiction and satire.  His most recent book is The Bleaks (ECW Press, 2014). His new book Madwoman is coming out in 2017