A field guide to Trump’s dangerous rhetoric

A field guide to Trump’s dangerous rhetoric

All leaders are demagogues. You may not realize this, because we’ve come to associate the word “demagogue” with only dangerous populist leaders. But in Greek, the word just means “leader of the people” (dēmos “the people” + agōgos “leading”).

Some demagogues are good, and some are dangerous. The fundamental difference between leaders who are good demagogues and leaders who are dangerous demagogues is found in the answer to this simple question: Are they accountable for their words and actions?

Trump’s ingratiating strategies

Ad populum: appealing to the wisdom of the crowd, using popularity as the measure of value.

Paralipsis: I’m not saying; I’m just saying.

American exceptionalism: This refers to America’s unique role in the world, simplified by Trump as “America winning.”

Trump’s alienating strategies

Ad hominem: attacking the person instead of their argument.

Ad baculum: threats of force or intimidation.

Reification: treating people as objects.

Words as weapons

Did Trump “have the best words,” as he once claimed?

Hardly. His words are weapons, well calculated to attack our public sphere by increasing distrust, polarization and frustration – making it more difficult to solve political problems.


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