Republicans have been taking demagoguery to new levels for some time, be it through dog whistle racism, the current attacks on transgender Americans, and of course through fanning the flames of Christofascists seething homophobia. Then there is, of course, all of the GOP demagoguery surrounding climate change - or should I say, the GOP claims that it doesn't exist. But despite all of these appeals to hate and ignorance, Donald Trump has out done other Republicans when it comes to appealing to the ignorant and bigoted. Kathleen Parker has once again fled the GOP reservation - or what has become the know nothing reservation of the GOP base. In a column in the Washington Post she looks to the classical philosophers of Greece's golden age to illustrate that Trump is a demagogue to be feared and one who would be loathed by the Founding Fathers. Here are excerpts:
Plato, who was Aristotle’s mentor, thought otherwise — that rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, in the wrong hands was dangerous and likely to be abused to appeal to people’s base motives. He foresaw the unethical, dishonest uses that a skilled but immoral speaker could put his persuasive powers to, with credulous people eager to believe or buy whatever he was selling.
Which brings us unavoidably to Donald Trump, as if you hadn’t guessed.
We at least owe Trump thanks for bringing these two ancient philosophers out of history’s woodwork and back into the conversation. Trump also has inspired reconsideration of rhetoric’s rightful place in the classroom, where it was once considered an essential component of “a gentleman’s” education.
One such classroom can be found at the University of Virginia School of Law, where I was recently a guest lecturer. What better time to be reviewing rhetoric’s ancient rules and modern applications than during a presidential election that features one of the most blazing examples of unsavory rhetoric . . . .
So, the question for today’s class: Is Trump the huckster that Plato predicted would someday organize an angry mob into a proud army of anti-intellectual patriots inoculated to facts and reason?Why, yes! But don’t take my word for it. Consider instead the appraisal of U-Va. law professor Robert Sayler, who has co-written a book with Molly Bishop Shadel, “Tongue-Tied America,” as a template for would-be high school rhetoric teachers. Using Aristotle’s aforementioned framework, Sayler divined the Greek philosopher’s answer to the question: “Trump’s buffoonery and unhinged chatter reduces to utter catastrophe.”Let us count the ways.
First, in the matter of ethos, or earning the trust of one’s audience, Trump is as big a prevaricator as he accuses “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz of being. PolitiFact gave Trump its 2015 award for the most fibs. In distrust do us part.
Second is pathos, which Sayler defines as the sparing appeal to emotions. For The Donald, another “F.” Says Sayler: “Trump routinely rages, flush-faced, anger-spewing, sputtering, especially when challenged.” He has spoken of people leaving his rallies “on stretchers” or deserving a “punch . . . in the face,” while promising to pay assailants’ legal fees.
Third and last, Trump also flunks logos. Channeling Aristotle, Sayler opines that Trump’s logic, common sense and factual argumentation are “a minefield of chaos.” Rather than advance positive proposals, Trump spends most of his time railing against what he opposes: the Geneva Conventions, NATO, world trade, the United Nations, the president, “experts” and, of course, “the establishment.”
Otherwise, he operates in a substance-free zone of narcissistic fantasy. “They love me,” he insists. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” . . . . Trump, concludes the professor, is a world-class demagogue and blunderbuss.
It is also highly unlikely that Trump supporters give a hoot. Plato, Aristotle and Sayler are all elitists, aren’t they? But what should be plain to everyone else is that the study of rhetoric is essential to an educated populace, lest rising generations fall prey to future demagogues and the perilous fates that await the unwitting.
One must not forget that Trump is the creation of the GOP establishment that he now threatens to destroy. Conscious decisions were made to elect Christofascists and white supremacists onto local county and city committees and to allow the infiltration of the base by the ignorant. There's a reason so many Americans no call themselves "independents" - any thinking, moral person found the GOP to be hostile territory and felt compelled to flee the insanity. Trump and his followers who embrace ignorance and bigotry must be defeated as must the GOP in its current incarnation.