Larry Rosenthal, Sarah Kendzior, Stephen Menendian

Revealing and Resisting Global Demagoguery

By: Darren Arquero

How can we recognize and resist demagogic forces in the United States and beyond?

 Demagogue ("demos", the people, and "agogos," leader) is defined as a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

This topic animated the conversation during the May 1 breakout session "Revealing and Resisting Global Demagoguery," a workshop that spoke to the rise of demagoguery on a global scale, as well as the continuing desecration of constitutional norms and laws that followed in the wake of the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Led by the Haas Institute's Stephen Menendian, the intimate panel featured insights from Lawrence Rosenthal, Chair and Lead Researcher of UC Berkeley's Center for Right-Wing Studies, and journalist Sarah Kendzior, an expert on authoritarian states and US politics.

 All three panelists emphasized the need to understand how the success of Donald Trump fits into a larger global phenomenon of political leaders appealing to ethnic, religious, and nationalistic identities, which Rosenthal highlighted as beginning domestically with the Tea Party movement in 2009.

Kendzior added that a similar phenomenon could be found across the Atlantic, arguing that the UK’s Brexit vote was an appeal to national identity following the massive refugee and migrant crisis from the Middle East and North Africa in 2015. From India, Hungary, and Turkey to the Philippines, Russia, and the (failed) attempt of the National Front at capturing the presidency in France, the rise of illiberal democracies points to the strategic use of the “Other” that sits at the heart of populist movements.

Rosenthal elaborated this point further in the context of the United States, stressing how the rise of the Tea Party and subsequently the alt-right fed off the antipathy and distrust that working class whites had toward political and financial elites—hence the popularity of Trump’s slogan, “Draining the swamp.”

Moreover, Kendzior’s astute reading of the stepping down of national security Michael Flynn and her (correct) prediction of the firing of James Comey demonstrates how Trump’s actions are part of the “standard power play” of authoritarian leaders as they consolidate power at the nation-state level. As demagogues across the world stroke anxieties of demographic change by tapping into economic dislocations and engaging in “dog whistle” politics—such as Trump's comments on Mexican “rapists” and “radical Islamic terrorism”—Menendian advocated the need to design and implement policies that build inclusivity into the fabric of our societies.

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