What other presidents and candidates have been considered demagogues?

By | October 27, 2016

Demagogue. Demagoguery.  I was aware of those words before the 2016 presidential election but I didn’t really know what they meant. I didn’t bother to look it up but I assumed demagogue was a politician who plays off of the worst, most basest instincts in a group of people to get votes.

According to Wiktionary, demagogue means:

A political orator or leader who gains favor by pandering to or exciting the passions and prejudices of the audience rather than by using rational argument.

All politicians pander, but I guess the keyword in that definition is “prejudices”. What prejudices has Trump played upon to try to get elected? Mexicans are criminals / rapists and Muslims should not be allowed into the country. These sentiments are clearly prejudiced but what other presidents or presidential candidates have also ran on a platform of prejudicial rhetoric?

Strom Thurmond

Strom Thurmond was one of the longest running senators in US political history until his death at the age of 100 in 2003. He is mostly for defending segregation. At one point, in 1948, he separated from the Democratic Party to run on a platform specifically in favor of segregation. While he may have defended his stance on segregation on the basis of states rights and not racial purity, this quote says otherwise:

“I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres into our swimming pools into our homes and into our churches.”

It was difficult for me to find something that was definitively racist from Thurmond because this quote has been sanitized to replace the word “nigger” with “negro”.

George Wallace

Now on to the person that I was originally thinking of when I wrote this: George Wallace.

George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama. He held office as Governor for 16 years. Outside of Strom Thurmond, he’s probably one of the most famous politicians that attempted to uphold segregation. His most famous moment is when he protested the integration of the University of Alabama by standing in the doorway, preventing students from entering. It was only after President Kennedy sent in reinforcements that he relented.

The only overtly racist quote I could find was a third-party attribution which is: (Source)

“I was out-niggered, and I will never be out-niggered again.”

Now, this quote isn’t overtly racist, but if “great Anglo-Saxon Southland” isn’t an appeal to racial purity and clearly the words of a demagogue, I don’t know what is: (Source)

“It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

On a positive note, George Wallace did not try to revise history and try to say that he wasn’t racist. (Source)

“I did stand, with a majority of the white people, for the separation of the schools. But that was wrong, and that will never come back again.”

Actually, before his death, he appears to have tried to paint his defense of segregation as something besides racist:

“I don’t hate blacks. The day I said ‘segregation forever,’ I never said a thing that would upset a black person unless it was segregation. I never made fun of ‘em about inequality and all that kind of stuff. But my vehemence was against the federal government folks. I didn’t make people get mad against black people. I made ‘em get mad against the courts.”

These are the two presidential candidates that most fall in line with my expectations of what a demagogue is, but other sources have named two other presidential candidates: Huey Long & Ross Perot.

Now these particular candidates are being considered as examples of demagoguery not on the basis of racial prejudice but running on a platform that appealed to emotion.

Huey Long wanted to punish the wealthy while the rest of the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. He was, ultimately, assassinated before his campaign could begin.

During the 1992 presidential election, Ross Perot ran on a platform that preyed upon the fears of an ever expanding deficit and the inherent distrust of professional politicians. He lost to George H. W. Bush but received one of the highest election results for a third party candidate at 19% of the ballot.

 Whether you define demagogue as something based in prejudice or merely appeals to emotion, these are the other demagogues beside Donald Trump that have run for president of the United States.

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