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I have been hearing the word “demagogue” lately in the media. I thought I knew what it meant, but I decided to look it up anyway. Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
My goodness, what a precise and handy word these days.
It’s a dangerous thing for an editor of a denominational magazine to get into politics, but sometimes the situation calls for it. Something pernicious (another good word: having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way) is going on, and it needs to be called out.
According to the definition above, I think it is safe to say that one U.S. presidential candidate fits the definition of demagogue. His dismissive and prejudicial language about various groups of people, his slanderous statements about fellow candidates, his cavalier attitude toward the truth, all tend to appeal to voters’ basest instincts and legitimize their prejudices. And to top it off, he is no longer a fringe candidate, a political curiosity, but the frontrunner for a national party.
The most disturbing thing is that one of his strongest bases of support seems to be from self-identified Evangelical Christians. If there is any group of people who should be able to smell out demagoguery and reject it, it should be Evangelicals. Whatever their political party and whatever the religious persuasion of the candidate, Evangelicals should stand for civility and truthfulness in public life and walk away from candidates who characterize others with crude and abusive language.
In a recent post on The Twelve, Calvin Seminary professor Scott Hoezee wondered when is the right time for preachers and Christian leaders to speak out on political issues and candidates. Certainly they should avoid advocating for a particular party or candidate (although a startling number do), but when patently unchristian values are being paraded and widely accepted, perhaps it’s time to speak out. He suggested that the disturbing level of civil discourse in this election season needs to be addressed directly.
I agree. For the welfare of the United States, the guarding of its civil discourse, and the spiritual guidance of the church, Donald Trump needs to be called out for the demagogue that he is.