Rhetoric and Demagoguery
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Patricia Roberts-Miller proposes a definition of demagoguery based on her study of groups and cultures that have talked themselves into disastrously bad decisions. She argues for seeing demagoguery as a way for people to participate in public discourse, and not necessarily as populist or heavily emotional. Demagoguery, she contends, depoliticizes political argument by making all issues into questions of identity. She broaches complicated questions about its effectiveness at persuasion, proposes a new set of criteria, and shows how demagoguery plays out in regard to individuals not conventionally seen as demagogues.
Roberts-Miller looks at the discursive similarities among the Holocaust in early twentieth-century Germany, the justification of slavery in the antebellum South, the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, among others. She examines demagoguery among powerful politicians and jurists (Earl Warren, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) as well as more conventional populists (Theodore Bilbo, two-time governor of Mississippi; E. S. Cox, cofounder of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America). She also looks at notorious demagogues (Athenian rhetor Cleon, Ann Coulter) and lesser-known public figures (William Hak-Shing Tam, Gene Simmons).