As President, Donald Trump has made a habit of undermining democratic institutions. Is this the new normal?
In The Demagogue's Playbook, Eric A. Posner argues that Trump falls within a tradition of American political personalities who have used the language of exploitation and grievance to amass power-and, in many cases, were quite popular in their time. From Andrew Jackson to Father Charlies Coughlin, the viscously anti-semetic radio personality of the early 20th century, these demagogues attacked what they perceived as "enemies of the people": the elites, the journalists, the policy-makers, and the institutional norms of our republican system. On the surface, this defense of the "common people" feels oddly noble. But, as Posner shows, this defense is an emperor with no clothes. Rather than protect, the demagogue uses everyday people-and invents their enemies-to undermine, ultimately, their self-interest.
Posner exposes how we must move past the demagogue's rhetoric and protect the features of a democracy that help it thrive: a free press, a group of experts who oversee the various agencies tasked with improving American lives, and the checks and balances that pose restrictions on public office. Only under such norms can a democracy survive. In short, can a democracy thrive under a demagogue? Posner finds no reason to believe so, and The Demagogue's Playbook provocatively reveals how.