01/27/2004: "Demagoguery and Power"
My tenure at West Point not only strongly reinforced my convictions on truth, it extended them in ways I could never have envisioned. (By the way, anyone entertaining any doubts that USMA is really my alma mater is invited to review the Graduate Exam page of the site). Going out into the real world is like leaving the womb. The military is more sensitive to falsehoods when they arise because the implications are larger. A big part of the power of our military, especially compared to VietNam, was lost as a result of the lack of honor among military commanders who lied to get additional support and whose lies about body counts, accumulated over many units, gave policymakers a false picture of reality. This has given me an appreciation for all that is sacrificed because even authority figures cannot be trusted. All this meandering has finally brought us back to why I’ve been an attentive student of demagoguery for the last 20 years. Demagoguery is a special crime against truth, the worst-case scenario for the impact a lie can have on the prospects for an entire nation. Other kinds of falsehood can cause great damage, to be sure, for example financial shenanigans. Demagoguery stands alone as the falsehood that can change the very course of nations and the world. The greatest power on earth is the power of the mob. What’s needed now to combat demagoguery is the intellectual honesty to recognize popular prejudices and false claims and promises for what they are. This is hard work, considering how attractive the fantasies that Big-C Conservative demagogues present are. No matter how many times we use the phrase “there’s no free lunch,” we still feel the pull when a national political leader, a Senator, a Representative, and particularly a President, says “but today there is free lunch.” Such is the power of demagoguery.