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Demagoguery, deception and decrepitude inherent in most contemporary democracies


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  • “Demagoguery is a congenic illness of democracy. There is, though, the chance to keep it under control” – Dr. Rafael Piñeiro

Democracy is well and good as long its erstwhile proponents and players remain committed to high attendant ideals, pursuing with some degree of intelligence and sanity (fast eroding with the ascent of Donald J. Trump). Surely one must be faithful and devoted to inclusiveness, diversity and multi-racialism regardless of the heat, mutating metrics or sinister opportunities the playing field could engender.

The moment insecure contenders see opportunity in unbridled and unregulated demagoguery, inherent deficiencies of a democracy get exposed, quite indecently too. Where there is no limits, checks and balances there is disarray and possibly fatal disconnections. When anyone can say and do anything without consequences a dangerous precedence is set. It’s even construed by some as integral instruments afforded in a democracy, is it? In such circumstances minorities and vulnerable sectors get exposed and varying degrees of harm loom against them. 

It’s deplorable when the so-called leader of the free world makes overt racist remarks, reportedly criticising immigrants coming to the United States from what he called “shithole countries”. It’s unthinkable that such demeaning language is emanating from the President of the United States of America.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the great warrior of Sri Lanka, an adept proponent of showmanship with intricate yet subtle proclivities towards demagoguery with his ubiquitous presence, donning the milky white national suit and kurakkan-coloured shawl, did a lot to project the image of the undying protagonist of the Sinhala Buddhist people. The sensational image of Dutugemunu, marauding with his soldiers brandishing his radiant sword, resonated well with the people just a few years ago. Can such indiscretions of the former President prove conclusively to be aracist? Absolutely not. Distorting and discrediting a political system more likely hurts the individual than a system. That’s why ideals remain preserved. Abusers either drift to oblivion or perish one after the other.

Our own six-footer Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, the right honourable Patali Champika Ranawaka, is another living testimony and an exemplary technician of the craft of demagoguery. His accent and genre was remarkably fresh. He imbibed a great deal from his former boss. The dude was a walking, talking statistician, disgorging supposedly disproportionate breeding of Muslims not just to the domestic terrain but abroad as well with effortless finesse. This was when the dude was valiantly supporting the former President.

Who on earth is a demagogue? The advent of Donald J. Trump has necessarily accelerated the spread of this word and ensured a high-octane dissemination. Its etymology traces to the Greek language. Root word simply means “leader of the people” (demos, or “the people”; agein, or “to lead”). A demagogue is someone who appeals to greed, fear and hatred. An egregious politician who achieves or holds on to power by stirring up  feelings of his audience and leading them to action despite  considerations  weighing against him or her.

Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, it is possible for the people to give that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of a population. Demagogues usually advocate immediate, forceful action to address a national crisis whilst accusing moderates and opponents of weakness or disloyalty.

A “demagogue” is usually pretty articulate and adept to refer to either populist or partisan ends; or to deceptive or dangerous means; or to both. This is an in-built gift they have. It’s a tool they carry. 

Deception is frequently deployed to mislead, misalign and obfuscate. This is an international phenomenon in democracies today. In the age of the internet the acronym LOL is used quite extensively which is to mean “laugh out loud”. But in common political circles in the west it stands for “lie or lose” – the public are so used to lies and desensitised to the truth they have developed a dislike if nota disdain for the truth. There is no such thing as an outright political lie. Instead there’s distortion, exaggeration, misrepresentation, deception and half-truth.

Citizens’ alienation and disenchantment with politics breed demagoguery, when parties or the institutional resources available to citizens are not capable of delivering. When politics becomes meaningless for a portion of the electorate, the opportunity for demagogues arises. Although demagogues re-engage disaffected citizens, they, and their political organisations, cannot fulfil their promises. Therefore, demagogues are simply political agents taking advantage of citizens´ frustration with democratic representation.

Quality of governance in most countries has weakened, at least in South Asia. It has got exponentially impaired and broken. If “Yahapalanaya” is something to go by. Crime is the new ethos. Crisp fiat notes get lubricated in their billions every day. Celebrity is the new religion – the average denizen is hooked on to the TV pleasuring and fantasising. Society is consumed in a pathological contagion. The heist intensifies unabated. All is rotten inside. 

Relentless decay of our dystopian and apocalyptic culture has grown to become a recognisable fact. Excessive democracy has in essence has added fuel. Terms such as ‘decay’ and ‘decrepitude’ seem to reappear in postmodern culture and erudite thinkers are capturing it in art beautifully. 

Our societies apparently are in severe need of reconstruction.


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