March 17, 2016

COMMON SENSE | A Demagogue in our Midst

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I’m baffled. I’m appalled. I hope the majority of Americans are as well. Last Friday evening, a rally that Donald Trump scheduled in Chicago was canceled and tensions between protesters and his supporters reached incredible new heights. As expected, the newscasters began asking, “Was Trump to blame for the violence we were seeing?”

Of course. It’s common sense.

Why even ask such a question when the truth is so blatant? By entertaining the idea that something besides Trump’s incendiary rhetoric has to do with the increased violence that we have seen at his rallies is to pretend that he is not a demagogue.

Over the last few weeks, Trump’s rhetoric has become more and more hostile towards protesters. He speaks of desires to punch them in the face and reminds his supporters again and again that, these days, protesters get off too “easily.” Donald Trump, you may not agree with these protesters, but as a presidential candidate for the highest office in the land, did you actually call for violence against those you hope to lead?

I think Trump is forgetting that if he – god forbid – actually wins the White House then he will not only be a leader for those who elected him but for those who fought against him as well.

The violence that we see at his rallies is not a sudden phenomenon; it is a product of context that stretches back decades in our country. His incendiary language stokes the fire of racial, gender, and class tensions that have long simmered just under the surface of American life. He is clearly playing upon the fears and prejudices of those who feel disenfranchised and upset with the current status quo. His vision for a better America is unfortunately not built upon hope, love and kindness but rather an “Us” versus “Them” mentality that can only seek to divide people in an era in which we have but few options but to stand together. Instead of preaching tolerance and kindness, he preaches hate.

Having watched countless Trump rallies over the last eight months, I am struck by the amount of anger and hate that he channels in his speeches. Instead of addressing policies that he would enact, he ignites the core anger that people have.

But where does the accountability lie? As an American that feels disgust at the words and actions of Trump, am I also to blame if I do nothing? Is the media to blame for not calling him a clear demagogue and racist? Are his rivals to blame for not condemning him forcefully enough?

History has taught us that many parallels can be drawn between Trump’s rise and those of infamous past leaders. As the famous saying by George Santayana goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We are living history. That means that all of us have a distinct responsibility.

Repudiating a demagogue does not have to be a partisan issue. What Trump speaks of are not policy positions and differences, but rather positions that can be condemned by people on both sides of the aisle.

Too often, voters think that they are passive players in our political system, but to think that is to give up a right that so many before us have fought to achieve. The rights of free speech, protest, voting give us the tools to make sure someone like Donald Trump does not come within a ten-foot radius of the White House.

At this time, the voices of he and his supporters are speaking clearly and loudly, muddying the political process and rhetoric to unacceptable standards. It is up to the rest to us to drown out those voices with calls for tolerance, love, kindness and, above all, respect.

I will not be passive. I will not be silent. I will fight, and I hope you will too.

Gunjan is a junior economics major in the College of Arts and Sciences. In addition to writing for The Daily Sun, she is the Director of Fundraising and Philanthropy for the Cornell Dems and is part of an economics research team. Many times she can be found staring off into space, with perhaps deep thoughts, who knows? She is also an avid Outer Space enthusiast and hopes to own her own space rocket one day. Common Sense appears on alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].