Three decades ago, Danny DeVito directed and starred in a critically acclaimed short film called “The Selling of Vince D’Angelo”. The comedic short film formed part of the “Likely Stories”, a ground breaking HBO/Cinemax anthology series.
A political parable, the film features the campaign of Vince D’Angelo, a loud-mouthed, egotistical concrete mogul from New Jersey running for a Senatorial bid on an independent ticket. His electoral campaign centers around fearmongering, emphasizing criminality or dangers on the streets, and claiming that “Jersey is going down the tubes”. He further emphasizes that only a non-politically correct, successful businessman can fix it “before it’s too late”. He also uses incendiary messages on his campaign commercials and spreads vicious rumors about his opponents, prodding people to choose him instead, ending with the line “What the hell have you got to lose?” He supplements his incendiary messages with heavily rehearsed portrayals of himself interacting and blending with the common people and having the quintessential decent family. His ploys prove to work, making him immune to criticisms, even to hard evidence of involvement in criminal activities.
Sounds familiar yet?
What was funny then is now proving to be ominous, with the Vince D’Angelo persona coming to life in the form of a highly popular businessman aiming for the most powerful position in the most consequential government in the world. It is 2016, and the people are watching a demagogue rise closer to power. Defined as a leader who gains power and popular support by using impassioned appeals to the prejudices and emotions of the populace, in addition to making false promises and claims, the term demagogue perfectly describes the Republican Frontrunner, Donald Trump.
How a “Pathetic Dunderhead” Rose to Power
People who are considered nothing more than charismatic buffoons are often the ones who earn the pejorative epithet, demagogue. It is best that we do not underestimate such people though, for that is exactly how someone considered a “pathetic dunderhead” rose to power in the land of Beethoven and Goethe. Hitler’s unabated ascension to power was partly due to the complacency of his adversaries who regarded him as nothing more than an “evening’s entertainment”. They were wrong to underestimate a man who proved to be a master of demagoguery. Hitler explicitly instructed the formulation of propaganda that would not appeal to reason but to emotions, arguing that the masses “is feeble” and that an effective propaganda must meet the “lowest mental common denominator among the public”, and must be made up of a few slogans that would be repeated until everyone has come to grasp it. The price mankind paid for this mistake was high, as history saw the unfolding of a dark era and the unraveling of one of its more advanced democracies.
The term demagogue comes from the innocuous Greek words “demos” (the people) and “agogos” (leader), but has long earned a pejorative connotation, with Aristotle using it to refer to charismatic leaders or populists who appealed to people from the lower classes, and who were potentially destructive, threatening to destroy the stability of democracy … of government “by the people” … by turning people against each other through factious and incendiary rhetoric.
As Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once warned: “Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”
The comedic, political parable has turned into an ominous, prescient parody of a real-life US presidential bid. It turns out, the joke is on all of us.
Author: Tahna de Veyra
Voracious eater. Coffee dependent. Book sniffer. Music addict. Profound thinker. Certified ambivert. Life-hungry maverick. Nonchalant realist. Hesitant blogger.