How to Spot a Demagogue
by Loren J. Samons II, author of What's Wrong with Democracy?
During this election season, the following tips may be helpful to those wishing to identify the native North American demagogue (Demagogus americanus). This prolific creature inhabits all areas of the United States, but congregates especially in the mid-Atlantic coastal region, where the combination of warm (not to mention hot) air, popular politics, and movable wealth create a fertile environment for demagoguery. Demagogues are often found along with great numbers of the semiparasitic companion species the North American lobbyist.
The North American demagogue—descended, it is believed, from the ancient Greek demagogue and closely related to the great crested European demagogue—may be identified chiefly by his song. He tends to sing in refrains of a particularly short length (known to specialists as “sound bites”) and returns frequently to certain themes. The “my opponent’s radical views” theme and the “what the American people want/deserve” theme can be heard with particular clarity in the fall of each year. Every two years, the demagogues become especially vocal, and every fourth year their calls and the accompanying rites of display reach a fever pitch, a phenomenon that demagogologists have come to call “the big song and dance.”
The migratory habits of the demagogue have proved tremendously interesting. Not unlike the Atlantic eel (which returns to the Sargasso Sea, the place of its birth), the North American demagogue leaves the mid-Atlantic coast and returns to the place of its spawning for short visits. During these times, demagogues attend well-publicized events at quaint local establishments (especially schools, churches, and American Legion halls) and feed voraciously. The preferred diet of the demagogue consists of publicity and contributions, without a steady supply of which demagogues deteriorate quickly. Captured demagogues have been known to expire after a mere twenty-four hours without mass media exposure.
Demagogues, like white-tailed deer and telemarketers, have become a nuisance species in most parts of America. Multiplying wherever elections are held, they quickly become almost impossible to eradicate. Their highly repetitive and shrill calls tend to infect the songs of other species (especially those of the North American journalist and the closely related common pundit), until it becomes difficult to pick out the cry of the demagogue from the calls of those around him. Although demagogues can breed in almost any environment, they much prefer democracy and proliferate among a relatively apathetic and narcissistic population.
No one has yet devised an effective means for ending demagogue infestation, but some believe that they can be controlled through the introduction of a competitor species, the North American leader. This species can sometimes be recognized by its very unusual song, especially by refrains of “Ask not what your country can do for you,” and “I believe the majority of Americans are wrong about this.” However, only a character test can prove conclusively that a leader (which resembles the demagogue superficially) is present.
Unfortunately, a North American leader has not been positively identified in some years, and many specialists have concluded that the species has long been extinct.