She doesn’t look like a demagogue, with her neatly cropped blond hair and gentle facial features. But Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren arguably gave the most demagogic speech at this year’s Democratic National Convention.
A demagogue is someone who fools the people into becoming angry and bitter even though there’s little or no reason to be so. They foment dangerous passions and play on people’s worst emotions in an effort to attract a following.
What better way to stir up people’s anger than to convince them that the fruits of their labor have been stolen or swindled from them, and that the whole economy is set up in such a way that the larceny is automatic? Worse, that the thieves and swindlers are the nation’s millionaires and billionaires?
Ms. Warren speaks of those who “steal your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street,” and champions the Marxist fallacy that such theft is institutionalized. “People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they’re right,” declared Warren in her convention speech. “The system is rigged.”
Imagine the indignation and humiliation you’d feel thinking that the reason you’re suffering financially is that rich people are stealing your money, and that they’re doing it by manipulating the “government to help themselves and their powerful friends.”
Is it any wonder that according to surveys, people who lean left are unhappier? Being duped into thinking that practically everyone is a closet swindler — not to mention a closet racist — is bound to lead to depression and anxiety.
But depression isn’t the worst of it. What happens when someone gets angrier and angrier? They eventually snap. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were one such manifestation. Down the road we could be in for even more malignant manifestations of this rage.
Warren is exploiting people’s sense of envy. Psychologists confirm that envy is one of the most pervasive and deep-seated of human emotions. Some people are better at controlling and suppressing that emotion, others less so.
Few people admit to being envious. They never say, “I hate millionaires and billionaires because they have what I want.” Instead, they rationalize that it’s not “fair” that some people have more than others, even though those people typically worked harder, worked smarter, or took great risks in order to get where they are.
When you envy, you look for reasons to dislike the objects of your envy. You want to believe those persons lack moral character. And then someone like Ms. Warren comes along confirming that belief, telling you the better-off persons got where they are through corruption, theft, and/or manipulating the laws. Your blood starts to boil. The boiling intensifies when you’re told the reason you’re not better off is because they’re stealing from you.
Certainly, there’s corruption, fraud, and manipulation that goes on in the world. It happens in businesses. In unions. In government. In nonprofit organizations — in nearly every walk of life. But it’s perpetrated by a tiny minority. The vast majority of people are honest and law-abiding. Ms. Warren ascribes the actions of that tiny minority to everyone in the world of finance and big business, misleading millions into thinking that the whole system is corrupt.
President Obama’s followers are frustrated that hope and change for the better never came. They don’t recognize that Obama’s own policies are the problem. What a better scapegoat than the nation’s millionaires and billionaires — especially in big business and on Wall Street? Ms. Warren is giving them just the scapegoat they want.
“Class war is more appealing than class harmony,” writes the psychiatrist Aaron Beck in his book Prisoners of Hate. Those who achieve “economic or political success are suspected of conspiring with their brethren to advance their own interests at the expense of the unsuspecting majority.” People conclude that they “resorted to shady tactics and schemes to gain an unfair advantage.” That describes Ms. Warren’s rhetoric to a T.
There’s a collective rage spreading throughout America, being fueled by deluders and demagogues like Ms. Warren. It’s resulting in bad policy at best, and incitements for violence at worst — such as Occupy Wall Street protestors’ call for violent revolution or actress and activist Roseanne Barr’s desire to execute bankers or send them to re-education camps (and there’s no indication she was joking.)
Folks, it’s not your mom’s and dad’s Democratic Party anymore. The wealth-is-theft school of thought used to be confined to the far left. Now it’s becoming a core theme within the party. Ms. Warren got a prime-time speaking slot at the convention highlighting this theme. It’s time for cooler heads to stop this cancer from metastasizing any further.
Patrick Chisholm writes at PolicyDynamics.org.