dem·a·gogue noun \ˈde-mə-ˌgäg\
: a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason.
I've been both fascinated and repelled by the glorified demagoguery of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii.
It is not to be confused with demigod — the status to which anti-GMO activist Dustin Barca elevated himself with a crude cartoon depicting him as the “Hawaiian Superman,” a reference to the demigod Maui.
No, demagoguery is something different — more deliberate, more dangerous, more destructive to democracy, more insidious.
As a friend characterized it:
I'm good because you're bad. We are virtuous because you are evil. Oh, and a truck will come by in the morning to escort you to your re-education camp.
The rhetoric espoused by Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser has offered countless classic examples of demagoguery. But nothing seemed to portray the dynamic quite so vividly as this Facebook post by Ashley Lukens, the director of the mainland-based Center for Food Safety, which set up shop in Hawaii last year specifically to direct and exploit anti-GMO sentiment:
Here's how it works. First, they create an enemy, preferably an easy target, like multinational chemical companies.
They then vilify the enemy through accusations — poisoning water, people, land — that are repeated over and over and over again. None of the accusations have been proven in Hawaii; indeed, every assessment — even their own— has shown the accusations to be false. Not one blood test has been produced that shows elevated pesticide levels in a person living near or working in seed fields; state water tests have shown environmental pesticide levels well below threshold levels; there are no cancer clusters, no unusual rates of birth defects. Yet still, the claims are repeated.
Next, they deploy despicable tactics, which they then attribute to the enemy, as evidenced by Ashley's post.
Ashley and her followers fear for their personal safety because they are the ones who have promoted violence, from the “fistee” call to arms and the “pass the bill” mob scene in the Kauai County Council chambers to the calls to destroy fields and do “whatever it takes” to eliminate biotech.
Ashley is worried about bullying because she leads a movement that has mercilessly bullied not only those financially associated with the identified enemy, but average citizens who dared to question the movement's facts, goals and tactics. Though she never once spoke up against that bullying, she is now seeking sympathy as a supposed victim of “corporate” bullying.
Ashley is worried about putting her child's Facebook photos on “lock down” because her movement defaced, defiled and disseminated Facebook photographs of local biotech employees and their children.
Ashley is worried about threats from “crazy bloggers” because the “crazy bloggers” in her own movement repeatedly threatened biotech workers and supporters with death, financial ruin and other harm.
Ashley is worried about “participatory democracy” because her own movement used outside funding and tax-free, nonprofit status to engage in political advocacy and lobbying to influence local politics. Meanwhile, movement supporters like Jonathan Jay use public radio to bleat about our cruel “winner takes all” style of elections, i.e., democracy.
Ashley intones on “the importance of dissent in the context of a liberal state” even as she leads a movement that ruthlessly represses all dissent.
Ashley, who lead a movement that attempted to make others cower in their home for speaking truth to the movement, is now vowing she won't cower for “speaking truth to power,” even as she claims her movement actually holds the power.
In this Facebook post, Ashley, is looking in the mirror, where she sees a demagogue looking back. But rather than recognize it as her own reflection, she projects it onto the enemy and claims the rhetorical high road of “progress and liberation” for a movement that in practice is regressive and repressive.
A demagogue /ˈdɛməɡɒɡ/ (from French "demagogue", derived in turn from the Greek "demos" = people/folk and the verb "ago" = carry/manipulate thus "people's manipulator") or rabble-rouser is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower classes in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness. Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.
Take note, all of you in our community who have aligned yourselves with this movement, who have allowed your faces and names to be used by this movement. Take note.