Today, though, we find ourselves in the midst of the ascent of a figure right out of Petronius: an orange-colored vulgarian of meretricious display, right down to the trophy wives from Far Elsewhere—with an ambition to dominate, a cunning out of proportion to his wisdom, a contempt for truth coupled with a readiness to manipulate, and a personal arrogance combined with, and indifferent to, a universal understanding that he is utterly unfit to govern. Now that we are in possession of an honest-to-God demagogue of the classical model, old portents of doom seem pertinent. As David Remnick remarked recently, though demagogues have long had their place in America, this is the first time one has come this close to Presidential power. The paralyzed, passive self-persuasion that overcomes ordinary politicians in extraordinary times is proof of this.
With Paul Ryan and the rest of the collapsing Republican “leadership” we see the expected response: this will pass, it’s an oddity—and anyway it’s more important to be positioned after the demagogue’s fall than to take the costly action necessary to oppose him. Turn on that same Internet to the conservative press, and one reads frantic denunciations of Trump vying with equally frantic denunciations of Hilary Clinton, the habit of hatred still intact even in extremis. Reporters who know that the demagogue lies as he breathes are too depressed or discouraged or demoralized to say so loudly and repeatedly. And then among the pro-plebeian party there is an unworthy glee at the discomfiture of the patrician “establishment.” Well, they may deserve the demagogue. The rest of us don’t.
He’s right: we don’t deserve this.
However, as the noted philosopher Will Munny once noted: Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.