Noted scientist Stephen Hawking recently denounced Donald Trump as a “demagogue,” defined by Wikipedia as “a person … or political leader who attempts to gain power by arousing people’s emotions, passions and prejudices.”

Demagogues undermine the stability of a democratic form of government by turning people against each other by making false claims and promises. To call Trump a “demagogue” is to do two things at once: to dismiss him as a political candidate and amplify him as a political threat.

Historically, demagogues have achieved power because of political or economic turmoil. Cleon of Athens nearly brought Athenian democracy to its knees. The harsh treatment of Germany after World War I, which caused extreme economic distress, led to the rise of the demagogues of that period.

The United States had its share of demagogues. Huey Long and George Wallace attained prominent positions as a result of their invective against ethnic minorities. Joe McCarthy brandished his anti-communist venom against the Democrats. Republicans embittered by their loss in the 1948 elections were willing to overlook his provocative and offensive tactics in their effort to undermine support for President Harry Truman.

Donald Trump has benefited from the anger and hate sown by partisan politics since the election of Barack Obama. On Obama’s first day in office, an edict was laid down by opposition-party leaders to discredit the president and oppose his initiatives. Furthermore, since they knew that they would have to contend with Hillary Clinton in the future, they began a campaign to destroy her reputation.

As a result, we have gridlock in Congress because of an unwillingness to compromise, verbal abuse of our opponents rather than respect for their viewpoint and an electorate who believes the country is heading in the wrong direction – the perfect storm for a demagogue to seek political power.

Richard Schmitt

Falmouth