Bob Franken

King Features Column–More on Demagoguery

(The usual: This is a week old column-, thanks to the agreement with the syndicator, which I’m working on)


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It is not hard to conclude that the two prevailing political philosophies in our country are democracy and demagoguery.

The former includes a belief in our better instincts to see to it that bigotry won’t be jammed down our throats, and similarly that a particular religion won’t be imposed on us, nor will hatred of another be successfully whipped up by shameless exploiters.

The very first provision in the Bill of Rights covers that. The problem is, it also allows for the same free speech that can be used by demagogues to inflame the worst primal reflexes of a mob.

Unfortunately, mob psychology often carries the day. Look at how one extremist group with the innocent-sounding name Florida Family Association has managed to so intimidate the Lowe’s home-supply company with its intolerant threats that Lowe’s pulled its commercials from the TLC program “All-American Muslim.”

Instead of showing mainstream U.S. followers of Islam as regular people pursuing the same good life we all are — estimates vary, but there are up to 7 million in the United States — the FFA insisted that the show was “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger.”

Lowe’s buckled, explaining that the program had become a “lightning rod.” Then the travel website buckled too, albeit insisting that “the show just sucked.”

People who are outraged can protest the decisions by Lowe’s and Kayak by taking their business elsewhere, but after a while, those who avoid companies that behave badly soon will run out of room on their blacklist. Besides, the haters probably would organize a counterboycott.

Their fanaticism is whipped up by opportunists who target those we might call narrowminded if there was evidence they had minds at all.

That explains the likes of Newt Gingrich, who is just one of those who takes the religious pluralism — one of the compacts that is supposed to make the United States “exceptional” — and breaks the promise.

Instead, he and others of his ilk turn it into a melodrama about sectarian gang warfare, where he tries to steal the show by singing “Sharia” every chance he gets (“Sharia, I just pressed a button, Sharia”…)

He knows that the word “Sharia” really whips up fear, particularly among those who have no earthy idea what it means or how goofy it is to worry about its threat to the “American way of life.”

For the record, it is the set of laws that underpins Islam. Every faith has them, and there are fundamentalists in every one who would force their particular version on all of us.

While Gingrich’s sincerity is always suspect, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and others are at least consistent. For victims of this kind of zealotry, look no further than Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, who have to fend off opposition because they are members of the Mormon “cult,” or Barack Obama, whose association with a fiery black pastor made him religiously suspect or even a closet Muslim (gasp!).

All of these religious crusades demean faith, which is supposed to provide hope and comfort to believers, not be turned into an ugly instrument of division. Those in the demagogic crowd all too willingly step into the gaps they’ve created. They can fan the flames and seek advantage from the fires they’ve created.

Unfortunately, our nation can be consumed by them, because they destroy something beautiful about the United States. We are supposed to be a haven for everyone, including the millions who identify with the “All-American Muslim.” Instead, our political system is too often a haven for demagogues.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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