Friday, September 2, 2016

Pacific Standard asks: Can fact-checking defeat (LePage's) demagoguery?

A writer from Pacific Standard Magazine gave a call the other day asking about Governor Paul LePage, who is currently in the midst of the greatest of his long chain of self-inflicted scandals, this one over a chain of racist statements regarding drug dealer arrests, violent and profane threats against a lawmaker who called him out for these, and other sundries. The question at hand: can fact-checking -- by the media, or the ACLU or whomever -- put a demagogue in check?

My answer is probably not, at least in regards to such a person's supporters, and I say this from the experience not only of covering Paul LePage, but also of living and reporting in Viktor Orban's Hungary, Franjo Tudjman's Croatia, and the mess that was (and is) post-war Bosnia. Supporters back such people because they believe them to be on "their side" against a wicked internal enemy ("liberals," Serbs, what-have-you), not because the justifications the demagogue comes up with for their policies actually stand up to scrutiny. That's why they've been so dangerous throughout history: they lead people down a fact-free path of resentment, and in some times and places the more polite sectors of society are temperamentally unable to muster a vigorous enough response to the threat until it's too late.

Fortunately the stakes are relatively low in Maine, where the chief executive doesn't have an army, nuclear arsenal, or security state at his or her disposal. Not true of the Presidency of the United States, though, which is why our European allies -- who have far more firsthand experience with demagogues -- are so concerned about Donald Trump.

This long answer isn't in the article, but you can hear takes from the ACLU, Maine progressive activist Mike Tippng and conservative activist Lance Dutson.

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