Eli Merritt Featured In

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The Curse of Demagogues: Lessons Learned from the Presidency of Donald J. Trump is a collection of thirty-two essays by twenty-two writers that makes the case that the pathway back to a healthy American democracy is for citizens, first, to understand demagogues and, second, to defend against them. 

 

The book makes the story of Donald Trump’s rise to the White House coherent and understandable. Trump, a demagogue, gained ascendancy in a laissez-faire political culture wherein neither the Republican Party nor the other gatekeepers of democracy, including the news media, effectively counteracted him. Once in the highest office in the land, Trump devolved into authoritarianism in order to retain power, as demagogues are well-known to do. 

 

To restore our democracy, we must defend it against demagogues by strengthening gatekeeping systems within political parties, the media, and the U.S. Congress (powers of impeachment, conviction, and disqualification from future office) and through vigorous civics, ethics, and media literacy education K-12 and beyond.

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Prominent contributing writers include:

 

  • Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian

  • Jeff Flake, former Republican U.S. senator 

  • Barbara Comstock, former Republican U.S. congresswoman 

  • Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times 

  • Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic

  • Jesse Wegman, editor at The New York Times

  • Eric Posner, author of The Demagogue’s Playbook: The Battle for American Democracy from the Founders to Trump 

  • Michael Signer, author of Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies 

From the Essays

 

“There have been two occasions in American history when the fate of the republic was placed at risk. The first was the Civil War . . . The second was the Great Depression . . . We are currently on the cusp of a third serious challenge to our republican roots, which has emerged in the person of the first full-scale demagogue who was elected president . . . This is the chief reason why the looming election is the most important political event of our lifetime . . . This is an election to decide whether we wish to remain the American republic.” 

 

JOSEPH J. ELLIS

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian

 

“How many injuries to American democracy can my Republican Party tolerate, excuse and champion? It is elementary to have to say so, but for democracy to work one side must be prepared to accept defeat. If the only acceptable outcome is for your side to win, and a loser simply refuses to lose, then America is imperiled.” 

 

JEFF FLAKE

Former Republican U.S. Senator 

 

“My fellow Republicans, stop fearing this dangerous and diminished man.”

 

BARBARA COMSTOCK

Former Republican U.S. Congresswoman

 

“The enemy of democracy is not a Democrat or Republican. It is a demagogue.”

 

ELI MERRITT

Political Historian

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Democracy’s Survival Depends on Fighting Demagogues. Here's Why.

The Los Angeles Times

The House select committee’s investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection has hammered home a fundamental truth about democracy: this free form of government can be upended by demagogues when political party gatekeepers do not block their ascent to power. When gatekeepers fail in this critical duty, democracies deteriorate in a two-step process. First, a demagogue gains executive power, and then the demagogue devolves into authoritarianism, corrupting and dismantling the democracy itself to retain power. The leaders of both parties must embrace their sacred duty to thwart the rise of demagogues. Grasping this truth—that each party is responsible for counteracting its own demagogues—is a crucial starting point for rescuing American democracy from further decline.
 

Read on American Commonwealth

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Would the Founders Convict Trump and Bar Him From Office?

The New York Times

Published on the opening day of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the Senate, this op-ed argues that if the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were sitting as jurors in the trial, they would cast two near unanimous votes: first, to convict the president of an impeachable offense, and second, to disqualify him from holding future federal office. They would vote in this way because they believed as a matter of civic principle that ethical leadership is the glue that holds a constitutional republic together. The op-ed underscores that the framers of the Constitution wrote the language of the impeachment powers specifically with a demagogue like Trump in mind. As incisive political scientists steeped in history, they understood that demagogues are the singular poison that infects and kills republics and democracies. Today's gatekeepers of our constitutional democracy must understand the same lifesaving principle.

 

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Featured Articles by Eli Merritt

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Trump's Place in History? He is the Supreme American Demagogue

Los Angeles Times

It is never too early to begin to consider an ex-president's place in history. And, in the case of Donald J. Trump, what future historians are going to say is unambiguous. Trump’s fate in history is to become first among the cast of dishonored political figures known as "demagogues." Compared with Trump, famous demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy will become footnotes. Trump will be remembered as the first full-blown demagogue in the White House, one who incited seditious violence on the U.S. Capitol — and for little else. Over time, Democrats and Republicans will unite in this historical understanding of the 45th president, just as they have long since reached consensus about Democrat Huey Long and Republican Joseph McCarthy. The judgment of Trump will not be a partisan matter. Republicans in particular should recognize this fact and get on the right side of history, even if it means enduring criticism from constituents and the loss of reelection to office.  

 

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