The title of our guest Larry Tye’s new book is Demagogue, and early on in it he lets one of the early masters of American literature and popular culture James Fenimore Cooper – author of The Last of the Mohicans, among other best-sellers, fill you in on demagogues: “The true theater of a demagogue is democracy,” he wrote. “[The demagogue] calls blackguards gentlemen and gentlemen folks, appeals to passions and prejudices rather than to reason and is in all respects, a man of intrigue and deception.”
Cooper wrote this 185 years ago, before President Trump talked about the “good people” on both sides of the Charlottesville confrontation, before he contemptuously tossed a handful of candies to or at German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The year he wrote about demagogues and democracy, 1835 suggests the model Cooper had in mind was President Andrew Jackson, one of President Donald Trump’s “portrait-in-my-office” favorites. Jackson was both a slave-holder and an Indian-killer and ethnic cleanser of Native tribes. Until now, no American president could compare with him as a White supremacist.
But between then – the 1830s – and now, there is – in America’s 1940s and ‘50s – the Demagogue of Larry Tye’s book title. Here’s the sub-title: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy.
Larry Tye is the best-selling author of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel, as well as Superman, The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and coauthor, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. His new book is Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. Previously an award-winning reporter and national writer at the Boston Globe and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, he now runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship. He lives in Massachusetts.