The American Scholar


Call Me Cleon

Your instructive, riveting, often hilarious, and terrifying ›Spring 2018 cover story (“A Vacuum at the Center,” W. Robert Connor) proves that the humanities—by providing context—offer critical insights in these chaotic and dangerous times. Published in the midst of the shocking revelations of Cambridge Analytica’s role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Connor’s analysis illuminates that particular news cycle. In those news reports we’ve seen clips of the president gleefully telling donors that, during his campaign, he’d used phrases he neither understood nor liked—collections of words guaranteed by Cambridge Analytica’s manipulators to fire up his base. In the context of Connor’s article, Trump might as well have tweeted, “… but you can call me Cleon.” This article should be required reading for all thoughtful Americans. I’ve shared it widely and been gratified to learn that most of those to whom I sent it are sharing it with many others.

CATHERINE L. O’SHEA Flemington, New Jersey

The distinction between a populist and a democratically elected leader is very much in the mind of the and made in Connor’s article adds a whole new wrinkle. I understand the distinction being made, and understand the application of the term to Trump, and it makes sense. But I also consider the celebrity as a type, since the absent center of the demagogue strikes me as very celebrity-like. As Daniel J. Boorstin famously defined them, celebrities are known because they are known.

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