The series was a bit formulaic, and towards the end really preachy toward’s the authors personal philosophies, but Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series always comes back to me because it codified one of life’s most important truths:
Wizard’s First Rule: ”People are stupid. They will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.”
That doesn’t mean you’re stupid or I’m stupid, just that collectively, we’re kind of dumb. Put another way by another wise character in popular culture, from the film Men in Black:
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.
This is what makes it so easy for demagogues from Hitler to McCarthy to Trump to certain local politicians to stir up support: create a boogeyman that people fear, and people will willingly believe your lies as long as you tell them what they want to hear (under the guise of “telling it as it is”).
The thing is, a demagogue doesn’t even have to be consistent in what he says: he can say one thing at first (“our anti-crime drive is doing well, crime is down”) to project one image and a contradicting thing later on (“There is a state of lawlessness, we should consider harsher methods.”) depending on how his goals change and what the particular audience wants to hear. It has the added benefit of making anyone who reports on it look bad and inciting conflict (because people never agree on what the demagogue means!)
While the Wizard’s First Rule is a saddening fact of human nature, we should take heart in the fact that despite humans being stupid and often being caught in the same traps, tyrants still fall and progress is eventually made and we somehow manage to muddle through and humanity survives long enough for the next crisis. (Although Trump’s climate change denial could seriously test that last part.)