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Last But Not Least! Politics and The Tall Poppy Syndrome

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
2 min read
Last But Not Least! Politics and 
The Tall Poppy Syndrome
Photo by Dr. George Macer

Table of Contents

The Wall Street Journal (1/25/23) published an article regarding Governor Ron DeSantis as a frontrunner along with Donald Trump in the GOP race for the presidential election (see, "Ron DeSantis Becomes Focus of Attacks From 2024 GOP Presidential Hopefuls.") The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is mentioned in the last sentence. "Last but not least" as far as I am concerned. The author's recognition of TPS in politics is reassuring since the syndrome's presence therein is ubiquitous although mainly unrecognized.

The term originates from an account by the great Greek historian Herodotus' The Histories. Accordingly, Periander ruled over Corinth, Greece, in the 6th century BC. Thrasybulus of Miletus, an ancient Greek city considered among the greatest and wealthiest, was an ally of  Periander.

Periander sought out Thrasybulus' advice on dominion. Thrasybulus escorted the messenger to a field of wheat and cut off the tallest ears of wheat. The message: preempt challenges to rule by cutting down prominent people powerful enough to defy.

Livy's History of Rome would use the metaphor in a similar circumstance but specify poppies instead of wheat. Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last King of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, sent a messenger to his father asking what his next move should be in order to gain stature in the neighboring town of Gabii. Tarquin went into his garden, took a stick, and cut off the heads of the tallest poppies. The messenger returned to Gabii and told Sextus what he had seen. Sextus understood that his father intimated that the prominent people of Gabii must be killed.

Thusly, TPS's original description was in a political context in Ancient Greece and Rome. Since then, governments have continued to cut down the opposition, literally and figuratively, throughout the world and in all times. Glaring examples are found in kingdoms, dictatorships, and the "isms" such as communism.

The entity is relatively unrecognized in America, especially politics. Our democracy does not prevent our government from cutting people down. I devoted an entire chapter of examples and case reports of  TPS by the US government in my book (see, The Tall Poppy Syndrome -The Joy of Cutting Others Down).

In many circumstances the three letter departments such as DOJ, FBI, and IRS do the cutting while our leaders appear as Angels. Another layer of cutting consists of parties cutting down the other party. Not to be outdone, parties cut down their own especially during the primaries.

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.