(leading folks away just as the one of old did at Hamelin)

We doubt many people today recall the story about the Pied Piper of Hamelin. It was a cautionary tale about what happens when leadership fails to keep its word, or stick to a deal made in good faith.

For those who don’t here’s the gist of it: Back in medieval times the German town of Hamelin found itself infested with a swarm of rats, and nothing the civic leaders tried could rid it of these. Finally, in desperation, they turned to a migrant Pied Piper who claimed he could do it for them…for a price. That is, a few gold coins for his purse, and the right to stay in their town for a while to panhandle by playing his pipe (a pennywhistle kind of flute) for folks willing to pay for a tune.

The civic leaders were not very keen about his offer nor did they much care for what they considered his excessive demands. Normally they ran panhandling migrants like him right out of town, but, his claim that the enticing sounds he could produce on his pipe would lure all those rats away was too strong to ignore, so they finally agreed to his terms for the deal.

So the piper began going through the town, and before anyone could blink, every rat of that swarm paraded behind him as he led them right out of town down to the river’s edge, where they all fell in…and drowned. Returning in triumph to City Hall, he then bowed politely to the civic leadership asking for the reward they had agreed to for his services. But these worthies decided to renege on the deal, and ordered their city guards to run him out of town instead.

Naturally the Pied Piper didn’t take kindly to this kind of rude treatment, nor did he care much for having been scammed out of his fee after an honest day’s service with such good results. So…he marched right back into town and went through all its streets now playing a different tune on his pipe. This one was so enticing it soon had every child in town running out to hear that marvelous tune he was playing, and following him everywhere he went. Before anyone realized what was happening he then led all those children right out of town, over the bridge that crossed the river, marching them down the highway and soon out of sight…and none of them were ever heard of or seen again.

Of course, being a cautionary one, the tale ends at this point, so we don’t know how the unhappy citizens of Hamelin reacted to this loss of all their children, all because their civic leaders didn’t keep good faith with the deal they had made. The odds are, however, that those bozos were given their just deserts by these irate citizens, perhaps with tar and feathers and a fast ride on a rail right out of town as well…just like with all those rats.

In some ways the wave of populism  flowing across our world today has strong parallels to this story about the Pied Piper of Hamelin, because it comes from a massive swell of discontent with the status quo…made by career politicos forever reneging on deals they know they can’t, or won’t, keep. Thus, slick blue-suede shoe pitchmen both here in America and elsewhere, are now seizing the opportunity to use that discontent for their own benefit and their own ends, by promising to lead folks on paths to all sorts of rose gardens.

Those paths however are illusory, and rather than any rose gardens, such populist paths only lead folks into quagmires of xenophobic nationalism from which they can rarely ever return, and worse yet, are then likely to  find themselves in places where everything that isn’t forbidden…is strictly compulsory.

In short…much like the story of the Pied Piper…populism rarely has a happy ending.