Editorial note: Before anyone goes hyperbolic, imagining that this is a comparison of anyone today to the Nazis, get that it isn’t. The issue is propaganda, and you need to be clear about what that means to you.
I recently visited the Field Museum in Chicago to see the exhibit, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” It is a special production of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and this visit was my second time reviewing the material. I came away with a shocking realization.
The Nazis were early masters of manipulation through words and images and they managed to cow an entire nation into support of or, at the very least, indifference to their aggression and brutality. The exhibit is about how they went about messaging that.
First, some basics about propaganda from the exhibit.
- – Uses truths, half-truths or lies
- – Omits information selectively
- – Simplifies complex issues or ideas
- – Plays on emotions
- – Advertises a cause
- – Attacks opponents
- – Targets [tailors its message to individual] desired audiences
A fine point about the propaganda of attacking opponents is the accusation that opponents are the ones doing the terrible things that the propagandist attempts to create. For example, the Nazis falsely accused the Jews of trying to gain world domination. They claimed that the German people were the poor victims of this fictitious attempt, leaving Germany the only option of all-out war to stop the takeover. Bear in mind that this claim was made while Hitler was leading Germany in a quest to dominate the world for 1,000 years (“Deutschland Uber Alles”). That kind of claim allowed citizens to feel justified in supporting German atrocities. That is to say, the propaganda of attacking the opponent by accusation worked.
In response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this year, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) made a quick reply, emphasizing the need for jobs for Americans. There is truth to that claim. However, in the same breath he accused the President of being ineffective at creating the conditions to promote jobs, asking the question, “Where are the jobs, Mr. President?”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave the formal Tea Party response to the President’s speech and asked exactly the same question, “Where are the jobs, Mr. President?” Interesting, that they used exactly the same words. I wonder how that happened.
Now, that’s pretty good propaganda, accusing their opponent, President Obama, of poor performance regarding job creation. There’s just one thing: President Obama has promoted job creation with ideas for infrastructure work, hiring incentives and several jobs bills. Nearly every one has been shot down by – guess who – John Boehner and Rand Paul using the propaganda of attacking opponents by accusation.
President Obama has repeatedly promoted comprehensive immigration reform. When that wasn’t possible he proposed bite-sized pieces (e.g. The Dream Act). Now Republican leadership is blaming the President for the lack of immigration reform, this even as John Boehner has blocked any action on this issue yet again. Once again, the propaganda of attacking opponents by accusation rears its ugly head.
In Nazi Germany propaganda helped to incrementally take away rights, property, freedom and the lives of the “undesirables,” the Jews, the Communists, the gypsies and others. Hmmm, incrementally taking away rights . . . that sounds disturbingly familiar.
Republican state legislatures and governors are crusading to create voter ID laws in over 30 states. They claim that their purpose is to stop the epidemic of voter fraud that plagues and pollutes our elections. And they say that people have to show ID to get on an airplane, so why not when they vote?
They have successfully created a boogeyman for we good people to fear and hate, those who are cheating our voting system. That plays effectively on our emotions. And that propaganda uses half-truths and lies quite effectively. But let’s look at the truth.
Investigation after investigation has shown that voter fraud is infinitesimal, bordering on non-existent.
Of course, it is true that we all have to show a government issued picture ID to get on an airplane. On the other hand, air travel is not a Constitutionally guaranteed right. Voting is. The comparison is nothing more than the propaganda of selective information and playing on emotions.
Clearly, voter suppression laws are being attempted for reasons other than to stop non-existent voter fraud. And it has been amply demonstrated that such laws will overwhelmingly restrict the voting of poor people, minorities, the young and the elderly, all of whom but the elderly vote mostly for Democrats.
Now who do you suppose would benefit from restricting voting as these Republican controlled legislatures are attempting to do?
Actually, that’s the kind of question to ask about any of these and dozens of other propaganda-laced issues. As always, stick to the advice of Deep Throat: “Follow the money” to find out who benefits.
And dig through the layers, because stopping at identifying the politicians who benefit from such manipulation gives the big kahunas a free pass. Ask who doles out cash to those legislative beneficiaries? What do they get out of rigging the system by manipulating you with propaganda? And to whom do those people answer and how do they benefit from the half-truths and lies?
My shocking realization following the museum visit was about how pervasive propaganda is, how it has become slicker over the years but the basics haven’t changed. Don’t imagine for a moment that propaganda became a thing of the past with the demise of Nazi Germany and later of the Soviet Union. It’s being played on you every day.
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same. Thanks. JA
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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