The day after the election a man wearing a gun in a pizza joint during lunch was crowing to me, “We elected ‘im!” Alabamians – gun-toting and otherwise – did vote overwhelmingly for Trump. But it was not just Alabama, was it? Every rural area in the country voted for Trump. Big money has run over the Democrats since Reagan, crushed lower-income people and used the resulting disillusionment to build a coalition based on ignorance and resentment. The Right-wing propagandists have convinced people who often rely on government services to vote to destroy that government or at least disable it. In the wake of Trump’s victory, the victims of Republican propaganda view themselves as independent, heroic figures, when they are, in fact, pitifully manipulated.
We have moved from the cynical, ironic message of Reagan’s “trickle down” to blatant “us vs. them” delusions. “We had to do whatever it took to get elected” is an insult to all Americans and a con on those who struggle to survive in a market rigged by a greedy ruling class. It is a raw power grab using the time-tested language of demagogues. Trump, the consummate opportunist, probably does not realize the implications of the methods employed to move him into the White House. But the purveyors of the filth The Right calls a “message” understand. They know that propaganda creeps into the open spaces of a mind like pornography until one can feel the hate growing. They know that the target/victim of the message is so tired of fear that the hate seems empowering. They know that demagoguery succeeds when propaganda replaces responsible public discourse.
Consider this from Mother Jones about Trump’s classical use of the four tenets of propaganda: Dismiss, Distract, Distort, Dismay.
“Dismiss: Dismissing uncomfortable allegations or facts is second nature to most politicians. When nine women accused Trump of groping or kissing them without their consent, he first accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of orchestrating the allegations. A day later, during the third presidential debate, he claimed, falsely, ‘Those stories have been largely debunked.’ Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly dismissed the press as ‘scum,’ ‘horrible people,’ and ‘dishonest.’
“Distract: Another way propagandists dodge facts is to throw out distracting stories or counterclaims…Trump’s standout moment of distraction came when he was asked about the Access Hollywood video during the second presidential debate. Rather than addressing his taped boasts of grabbing women ‘by the pussy’, he went after Bill Clinton. ‘There’s never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women,’ he said. Then he pivoted to Hillary Clinton, accusing her of attacking her husband’s accusers ‘viciously’…
“Distort: If you don’t like the facts, invent your own…As has been well documented, Trump is shameless about distorting his (and other people’s) record. (Trump has earned three full pages of Pants on Fire ratings from Politifact.) Let’s look at his claims about his years long crusade to prove that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. In September, Trump said he believed the president was born in the United States and tried to pin the ugly birther episode on Clinton. ‘Her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,’ Trump claimed. ‘I finished it.’
“Dismay: The final tool in the propagandist’s tool kit is the least subtle. If you don’t like what somebody is planning politically, scare them off. Trump’s use of this tactic could be heard in the mantralike ‘Lock her up’ chants at his campaign rallies. At the second debate, he openly threatened Clinton, warning her that, ‘If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.’ When she responded that it was ‘awfully good’ that someone with Trump’s temperament was not in charge of the law in the country, he interjected, ‘Because you’d be in jail.’”
So, one dismisses, distracts, distorts and dismays, fills the internet with lies and normalizes the lunatic fringe. Ignorance spreads like a deadly infection. And just enough citizens gleefully toss their votes into the maw of greed and destruction to elect the dimwitted Trump. Perhaps Thomas Frank described it best in his 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas:
“The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meat-packing. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”
I am reminded of James Agee’s masterwork, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which he described a young couple on their porch as having in their eyes “so quiet and ultimate a quality of hatred, and contempt, and anger, toward every creature in existence beyond themselves, and toward the damages they sustained, as shone scarcely short of a state of beatitude.” Some 80 years later we have re-created that Depression-era class and Trump’s band of propagandists and political operatives has put them to use. FDR and depression-era reforms – gained after decades of social strife and deprivation beginning in the 19th century Gilded Age – lifted up the great unwashed described by Agee, laid the foundation for a durable middle class that saved the world from totalitarianism and built a prosperous, egalitarian society. The Plutocrats who have hijacked the Republican Party will destroy our Republic unless they are stopped.
I don’t understand what The Right hopes to accomplish by employing demagoguery and hate to win elections, except to gather and retain power for that quiet collection of Plutocrats (along with some crumbs for themselves). I cannot see what social good is done by unbridled capitalism. How can it promote self-rule? If – like those low-income, poorly educated citizens targeted by Trump’s campaign – I believe the message of hate employed by The Right, then how do I expect the purveyors of that message to rise above it? How do I rise above it? There are no goals presented, only a willingness to divide our citizens and win at all cost. Win what? What victory could be worth risking the destruction of a free society?
The problem for our Republic is that the Plutocrats now have in place through the internet the infrastructure to spew propaganda and its attendant divisiveness and hate. And where is the answer? We promote civil rights and lose the South. We promote a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, gun control, action on climate change and we somehow cede the moral high ground and elect a thieving philandering sexual predator to the presidency. The first Clinton, who actually became president, had it right when he said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It is time for the Democratic Party, or its successor, to return to the real work of regulation and redistribution on behalf of the working majority, the people we Democrats have forgotten. Let’s invite back our old working class friends that we have treated poorly, have ignored for too long. Let’s fight for real economic reform – a $15 minimum wage, stronger unions, a single-payer healthcare system. And let’s fight for pride in our work and for economic justice. Hard working people – when treated as equals – are much more likely to accept and even welcome cultural change; to welcome economic and social justice.
And to stop wearing guns into pizza joints.