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Saturday, 23 July 2016

The 9-Point Guide To Deciphering Political Propaganda

David Galland
GarrentGalland.com

Given we are eyeballs-deep in the US presidential election cycle, now seems a particularly appropriate time to share some observations on the topic of political propaganda. 

As a naturally curious fellow, some years ago - during the Clinton vs. Bush Senior contest - I became interested in the language and techniques used in political campaigning. So much so that I dedicated my daily study period to the topic for the better part of a week.

Since it will be impossible to escape the rhetorical onslaught for the next few months, I thought I might be able to shed some light on what goes on in the battle for your subconscious. 

As these insights come from the well-worn pages of playbooks of every politician around the world, I think they are pretty much timeless and cross all borders.

At the core of what I learned in my studies is that the stock and trade of the propagandist revolves around trying to simplify issues, no matter how complex, into easily understood concepts that tap into the existing attitudes and emotions of the target audience.

As an aside, since this topic touches on politics, I may inadvertently gore your ox. For the record, I view most politicians and political parties with disdain, though my disdain is particularly elevated for politicians espousing policies that interfere with my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

With that brief introduction, here are just some of the techniques you can watch for as the election season gains steam.

1. Use stereotypes.

 
This technique has probably been in active use since humans lived in caves. Successfully drape the opponent in the cloak of a stereotype that triggers a negative image, and you’ve done a good day’s work as a propagandist.

Depending on which side of the political spectrum you swing to, you might trot out old favorites such as “rich fat cat,” or “friend of Wall Street,” or “big-government socialist,” or any one of many handy sterotypes. These stereotypes allow you to instantly tap into powerful underlying prejudices and emotions.

And, for the record, it is a well-documented fact that when we humans are emotionally worked up, we become much more suspectible to follow-on political messaging.

2. Name substitution.

 
The propagandist will try to label the opponent with an unflattering, and memorable, term. If that is successful, the label will involuntarily come to mind at the sight of the opponent. Donald Trump is the reigning champion of this technique, using name substitution like a two-by-four against his opponents.

Every time Elizabeth Warren’s name comes up, my mind automatically substitutes her name with Pocahontas and I have to smile. On the other side of the contest, the Hillary camp has been trying to stick Trump with the “bully” label. I expect to see a lot more of that.

3. Selection.

 
Out of a mass of complex facts, the propagandist selects only those that are suitable for his or her purpose. You wouldn’t expect Trump to mention his past bankruptcies, or Hillary her long list of crimes.


There is, actually, an instance where Trump might want to mention his bankruptcies. Folks in the influence business—including trial lawyers—use a technique called “inoculation” where, knowing your opponent is going to come after you on a point, you bring it up first and therefore diffuse it.

“My opponent, Crooked Hillary, is probably going to mention the fact that I have had some businesses go bankrupt many years ago. She’s right. 

“When you’re involved in the rough and tumble world of business, sometimes things just aren’t going to work out, and so you have to do what you have to do to protect your employees and buy some time to pay your debts. 

But here’s the important thing to remember. I’ve run businesses—big businesses—ever since I was 19 years old. And Crooked Hillary? She’s a lawyer and never ran a single business. Not once. And that’s the problem with American politics… too many lawyers and not enough business folks!”

4. Downright lying.

 
The “big lie” has always been an important part of propaganda.

Remember the woman who came forward to tell Congress about Iraqi soldiers raping and hacking their way through a maternity ward in Kuwait as part of the campaign to get the US to invade? The politicians got emotionally involved in the story and so, per my earlier comments, were made more susceptible to the idea of invading Iraq.

Turned out the woman was the daughter of a high-ranking Kuwaiti official who had been enlisted by a PR firm, and her story was completely fabricated.

Not so long ago, Bloomberg ginned up a story claiming Trump had invited thug and convicted rapist Mike Tyson to address the Republican convention.

Baseless nonsense dreamed up by soulless PR cretins, and nothing more.

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