Americans have turned their ship of state in a new direction, but will we be able to rein in what we have unleashed? Democracy is a participation sport. Sitting on the bench is a no-win position.
We see the “new” Washington elites following their leader, playing propaganda cards to promote confusion. Our media falters, shell-shocked by this betrayal of our country’s values — values that kept us a free republic for over 200 years.
First example, Reince Priebus using a double-negative response to confuse and cause retreat. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff responds to a simple question with “I don’t know if that is not true.” Compare this to a man accusing his wife of cheating using the same argument. “Well, I don’t know if that is not true.” This is an excuse to believe what you want to believe. The definition of post-truth is the willingness to believe based on emotion instead of fact. That is what Priebus was gaming for. Hopefully, Americans were not duped.
Another prevalent disinformation technique modeled after the president is to precede an opinion with “Many people believe…” or “Many people are saying….” This bandwagon sales technique is as old as snake oil and implies there is truth to the statement just because “many people believe” it. I remember my father’s apt warning, “Just because everybody believes they should jump off a cliff, would you believe it too?”
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Another similar argument comes from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Trump. “Well, since Trump is our president-elect, if he said it, it must be presidential.” Excuse me. Does she think Americans are stupid? This is propaganda, not logic. No one would argue, if Hillary Clinton were our president, that the “basket of deplorables” comment is presidential. Conway was deflecting criticism and putting us on notice that questioning what our president says or does will not be tolerated. So much for our American values.
Next, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said, “Better to get your news from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” Meanwhile, Trump’s mistruths cannot be totaled using both hands.
Steve Bannon echoed this sentiment with “The media should…keep its mouth shut.” And Trump recently tweeted that any negative polls are fake news. What Orwellian America are they trying to create?
Is this a turning point in the wrong direction? The answer is yes, if we permit it. We must not permit it. It is our duty to call them out on this. Call it out to our family, friends and neighbors. The propaganda toolbox is powerfully subversive. We have opened Pandora’s propaganda box by accepting the president’s use of these tricks, emboldening others to do so. Citizens must call out and rein in this dishonesty because it threatens our democracy. All citizens must recognize fallacy. All, as patriots, must question authority and demand honesty and integrity in our representatives.
Barbara Thiele is a retired teacher of English and journalism.