Propaganda in America 2016

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The attacks on the planet, civil liberties and human rights are at the core of the American profit-driven, hierarchically-based governing system. While the ultra-rich keep prospering, large swaths of the population are disenfranchised. The tenures of Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic President Bill Clinton largely fortified and accelerated these assaults, exemplifying the bipartisan collusion of the elites against regular Americans.

Much has been written about the unprecedented inequality in the United States. An additional marker of a society in crisis is the status of the mental health of its population. With policies that have led to the privatization of prisons and health care, the deregulation of an already privatized pharmaceutical industry and a defunding of public mental health clinics, the nation is currently plagued by a mental health crisis that is reflected in a devastating heroin epidemic.

But how can a system maintain legitimacy while riddled with such gross corruption and inequality?

 

State means of control

The modern state relies on several techniques to control its populace. Data emanating from research in social psychology, linguistics and behavioral neuroscience has coalesced into a grasp of the workings of the human mind, and how it can be manipulated, i.e. the science of propaganda. This knowledge can be used by commercial corporations to encourage consumption of their products, and is often employed by the state as a means to present a convincible alternative truth, when the real truth is deemed inadequate.

Whether it is to promote racism and scapegoating, war or the virtues of a particular politician, the techniques are the same: present biased or partial information to the public to promote a political cause and/or to divert attention from failings that have led to injustice and are likely to rouse dissent that would threaten the regime.

But propaganda does not work on everybody. Some people see past the lies and distortions and are either complicit or discontent with the status quo. The latter are either victims of state repression that cannot be ignored or explained away, or intellectuals who study the mechanisms of state repression and propaganda. In order to quell these dissidents, the state enacts policies of surveillance, scapegoating, and criminalization that may lead to incarceration or even assassination.

A useful way of assessing the legitimacy of a democratically-elected regime is to examine the extent to which it relies on propaganda to maintain control. It is clear that with growing injustice comes more dissent, which forces the state to either confront the roots of injustice or increase its propaganda to subdue the populace. The militarization of American police forces signifies an acknowledgement of the limitations of repression by propaganda and a shift by the state toward reliance on traditional violence for control.

 

Propaganda then and now

One infamous American propaganda campaign was red-baiting, which reached its zenith during the term of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Red-baiting served the American profit-driven capitalist state well, as any persons categorized as communists/socialists, i.e. advocates for worker rights, were silenced in one way or another.

It is no coincidence that Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been recently ramping up the use of anti-Russian rhetoric, a close relative of red-baiting. This form of propaganda evokes visceral fear reactions in Americans, who share a collective memory of its disastrous effects on individuals and society during the cold war. Fear typically drives people to seek guidance and protection from a strong man/woman. Currently, it is meant to prepare Americans for the possibility of confrontation with Russia and to divert attention from the incriminating information that WikiLeaks is releasing about Hillary Clinton and her shady dealings.

In roughly one week, the highly stratified American society of 2016, in which lying is idealized, truth-telling villainized, and selfishness hailed as a virtue will choose its next President, which will likely be one of two of the most unpopular candidates ever to run for President. It is evident that in any scenario, Americans can expect a bombardment of propaganda aimed at frightening and rupturing attempts at creating democratic collectives that may serve as alternatives to the corporate state. As the events at Standing Rock Sioux demonstrate well, when traditional propaganda fails the state will resort to violent repression.