How the GOP Uses Artificial Culture Conflicts to Stop Us from Solving Our Nation’s Serious Problems

Sometimes the most efficient way to get to a goal is not to focus solely on the goal itself but to remove the obstacles that are in the way.

The Critical Race Theory conflict reveals one of the most damaging effects of disinformation — that it becomes an obstacle that disrupts good faith discussions about how to solve our most difficult problems. The CRT conflict is causing discussions to veer away from understanding and solving racial justice issues. Instead, discussions go toward topics that Right Wing propagandists have chosen to help them win culture wars and votes.

As you think about this, be aware of how exactly the same process happens with climate change, vaccinations, gun regulation, voting rights and many other important issues — blocking us from even having good faith discussions — much less solving these problems.

I just went to a local discussion about racism. The subject of Critical Race Theory came up — naturally, because it is all over the news and currently is the most discussed topic on the subject of race.

It seemed like everyone in the discussion had a different understanding of what CRT is about and how it started. Many were sure that CRT must be the most popular theory about race that’s believed by most liberals. They reacted to the label by praising or explaining the most common liberal viewpoints — as if that must be the substance of CRT. However, prior to a few months or so ago, there were two popular liberal views about racism. Neither of them was CRT.

Robin DiAngelo is the most popular and successful diversity trainer and consultant in recent decades. Ibram Kendi is currently the second most popular expert in anti-racism. Here is a great review and critique of the ideas of both of these people.

The conservative reaction to the CRT label has usually been to claim that it’s very scary and bad and must be stopped. Right Wing politicians have given some hilarious answers to questions from journalists asking for a definition of CRT, which Right Wingers spend so much time bashing. The answers show that they know nothing about it. Most Right Wingers only know that they can use it as a tool to bash Democrats.

Right Wingers fear/hate monger with CRT — using stories about how Democrats might use CRT to control people — how they might try to harm schools, government and other institutions. The stories fit well into the constantly spread Right Wing propaganda theme of “Democrats are trying to harm you, control you and take your freedom away.” That is also the theme used to conduct Right Wing anti-vax and anti-environment campaigns.

People trying to communicate anything politically constructive often get drowned out by the propaganda in which we are immersed. Like most conversations our society sorely needs to have, the one about racial injustice has been hijacked by Right Wing propagandists who use it to lie, to fear/hate monger and to demonize Democrats.

Why are Right Wing politicians and pundits doing this? Many are con artists who repeat lies for power or money. They know very well they’re lying — serving “ Kool-Aid” to others, while drinking none of it themselves. Others do believe the lies they consume constantly within their own bubble.

Some Right Wingers actually are speaking and acting in good faith. That is, they are not trying to deceive anyone or to lie or harm anyone. But they still do deceive people, because they live in a bubble where they are immersed in and believe lies. One of the lies is that all Democrats are evil.

Tens of millions of people live in the Right Wing media bubble. In that bubble, Democrats — and Black Lives Matter activists, city and coastal dwellers, academics, scientists, mainstream media — and even military generals or Capitol Police officers who tell embarrassing truths about Trump or the Right Wing — are perceived as enemies of the Republican party.

These groups are demonized hundreds or thousands of times per year. As a result, Right Wing bubble dwellers unquestioningly believe all these groups and their actions to be evil — no matter how much real world evidence exists of their benevolence or integrity.

It should be no surprise that the latest version of the culture war around race was a conflict invented by a Right Wing activist. He didn’t create CRT. He was just the one who caused everyone to start talking about it in ways that keep us from solving racial justice problems.

Christopher Rufo is a Right Wing journalist who rose to fame by discovering CRT could be used as a tool in the culture wars that the Right Wing incites and fuels. These wars cause people to get upset, to feel aggrieved, and to blame Democrats — bringing votes and power to the GOP. The Right Wing started using CRT as a tool, and here we are. It comes up in every discussion of race now.

Rufo wrote that CRT is “the perfect villain.” Like many Right Wingers, he assumed Democrats were evil people, and then set out to confirm his own bias by seeing societal destruction by Democrats that existed only in his imagination. He looked for the evil influences he thought must be guiding Democrats. In this case, that turned out to be Marx — because Marx makes a great Communist boogie man for Right Wingers. CRT theorists wrote of having read Marx — among many other authors — so Rufo grabbed onto that tiny shred of fake evidence.

Since Rufo came up with this idea for Right Wing propaganda, it’s been spread far and wide. Here’s how the Right Wing uses fake local news sites to spread disinformation about CRT.

Right-wing operatives deploy massive network of fake local news sites to weaponize CRT

Right Wing media consumers have heard that Democrats are evil, far more times than they’ve seen the sun rise. By now, many of them have at least as much faith that Democrats are irredeemably evil, as they have that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Below is my essay describing how this type of disinformation works.

Few See How Propaganda Works — Here’s the Formula

Fundamentalist religious beliefs and habits — including those about evil — are a perfect fit for Right Wing politics and propaganda. This was recognized many decades ago. Powerful wealthy Right Wingers found ways to use that fit to their full advantage. Historian Kevin Kruse has written an excellent book on this subject. Here is an article describing it.

The Right Wing belief in evil Democrats is spread and fed by the Right Wing media bubble. The bubble constantly reports supposed “evidence” of evil actions by Democrats — consisting cherry picked news, lies and distortions. The belief in evil Dems is repeated thousands of times, with more and more supposed “proof”, until most consumers of Right Wing media end up accepting this characterization without question.

Rufo, Jordan Peterson, and many others have been catapulted to fame and fortune by Right Wing pundits and media, because they’ve found an audience for their own version of the “Dems are evil” meme.

Anyone who can pull together a following of people who can be persuaded to believe Right Wing ideas, may hit the jackpot. Any meme that shows promise as a tool to demonize Democrats or other perceived enemies of the Republican party, is particularly prized. The Right Wing is always on the lookout for memes to use to deceive hapless Right Wing media consumers into voting for the party that promises to protect them from supposedly evil Dems.

It’s not even the lies that are the most destructive aspect of disinformation. It’s the hate/fear mongering and demonization of perceived enemies. These strategies can make harmless people into “enemies” and can appear to justify any extremist actions taken against the perceived enemies, who are seen as the dangerous “Others” — and are believed to deserve any harsh or violent treatment that might be meted out to them.

The hate/fear mongering also stirs up listeners or readers emotionally. This causes target audiences to be even more easily influenced by the onslaught of lies and incitements to action. The emotional turmoil blocks critical thinking ability. Listeners can’t calmly evaluate the statements for truth or logic. They’re too upset to think clearly.

There are two very crowded roads commonly taken, with regard to Right Wing lies. One is to show disdain and mock those who believe them. The other is to report the lies — but only to preach to the “choir” who isn’t the target audience. Neither road does anything to expose the lies to the people being targeted by them.

Rather than mocking or looking down on “broken” Trump supporters who believe Right Wing lies, rather than mocking liberals who get dragged into bad faith discussions about Critical Race Theory, we can take the road less traveled. We can move to disable the propaganda machine.

It’s difficult to convert someone who is immersed in the Right Wing media bubble. In fact it may be, in most cases, impossible to do on a one-to-one basis. We need systemic solutions to this systemic problem.

Talking With Trump Supporters — Don’t

Here’s a systemic solution that already has proven it works, in a different context.

However, there are ways we can have impact, on an individual one-to-one level. We can make people around us aware of ways in which Trump supporters are no different from the rest of us. We can discourage people from mocking them. We can also discourage people and organizations who are throwing away their resources and efforts, by debunking the lies to the “choir” — that is, to other liberals who would not believe Right Wing media lies anyway. We can withdraw attention and support from the well meaning individuals and organizations that do this. We can explain why.

With regard to the work that must be done on the systems level, we can push organizations to take effective measures to solve the problem, We can support them when they do.

Open Letter to Liberal Donors: Please Consider Donating to Create Missing Liberal Institutions

I write and phone my Democratic Senators and Representatives, liberal organizations and philanthropists. I ask them to solve our propaganda problems as our military does during war, as explained by the article several paragraphs earlier. Please join me.

Democratic politicians very much need to start following better quality advice about this and other matters.

Democratic politicians definitely need to use talking points in mainstream media, to counteract Republican lies — which now dominate not just Right Wing media, but also mainstream media. This happens due to the GOP using talking points and Dems not using them.

In the current situation, with CRT, if Dems used talking points, they could get equal time in mainstream media, for important points made by Democrats about race. Instead, Dems have ended up on the defensive — reacting to the Right Wing talking points about CRT that are flooding mainstream media now — guessing it must be the main popular liberal theory about race, even though it is not.

How Democrats Can Get Better Media Coverage to Help Us Move Forward & Defeat More Republicans

How the rest of us view people who are getting conned by Right Wing media, is very important. If we see Trump voters as racist, insane, stupid, evil or broken people, we may feel they are beyond hope or uninfluenceable.

That’s not the case. Have you ever been conned, even just by buying a product or service that didn’t measure up to the company’s advertising? Should you have known better? Maybe. Does just about everyone in the world get conned like this at some time? Yes. The rest of us are no different than Trump supporters in that way.

Democratic voters who have given up in Trump voters usually don’t pressure Democratic Congress members or other Democratic officials to do more effective messaging. They don’t ask or push wealthy Democratic donors or foundations to fund more outreach or more effective liberal messaging — done at the same massive scale and to the same target audience to which the Right Wing spreads lies. They don’t discuss or notice the need for missing liberal institutions, because they’ve given up on expanding the Democratic base.

But, you may say, “I don’t believe that hearing statements repeated over and over causes people to believe them.” Or “I think this only causes people to believe lies if they are crazy, ignorant, uneducated, stupid, previously racist, or evil — or if they already want to believe e.g. that vaccines are dangerous or take away their freedom.”

Not so. Although some people may be somewhat more vulnerable to believing lies than others are, it can work on anyone. You don’t believe that? Well, have a look at the research.

See. Everyone believes lies sometimes. There’s no need to be ashamed about that. What needs to happen is for all of us to learn the truth. The idea that no one believes Right Wing propaganda unless they are crazy or stupid — that’s untrue. It’s a lie that is being spread all over liberal and Democratic social media, as well as by people conversing in person with their friends. This lies is spread mostly by well intentioned people who think the lie is true.

Also being spread is the idea that people only believe lies that they want to believe. A look at the film The Brainwashing of My Dad shows one example, and discusses others, of people who didn’t want to believe what Right Wing media was saying. They just started consuming it at some point, assuming it was objective news — and the Illusory Truth Effect took hold, as it normally does, whether people want to believe the lies or not.

Belief in this lie is due at least in part to the common human error in thinking called the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Here’s an explanation of the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to think that other people’s actions are caused by their personalities, rather than by their circumstances. Lee Ross made an important contribution to humanity by revealing this error. If more people were aware of it, that would be even better.

In this case, the error in thinking takes the form of believing that only people who have certain characteristics — stupid, insane, gullible etc. — can fall for propaganda. Most people outside the Right Wing media bubble guess wrong about how easy it is for someone to believe lies due to their experiences . That is, Trump supporters believe lies because they experience numerous repetitions of them — as the Illusory Truth Effect predicts.

The mistaken belief that Right Wing media consumers believe lies because of their personalities — not because of the constant repetitions of the lies — is the kind of belief that Right Wing propagandists must be overjoyed for liberals to have. Why? The effects of disinformation reveal themselves in how we feel and what we do . The usual result of this particular piece of false information is exactly what Right Wingers would like liberals to feel and do. And the Right Wing doesn’t even have to spread the disinfo. We’re doing it to ourselves.

How does this belief that Trump supporters are stupid or insane make people feel about people who believe Right Wing lies? People feel like giving up on people who are conned by lies. Many think it’s the person’s own fault and that they don’t deserve help or the truth. People mock conned people and laugh at them and feel superior to them — as if the laughing people never believed any lies themselves. People give up on supporting systems solutions that could convert the conned people to belief in truth and/or believing liberal views.

Instead of doing that, and making the Right Wing happy because all is clear for them to keep conning people, we need to go forward to solutions for racial justice and other issues.

Part of the solution to racial justice and other important issues is clearing the gigantic propaganda obstacles out of the way. We can do this both by making other people in our own network aware of the realities of the situation and of the Illusory Truth Effect. We can also do it by pushing organizations to apply systemic solutions, similar to the solutions the military already uses to counteract propaganda that occurs during the course of wars.




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