There are many complex technical analyses of the propaganda being conducted and reported, both propaganda on social media and in traditional media. They’re necessary and great to have.
But some aspects of propaganda are simple to see, if we look carefully through the lenses of psychology. Those are the aspects I focus on here.
Suppose you are a Right Wing propagandist. Here is the simple formula you can use to construct the kinds of anti-Democrat and pro-Right Wing propaganda we are currently immersed in.
- A Democrat does or says something, or maybe even fails to say or do something in a situation when they supposedly should. Or someone who can be associated with the Left says or does something — for example, a minority person, immigrant, mainstream media person, college professor, university administrator, city person, or a person who lives on one of the coasts and can therefore be labeled as a “coastal elite.” Actually, the organization can even be “government” because Right Wingers have a way of making sure that “government” is identified only with Democrats. Republicans often campaign successfully by claiming to be anti-government, even if they’re incumbents. There is some truth to the GOP being ant-government, because Republicans in office often work to destroy government and make it dysfunctional.
- As a propagandist, your job is to do what I would call “sour cherry picking” — to screen out all constructive words and actions of Democrats, and all constructive attitudes toward words and actions of Democrats, and to choose only the words, actions, images and attitudes that make Democrats look bad. If there you can’t find any actions that make Democrats look bad, then make up a straw man — just lying about what Democrats say or do. For example, you can tell people that Biden is going to take away all your guns. You can say Hillary Clinton says she is in favor of open borders or that she runs a child trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza parlor.
- For example, you may think of reasons why words or actions supposedly prove that the actual or imagined Democrat is weak, stupid, incompetent, dangerous, controlling, divisive, racist, elitist, deceptive, phony, dishonest, partisan, irresponsible or hypocritical.
Maybe you decide these words or actions “prove” that the actual or imagined Democrat is intolerant or a snowflake or excessively politically correct. Or that the Dem is failing to support the military or is weak on defense or crime, while Republicans are “for law and order” and “defending our nation from foreign threats.” Or if Democrats or others try to hold Republicans accountable for crimes they commit, you can say they are just being “partisan” or “polarizing” or “playing the blame game.”
If Democrats criticize McConnell, you may claim that this criticism means Democrats love to bash and despise McConnell. Of course, the truth is that if McConnell didn’t act in anti-democratic and corrupt ways, Democrats would likely criticize him very little. But a Right Wing propagandist can’t admit that. That’s because their job entails bashing Democrats and glorifying Republicans. Propagandists can’t say things that don’t meet those goals.
Or your claim can “prove” that the person or organization that disagrees with Trumpers is against freedom or violates rights to free speech. This fits in well with a constant Right Wing meme: that Democrats want to harm non-Democratic Americans and take away their freedom. For example, there’s a talking point about Democrats wanting to take away everyone’s guns, leaving them defenseless against a big cruel government. Maybe you “prove” that the person or organization is Communist and/or is in favor of “big intrusive government”, just like in Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia. Or that they’re against private enterprise.
Maybe you can pretend to prove that they hate or insult working class people, white people or Christians. Making people feel like victims goes together with fear/hate mongering. It scares people into voting Republican and never voting Democrat, because voters identify with their supposed protector party and reject their supposed persecutor.
Your claim might also “prove” that Democrats are failing to take responsibility for their actions, trying to bankrupt the nation by giving out “free stuff”, or acting as socialists or Communists who will turn the U.S. into the USSR or Mao’s China etc. If what the person did or said doesn’t seem to prove any of these things, even a little bit, just grab something from the above list and claim it’s true.
Bashing “government” as wasteful, incompetent, corrupt, harmful etc. is very useful propaganda for the purpose of discouraging likely Democratic voters from voting. If such views were true, what would be the point in voting? The only point would be to vote for someone who is going to severely limit or destroy this parasite that government supposedly is. So this same propaganda that discourages Democrats, gets Right Wing voters to go to the polls — to vote for anti-government GOP politicians. When most voters stay home, and others vote for politicians who claim government is evil, Republicans win elections.
4. Always include some little bit of truth that you can point to when challenged. Mix it in with a generous helping of lies. For example, if you want to accuse Hillary Clinton of murder, it’s going to be easy to find some member of her very large social or political circle who was murdered or committed suicide. Use that and say Hillary killed them.
If you want to accuse her of child sex trafficking ring, find an email where she mentioned going to a pizza place for lunch and claim that the email she wrote is a secret code that really is about running the trafficking ring.
If someone in her large social or political circle shoots himself and the blood splatters all over the place, note that some of it splattered slightly upwards from the point of the wound. Use that. Say over and over “Blood doesn’t flow uphill” as a way of “proving” that it was murder by Clinton, not suicide.
5. Repeat your points over & over, throwing in any kind of fear mongering, resentment inciting or hate mongering you can come up with. This focus on fears, resentments and hatred can be a way of catering to people’s vices so intensely that they begin to think their vices are virtues. People can get very attached to, and identified with, a political tribe that spoils them in this way.
The intense emotions will also shut down the critical thinking areas of the brain. You need to do that to get people to believe your lies easily. Repeat in Right Wing media until all Right Wingers believe it.
For propaganda aimed at liberals, use the emotions of discouragement and guilt to try to get them to stop their activism and assertiveness and to be passive instead. Tell them the U.S. is irreparably damaged, and that it’s hopeless to think Dems can win elections. Give them “advice” that everything they actively do or could do to stand up for themselves against fascism is wrong — or incivil or or cruelly unfair to Republicans, or will surely lose elections for them due to “backlash.”
6. Don’t worry a bit about being inconsistent. The only consistency necessary is that Democrats are always to be painted in a negative light. For example, Biden can be painted one day as a brutal dictator who will put us all in FEMA camps. The next day, or even hour, he can be painted as ineffectual and weak in some policy situation. No problem. The part of the human brain you are aiming at here is very simple. It understands good/bad. It’s not processing anything more complex than that.
That’s it. Five simple steps do it.
Since mainstream media hire many Right Wingers as columnists and invite Right Wingers on their shows as guests for “balance”, it will be a simple matter to repeat these points over and over again in mainstream media too, until Democrats and mainstream media journalists believe them, as “conventional wisdom.” There isn’t any competition from the Left, because people on the Left don’t construct or repeat talking points. What’s repeated is what’s remembered. This is done successfully a lot. Here are some examples.
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When statements are repeated, people tend to believe them — even if they don’t necessarily make sense to other people who aren’t hearing those ideas repeated constantly. This is called the Illusory Truth Effect.
Illusory truth effect
The illusory truth effect (also known as the illusion of truth effect, validity effect, truth effect, or the…
Here is the formula that the Right Wing seems to be using to construct the pro-Trump and pro-Right Wing propaganda we are currently immersed in.
- Trump, McConnell, some other Republican, or someone who can be associated with the Right Wing — for example, a Christian Right leader or a white supremacist — does or says something.
2. As the propagandist, your job is to think of a reason why this proves the Right Winger’s action is courageous, brilliant, historic, a unique way to solve a huge problem that’s never been tried before, well intentioned, skillful, genuine, fair, a sign that he’s on the side of working people fulfilling his promises and doing everything he said he would do etc. If what they did or said doesn’t seem to prove any of these even a little bit, just grab a positive description and make something up about why you are claiming the Right Winger’s action fits that description.
3. Repeat your points over and over, with lavish praise. Always include a tiny bit of truth that you can point to when challenged — something Trump or a Right Winger actually did or said or proposed — and mix it with a generous helping of lies.
4. Repeat over & over. Repeat in Right Wing media until all Right Wingers believe it, throwing in any excitement or love for our dear leader you can. You can also throw in fear mongering, resentment or hate mongering toward Democrats who are so mean that they criticize our dear leaders, so mean that they try to prevent Republicans from helping the working people. The intense emotion will shut down the critical thinking areas of the brain. You need to do that to get people to believe your lies easily.
Since mainstream media hire many Right Wingers as columnists and invite Right Wingers on their shows as guests for “balance”, it will be a simple matter to also repeat these point over and over again in mainstream media, until Democrats and mainstream media journalists believe them, as “conventional wisdom.” For example, refer to Barr’s propaganda letter as if it were Mueller’s report and testimony, until a lot of people believe this.
5. Don’t worry a bit about being inconsistent. The only consistency necessary is that Trump and Republicans are always to be painted in a positive light. For example, Trump can be painted one day as a tough courageous fearless leader who will fight strongly for the working class. The next day, or even hour, he can be painted as a sensitive guy who is trying so very hard to make America great again, but all Democrats and mainstream media do is put him down and hurt his tender sensitive feelings. No problem. The part of the human brain you are aiming at here is very simple. It understands good/bad. It’s not processing anything more complex than that.
That’s it. Five simple steps do it.
Once you have the content of your propaganda, there are many strategies to deliver it. The most common method is simple repetition, combined with fear/hate mongering, which riles up emotions in order to block critical thinking ability.
Another method that is commonly used and is often successful at confusing its victims is the gish gallop method.
The Gish gallop is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as…
Then there’s the Ice Cream argument:
Brandolin’s Law, or the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle, is relevant here.
Brandolini's law - Wikipedia
Brandolini's law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage that emphasizes the difficulty…
Sealioning is another favorite strategy of Right Wingers.
Sealioning - Wikipedia
Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment that consists of pursuing…
Propagandists also love to play Pigeon Chess.
Urban Dictionary: Pigeon chess
Refers to having a pointless debate with somebody utterly ignorant of the subject matter, but standing on a dogmatic…
They also love JAQing off. For example, Kevin McCarthy’s question McCarthy: “Was there a decision by the Speaker (Nancy Pelosi) not to have the National Guard at the Capitol that day?” (the day of Jan. 6, 2021)
Urban Dictionary: JAQing off
The act of asking leading questions to influence your audience, then hiding behind the defense that they're "Just…
Another common Right Wing argument method is what the blogger and economist Atrios calls “It’s just science.” The propagandist combs through thousands of facts or research studies to find the one fact or research study that confirms — or can be lied about so it appears to confirm — the Right Wing viewpoint on an issue.
For example, Right Wingers looked high and low for every statistic and study they could find, to try to make the case that Biden’s student loan forgiveness program might cause inflation or that it could be a regressive policy — giving more benefits to higher income people than to lower income people. A lot of these studies and statistics were shown to be incorrect or methodologically unsound. But debunking lies doesn’t stop Right Wing propagandists from continuing to say them thousands of times.
Here’s another example.
Matt Walsh slammed for saying Black "Little Mermaid" isn't "scientific"
Political commentator Matt Walsh has weighed in on the casting of Black actress Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid …
Another strategy is termed Bubba channeling. The Right Wing propagandist claims — without checking — to know what reaction white working class people will have to a Democratic policy or action. For example, forgiving student loans was said by Right Wingers to cause the white working class to feel jealous of the recipients, and to think that Democrats care only about elites — not about ordinary people.
Here’s another strategy. Suppose, as a propagandist, you realize you are trying to defend indefensible behaviors by Republicans. If you are caught like that, you can just give up and stop defending them — ignoring all facts and studies that run counter to this defense.
There’s no need to defend them. It’s absolutely okay what Trump, McConnell or some other Republican did. Just say that Obama or some other Democrat did it too. It’s perfectly normal to take kids of refugees from their parents, for example. Obama did this.
Well, he did it when the parents were criminals, but there’s no need to mention that specifically. Just say Obama did it too, that it’s perfectly normal, and that Democrats are hypocritical for not complaining about Obama, Biden etc. doing something remotely similar , but not at all ethically similar.
This is how Republicans won in 2016. Lack of understanding of this and other aspects of political messaging is why Democrats lost in 2016.
Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election
Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election
Many explanations are being tossed around for why Trump won the 2016 election. Most are probably correct, because many…
Republicans have been using these propaganda methods for decades. Here’s some information that illustrates this — from a GOP handout that was used to create GOP propaganda for the 1990 elections.
GOPAC Republican Handout
The following is taken from Language: A Key Mechanism of Control, a pamphlet which was sent to Republican candidates…
We don’t have to put up with the lies and propaganda. Here are some ways to fight them.