This is the sixth installment of mine and Jeff’s project, and in case you’ve missed any of the previous posts, we will also be publishing a Table of Contents in just a few minutes that we will keep updated and link to at the end of each future post. As I mentioned last month in the introduction to the project, as situations change, we will roll with the punches and adjust our focus. The last 9 days have brought about great change … Trump was acquitted by the Senate, basically being told that whatever he chooses to do, they have his back. He turned the State of the Union address into a three-ring circus, fired a military hero and a devoted ambassador for no reason other than they did their duty by speaking the truth under oath, has interfered with the rule of law in the sentencing of Roger Stone, has proposed a budget that rewards the wealthy while punishing the disadvantaged, and who knows what tomorrow brings.
The point being that … in the hundred or so comments I answer each day, I sense your frustration, your discouragement, and believe me … Jeff and I have both been there in the past several days. But we cannot allow ourselves to focus on the negativity, cannot allow ourselves to lose hope or lose sight of the goal. If we stop fighting, then we lose automatically, without ever knowing if we might have made a difference. So, join us in picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and going on to fight the good fight for just short of nine more months.
A few weeks ago, I tried to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” I concluded that the goal is two-fold: vote Trump out of the Oval Office and begin to heal the ‘great divide’. Neither of these goals are going to be easy, folks, and the GOP and others’ propaganda machines are going to make it even harder.
The GOP, or Republican Party, has been actively working to skew the odds in their favour since before the 2016 election. The Russian interference that triggered Robert Mueller’s investigation was not, as Trump would have you believe, a ‘hoax’ nor a ‘witch hunt’, but was rather a coordinated effort on the part of Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch a propaganda machine demeaning and denigrating Hillary Clinton, while giving rise to Donald Trump. The Russian propaganda machine has not taken a break since the 2016 elections. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray …
“That is in some ways an even more challenging area, not the least because it never stopped. It happened in 2016 and it’s been continuing ever since then. It may have an uptick during an election cycle, but it’s a 24/7, 365-days-a-year threat.”
Election security bills were passed by the House of Representatives, but have since languished in the Senate, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to even bring them to the Senate floor for consideration.
But it isn’t only foreign influence that we have to worry about, for much of the propaganda comes directly from the GOP and a plethora of conservative groups. Consider this example: The day before the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group, put out a report claiming that “Eight Iowa counties have more voter registrations than citizens old enough to register.” It was a lie, one quickly debunked by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, but not before the lie had been spread via Fox News’ Sean Hannity and other right-wing media sites.
Voter fraud is a recurring myth favored by right-wingers, but there are other tactics, such as finding a chink in a candidates armour, real or made up, and using it repeatedly, embellishing on it, to denigrate that candidate. Of the top candidates, we’ve already seen what Trump’s accusations against Joe Biden … accusations that have long since been debunked … have nonetheless played a role in Biden’s polling plunge. Bernie’s chink, of course, is that he is a democratic socialist, which will play well with those who do not even understand the concept of democratic socialism.
Politics has always been a dirty game … smear campaigns, mudslinging and outright lies are certainly nothing new. But, with the rise of social media, these tactics are magnified a million-fold, and every time you log onto Facebook or Twitter, you are likely to be exposed to some form of disinformation. Facebook collects data on you, based on your friends, what you post, what you comment on, and any personal data you include in your profile, and then they use that data to target what advertisements you see. My advice is to include nothing in your personal profile, and to use a strong ad blocker at all times, but especially when spending time on any social media site. There is an app called Facebook Purity that will quite effectively block any and all ads, along with other annoying things Facebook throws in your face. I highly recommend it.
While, after the fiasco that was the 2016 election, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook promised to do a better job of monitoring political ads and false accounts, he backtracked last year when he plainly said he would allow false and misleading ads to continue on the platform, arguing that his company shouldn’t be responsible for arbitrating political speech. My earliest memories are of political advertisements in newspapers and on television in the early 1950s, and more recently social media has become the platform of preference, but this year there’s yet another venue … your cell phone. Yep, folks, this year, according to Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale, texting will be at the center of Trump’s reelection strategy. I highly recommend you install a call blocking program if you don’t wish to be disturbed multiple times a day. Mine is set to block all calls that don’t come from a number on my contact list, and since my contact list includes only 4 people, I no longer get many such calls. I do, however, see a list of the ones blocked, and I notice the number has increased of late.
Besides being a major annoyance, though, the disinformation campaign, the propaganda machine, poses a significant hurdle to a fair and honest election. You are savvy enough to know, if you see an ad or what appears to be an actual news story saying that Elizabeth Warren has a harem of young males she keeps locked in the attic of her home for her personal pleasure, it’s fake. But some will believe it. Remember Pizzagate, where the rumour was spread that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a human traffiking and child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong? Someone believed it enough to go shoot the place up!
Remember my post from yesterday with the Founding Fathers singing a song to the tune of American Pie? Creative use of technology, wasn’t it? Well, that was harmless, but some aren’t. Take a look at this simple, doctored photo of Stacy Abrams that was used by her opponents in the Georgia 2018 gubernatorial race …
Just as social media has increased the spread of disinformation, technology has taken it to a new level. I would ask that you take just a few minutes … 8 of them, to be precise, to listen to this interview on NPR radio (there is a transcript attached, if you prefer to read the interview) with McKay Coppins, a writer for The Atlantic, about an article he published earlier this week on the topic of the GOP propaganda machine. It is very enlightening, and if you would like to read his entire article, which is lengthy, but well worth the time, you can do so here .
As Mr. Coppins said in the interview, even he found himself questioning what was real and what wasn’t, so I think it’s important … nay, crucial … for us all to be hyper-aware of the information that bombards us from all directions most every waking moment these days. If something sounds off … check it out, don’t just assume it’s correct, even if it’s from a credible source. Let’s all help stop the flow of propaganda … this election will be enough of an uphill battle, without people being manipulated.
Next week, Jeff will be back with Part VII of our project … stay tuned!