Kellyanne Conway – of all people – nailed Trumpism’s biggest contribution to American culture (it’s what makes The Big Lie possible). In response to a question about whether Trump’s then press-secretary had lied to the press, she claimed (on Meet The Press, January 22, 2017) “You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.” Alternative facts. Those are propaganda’s bedrock. The very term is a non sequitur. The alternative to facts is bullshit. Donald Trump and the Republican Party made bullshit their founding principle. The instant our news media accepted Trumpism as a legitimate point of view (rather than just a point of view), they began ushering in Propaganda’s Golden Age.
Alternative Facts Aren’t Facts
Propaganda is dishonest information. Lies. Deceit. Alternative facts. Our news media – to their credit, I guess, did point at “alternative facts” as bullshit. But they kept inviting Kellyanne onto their shows – where she’d repeat the bullshit, further “legitimizing” it in the news media’s heavily lidded eyes. Something-something about repeating lies until they “become” the truth. If you want to drive home the point to a liar like Kellyanne Conway – that her lies are intolerable – do NOT invite her to be a guest on your Sunday shows.
When Rupert Murdoch hired Roger Ailes to run Fox News as it took flight, he was committing to ideology over journalistic integrity. Roger Ailes always wondered what America would have been like had Nixon not stepped down. Part of Fox News’ whole purpose from the start was to present an alternative version of events. Not the facts of what happened, alternative facts.
Agreeing On What IS
It’s hard enough for an open society with viable freedom of speech to agree on “what is”. Throw in fact-hating fascist thugs hell bent on ending American democracy and the job becomes impossible. It’s not that Republicans don’t know fact from fiction, they honestly don’t care. The truth won’t set them free. In their minds, it won’t do anything for them.
Republicans are done with democracy because democracy was done with them eons ago. Turns out the diverse American majority won’t vote for white hegemony – the one thing Republicans are selling. When what you’re selling doesn’t sell, you have a choice: stop selling what you’re selling or find some other way to sell it.
Lie about it. The bigger the lie, the better. And lie deceitfully.
The Propaganda Disease
Lies and Propaganda work like a virus. Viruses are barely even alive; they’re clumps of RNA that want to change every cell they penetrate into them. They invade the cell and rewire it to their liking The cell’s DNA becomes the viruses DNA – and then the virus uses its victim to vector itself out into the public to infect still more people. It’s genius, really. But that’s what makes propaganda so dangerous: it, too, can be genius.
We live in a time when tragedies motivate bad actors. Few things motivate propagandists like disasters. As I write this, America (never mind the rest of the world!) faces a cat 4 hurricane striking Florida, a COVID pandemic becoming endemic, an EBOLA outbreak in Africa, a nuke-packing psychopath in Vlad Putin, and the Republican Party assaulting democracy. Each of those crises demands a thoughtful, dynamic response. Instead, while Democrats reply thoughtfully, Republicans reply with propaganda.
If only Fox News stood outside the bounds of honesty, we’d survive. Alas, most of our news media believes that “both sides do it”, and that it’s not their job to arbitrate between versions of events. But, bullshit and the truth aren’t alternative versions of reality. One is entirely artificial. They do not equate. And whatever “it” is? Both sides do not “do” it.
Social media makes lying easier than telling the truth. In fact, social media encourages people to bullshit each other (if only to stay interesting). Whereas Kellyanne Conway should have been banished from every respectable news channel for her lies, she’s still around.
It’s a testament to her success as a propagandist. And it’s a testament to the time we’re in – a Golden Age for propaganda.