Propaganda: n. 1. A systematic effort to persuade a body of people to … adopt a particular opinion, attitude, or course of action …. — Propaganda is now often used in a disparaging sense, as of a body of distortions … calculated to bias one’s judgment of opinions.
- Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary
What follows are observations of arguably history’s greatest master of propaganda; its terrible potential for evil was obvious both 90 years ago and in our current day, but I would submit also, as noted in the Funk & Wagnalls definition, its potential power for good if correctly applied:
“The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses’ attention to certain facts … whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.
[Since the function of propaganda] consists in attracting the attention of the crowd, and not in educating those who are already educated or who are striving after education and knowledge, its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotion and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect. …
The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. …
The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. …
[Popular sentiment] is not complicated, but very simple and all of a piece. It does not have multiple shadings; it has a positive and a negative; love or hate, right or wrong, truth or lie ….” [Emphasis Added]
- Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf
Former President Donald Trump has taught us how effectively, even in an open society, the unscrupulous can embed the Big Lie in a significant percentage of our people. I would submit that this week’s declaration by 45 Senate Republicans that the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial of Mr. Trump is unconstitutional demonstrated that House Democrats’ passing an impeachment article related to the January 6 storming of the Capitol, while honorable, justifiable, and well-intended, may – since they obviously proceeded without the assurance of a Senate conviction – ultimately prove to have been counterproductive. Mr. Trump is all but certain to be acquitted – for a second time – and will then undoubtedly claim that the verdict shows that he bears no responsibility for inciting the Capitol riot – a psychologically powerful factor that might well deter prosecutors from pressing criminal incitement charges against him (in my view, the approach that would have greater impact on Mr. Trump and greater deterrent effect on future seditionists seeking to emulate him). The Congressional proceedings and their outcome will firmly keep the spotlight trained on Mr. Trump and away from President Joe Biden (who, because of impeachment and despite a series of bold policy initiatives, in some outlets currently seems something of a sideshow), and I fear embolden Republican obstructionists.
That said, what’s done is done. Part II of this note addresses how those with the desire and the means to defend our Republic against the Big Lie might proceed from here.