Sunday, August 30, 2020

BTRTN Report on the Republican National Convention: The Golden Goebbels Awards

Steve forced himself to watch the Republican National Convention, and he saw the other country inside of this country. It is a scary place, and we ignore its brazen deceit at our peril. The world has seen this act before.

Give them credit: the Republicans did a great job of relentlessly conveying clear, unambiguous themes in their convention. 

They communicated that Donald Trump did a masterful job handling the coronavirus pandemic. They conveyed that Trump has done a brilliant job of managing the economy, while Joe Biden and the Democrats are committed to turning the United States into a socialist state. They repeatedly reinforced their message that America under Joe Biden would be a terrifying, lawless state in which protesters who advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement would destroy the suburbs. Speakers echoed Eric Trump’s emphatic assertion that in his father’s administration, “America became the envy of the world.” 
Clear, consistent communication is one thing. Clear communication of preposterous falsehoods has another name: propaganda. 

Yes, in today’s column we shall hand out our first “Golden Goebbels Statues” for outstanding performance in the dark art of propaganda. Our awards take their name from Josef Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, who is often viewed as the pioneer and leading practitioner of a form of communication that leverages the power and authority of mass media to distort, deny, or eradicate the truth in service of a political end.  Propaganda is lying on the steroids of mass media. 

Goebbels was a quotable fellow, and he was quite forthcoming about the abject moral bankruptcy that served as the North Star for his professional aspiration:

“That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result. It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success.”  

Then there was this assessment of humanity:

“You can’t change the masses. They will always be the same: dumb, gluttonous, and forgetful.”

And, of course, there is the propaganda theory of Hitler himself, who articulated the idea of the “Big Lie” in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.

“All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.”

The tactics of propaganda are well known. Go for the “Big Lie.” Never admit to failure, responsibility, or wrongdoing. Find a scapegoat to blame for all problems. Repeat, repeat, and repeat until the sharp lines between truth and fiction are pounded into gray liminal spaces in which guilt can be evaded and reality can be debated. 

Thusly revealed: the apparent briefing plan for the 2020 Republican Convention. Take every known reality about the Trump administration and offer an inverted version as undisputed fact, and assume the audience will somehow be dumb and forgetful enough to buy it. The Republican agenda for their convention was clearly to sell the five big lies noted above.

Welcome, then, to the 2020 Golden Goebbels Awards. Here are the categories and the winners.

The Category: “Donald Trump did an amazing job taming the global pandemic back when the pandemic used to be a problem.”

Our first statue, for “Outstanding Short Perversion of a Devastating Truth,” goes to the brief film on Monday night that attempted to portray Trump as the decisive, engaged leader whose hands-on management style and bold actions saved countless lives back during that period long ago when we used to be afflicted by the coronavirus. This is an actual quote from the film:

““From the very beginning, Democrats, the media and the World Health Organization got the coronavirus wrong. One leader took decisive action to save lives: President Donald Trump.”

We can agree that “one leader took decisive action” part, but it was actually Andrew Cuomo. Allegedly decisive Donald spend February through May spinning fairy tales that the coronavirus would “magically disappear,” dismissing the urgent warnings and advice of scientists, overtly abdicating all responsibility for managing the pandemic to the governors, not wearing a mask, huckstering phony treatments as panaceas, musing publicly about the efficacy of ingesting bleach, and pressuring states to prematurely re-open for business, which triggered the carnage that has now surpassed 180,000 deaths. The United States is now openly pitied as one of the nations that has handled the pandemic least ineffectively. We have a mere 4% of the world’s population but 22% of the COVID-19 deaths. 

Goebbels would be in awe of this Big Lie in this film. 

The judges, however, do want to give a dishonorable mention to the recurring efforts made at the Republican Convention to pretend the pandemic was over… vanquished; a thing of the past. Best example: invite 1,500 guests to the acceptance address to sit on chairs that have been set out with no thought to social distance, don’t test everyone for COVID-19, and don’t require masks. Why, you’d think that pesky pandemic was over! 

Just imagine just how many drunken parties are going to be hosted all across America next weekend, kissing off social distancing and masks! Hey, we’re just doing what they do at the White House!

The Category: “Donald Trump has created the greatest economy of all time.”

The Republicans were in lockstep on this one, frequently invoking the mantra that “in the first three years of his administration, Donald Trump had created the greatest economy in history.” Now we can quibble with that on face value, but the focus on the first three years tells all. Republicans want to casually dismiss the catastrophic damage to our economy caused by Trump’s incompetent management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is sort of like a surgeon saying that the heart valve operation was going great up until the point when he accidentally sliced open the aorta. 

Republicans take the position that of the carnage to our jobs and our economy is all a function of the pandemic, ignoring the fact that the economic impact of the pandemic has been far worse that it should have been if Trump had competently managed the crisis. The scope of the pandemic is far worse in the United States than all but a handful of developed nations. 

Lost in all this is the fact that it was a dicey proposition to claim that even the first three years of the Trump administration were all that successful from an economic standpoint, given the robust growth he inherited from the Obama administration, Trump’s own ballooning national debt, and yet another failure of “trickle down” tax cuts to trickle down.

The economy, of course, is a tricky discussion for Republicans, who want to trash Biden as a “socialist,” conveniently forgetting that it was the Obama Biden administration that rescued the economy from the meltdown that occurred at the end of the prior Republican administration of George W. Bush.  It is particularly ironic that several Republican speakers rather mysteriously warned that “Joe Biden will take away your cars,” in that Obama and Biden were responsible for saving the U.S. auto industry in the wake of the Bush economic meltdown.

All things considered, the idea that our current economy is something Republicans should be proud of is pure Goebbels. Award the statue! 

Category: “Black Lives Matter will destroy your suburban home and community.”

Patty and Mark McCloskey probably would have been content with the 15 minutes of fame they enjoyed after storming out of their expensive home in St. Louis with a pistol and an assault rifle to ward off BLM protestors, at one point aiming a gun directly at the peaceful parade passing the McCloskey mansion toward the home of St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson. But the Republican Party ensured a far more enduring notoriety by inviting them to be the poster people for white suburban terror and rage. 

Here’s a sampler from Patty:

“They (Democrats) are not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities, they want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning. This forced re-zoning would bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments into thriving suburban neighborhoods. These are the policies that are coming to a neighborhood near you. So make no mistake: no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

Why on earth would the Republican Party chose to lionize these two trigger-happy white suburban vigilantes as the symbol of their political party? Well, that tells you all you need to know about Donald Trump’s re-election strategy: it is called basic instinct. Turn up the heat on all of the ugly, despicable fears that your base holds about minorities.  

What happens when Republicans endorse the conduct of two trigger-happy white suburban vigilantes by putting them on national television at their party convention? Do you think they might have given anyone ideas? Two nights later, after yet another disgraceful shooting of a Black man by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a trigger-happy teenage vigilante murdered two protestors and wounded a third. 

And, of course, the Kenosha police chief just had to blame the protestors for getting themselves killed. Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis actually said this: "Everybody involved was out after the curfew. I'm not gonna make a great deal of it but the point is -- the curfew's in place to protect. Had persons not been out involved in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened."

Yes, in Donald Trump’s America, Republicans venerate the vigilante gun-toters who view peaceful protestors as an angry, threatening mob, and tell the people who insist on protesting police murders that they are the real problem. 

Give Patty and Mark their statues, if only so that, however briefly, they will put down their guns. 

Category:  “Achievement in Set Design and Stunning Violations of the Hatch Act.”

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, said this of the Hatch Act: “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares.” Mr. Meadows, the fact that you think no one outside of Washington cares about whether the Republican Party desecrates the property of the American people proves that you are the classic Washington establishment insider who has lost touch with how people outside the Beltway feel.

Seeing “Trump Pence” video screens in front of the White House, and fireworks that spelled out “Trump 2020” over the Washington Monument was grotesque; it is experienced by those who oppose Trump as someone spitting on some of the most revered symbols of our national pride. And yes, our tax dollars were used for Donald Trump’s political rally. 

For many, the politicizing of the White House and the Washington Monument was actually the worst moment of the week. The fact is that many Americans are now sadly accustomed to watching Trump, Pence and the rest of them spew ignorance, stupidity, and falsehoods on cable news. What we had not yet seen was the visual of Trump pretending that the White House and the Washington Monument were his toys. 

These are the types of non-verbal yet powerful visual messages that Goebbels applauded.

Republicans, take this statue to eternally commemorate the decomposition of your dignity.

Category: “Most Unhinged Performance in an Unsupported Diatribe.”

We knew that awarding a single “Golden Goebbels” in this category was going to be a challenge, given that the nominees included Matt Gaetz, Pam Bondi, Jim Jordan, Jeannette Nunez, Dana White, and a host of people named “Trump.”

Sure, there were some pretty whacky quotes throughout the four days, many laden with irony. Nunez thinks that it is the Democrats who want to “dismantle the Constitution,” and Joni Ernst noted that Democrats would “ban animal agriculture and eliminate your cars.” Huh? Mitch McConnell said that Democrats want to tell you “how many hamburgers you can eat,” which sounds nuts but at least explains the Senator’s own great rotunda.

Donald Trump, Jr., gave a good run at this award, with his notable quote that “It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work, and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism, or, in the words of Biden and the Democrats, ‘peaceful protesting.’” This had to have been the first time that “church, work, and school” were used in a sentence associated with Donald Trump, except perhaps in the recently released audio tapes of Trump’s sister, who touches on Trump’s barrenness in all three areas while revealing for the first time that Trump had someone else take his SATs so that he could get into Penn. 

But we cannot consider Donald Trump Junior’s nomination in this category until the drug tests are in.

It seemed that Kimberly Guilfoyle had this statue locked up on Monday night. Guilfoyle’s wild-eyed zeal, awkward gestures, and fanatical raving hinted at thespian training under Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid. Unmindful of rhetorical excess, Guilfoyle said that Democrats “want to destroy this country, and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think, and believe, so they can control how you live.”  Guilfoyle’s hissy fit is a sure fit in the history of histrionics.

But you just cannot hold Rudy Giuliani down. Rudy, clearly eager to win this statue, went full conspiracy theory on us. He overtly asserted that the BLM protestors deliberately started rioting and looting in order to help Democrats defeat Donald Trump:

It seemed, for a few brief shining moments, Democrat and Republican leaders would come together with a unified proposal to reduce police misconduct. This possibility was very dangerous to the left. They had a president to beat and a country to destroy, and although an agreement on action against police brutality would be very valuable for the country, it would also make President Trump appear to be an effective leader. They could have none of that. So Black Lives Matter and Antifa sprang into action, and, in a flash, they hijacked the peaceful protests into vicious, brutal riots.”

What I really love about Rudy’s quote is that he is the one who says that all this might “make Trump appear to be an effective leader.” Don’t worry, Rudy… nothing can make that happen. 

So, sure, crazy Uncle Rudy, it was all a plan! An insidious plot! A vicious scheme to take down Donald Trump! Man, Rudy was scary with those eyeballs popping… he was soooooo method, channeling Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. “Ah, but the strawberries… that’s where I had them!”

May I have the envelope, please! The winner is the terminally unfiltered former mayor of New York City.

You know, all kidding aside… I lived in New York City on 9/11. It is a tragedy to see what a shriveled and craven shell of a human being Rudy Giuliani has become.

Category: A “Lifetime Achievement Grahammie” – named for South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham -- for “Hypocrisy and Sycophancy in a Supporting Role.”

How can you not give this one to Mike Pence?

Here is one of the most self-righteous, pious-in-the-sky people on the planet, and yet will not utter a word of objection about a man who violates most of the Ten Commandments before lunchtime. Mike Pence stands behind Trump, gazing with rapt devotion at a man who holds the Bible as cheap prop in a photo-op, is a serial adulterer, and who orders children to be separated from their parents and housed in cages. Mike, I’m certainly not as devout as you claim to be, but I’ve read enough to know that what Jesus thought was most important was to protect the weak, shelter the poor, and care for the most vulnerable among us. 

So, Mike: next time you fix your loving eyes on Dear Leader, you ought to check your Deuteronomy. The commandment immediately following “I am the Lord thy God” is the one that says “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

(Side note to anyone who is offended: If you think that people have no right to question another peson's faith, I tend to agree with you. But at this very same Republican Convention, Lou Holtz said that Joe Biden was a “Catholic in name only.” I have never been a big fan of “an eye for an eye,” but it applies. Exodus and Leviticus.)

Category: The Grand Golden Goebbels goes to… 

Let’s give Donald Trump his due. It is true that he created the “Space Force.” 

He did correctly characterize one accomplishment of his administration. 

But that’s just about it. 

Donald Trump was at his most dangerous on Thursday night. He had clearly been told that he could not veer one word from his teleprompter text. When he is in full prompter mode, he looks frustrated and even bored, but compared to his usual howitzer-mouth madness, a teleprompter forces him to sustain a posture of vaguely presidential comportment. That’s what makes it scary. Goebbels would approve.

But you really should visit to see the good job that NPR did in fact-checking Donald Trump’s convention address. It is a calm, restrained, and relentlessly dispassionate line-by-line analysis of a monumental achievement in propaganda. 

Let me only touch on some of the topics that are the most painfully egregious, starting with one of the biggest dilemmas for those who chose to play the game of propaganda. The very first rule of propaganda is constant repetition: repeat your big lie often enough and loud enough, and people start to believe it.

For example: “We will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it!”

That was the defining campaign promise for Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. It was the essential mantra. It was so profoundly identified with his campaign that when two years went by and it became clear to hyper-conservative Anne Coulter that the wall was not getting built, she penned the famous headline “Gutless President in Wall-less Country.”

In his acceptance speech on Thursday night, Trump declared “We have already built 300 miles of border wall, and we are adding 10 new miles every single week.  The wall will soon be complete.  And it is working beyond our wildest expectations.” 

CNN fact-checked this one and noted that “some 275 miles of barriers had been constructed on the US border with Mexico -- but just five of those miles were erected in places where no barriers had existed before… Of the remainder, 245 miles were erected in place of old barriers, while 25 miles of new “secondary wall” were erected to fortify primary barriers.”
So it is actually, uh, five miles of new wall that has been built. In three years.Yes, the math is tricky on this one: you can add ten miles of wall every week, but in the past four years you have actually built five miles of wall.

And – BTW -- Mexico did not even pay for that. No, Mexico’s willingness to underwrite the wall did not come up once this week, because Mexico has not paid a dime.  

Promises kept? Donald Trump has barely accomplished anything on the single biggest promise he made in the last election. 

Trump quickly doubled down on the core themes of his convention: that Joe Biden is a socialist under whose leadership crime and violence will flourish:

“At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between the parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas.  This election will decide whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny. Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens. And this election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life of whether we will allow a radical movement to dismantle and destroy it.” 

We heard Trump’s ugly provocation of further racial division in our country by false accusations that the BLM movement is based on violence and destruction, when the vast majority of BLM marchers are from the ranks of the clear majority of Americans who believe that the BLM movement is justified. As if to sicken us even more, Trump has the audacity to say that he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Lincoln. It is a disgraceful contention for a racist to make, quite apart from the perverse deceit to pretend that Trump has done more for Black Americans than Lyndon Johnson or Barack Obama, just to name two of the most obvious examples. 

The hypocrisy is epic. Trump ridicules Biden on the economy and law and order, yet on other occasions, Trump has tried to skewer Biden for his support of the excessively harsh 1994 Crime Bill. And, of course, Biden – as Obama’s VP – helped rally the country out of the economic carnage left by the Bush administration.

We also have to give Trump credit for his stamina: it’s tough to bend, twist, obscure, and deny the truth in a non-stop soliloquy of an hour in length. Trump forced the largely unmasked, insufficiently socially-distanced, and largely untested crowd to patiently sit through his lengthy version of his achievements, implicitly demanding that they accept – at significant risk to their personal health – his need to believe that the threat of COVID-19 has passed. The medium is the message, and the sub-text was plain as day: the pandemic must no longer be a problem, because no one here at the White House wears a mask or maintains social distance. 

Of course, it was Trump’s own version of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that most shamed this convention. Trump loves to talk about his ban of travel from China, which was of a Swiss cheese design that allowed thousands of people into the United States. He does not have much to say about his actions in February through April, the months when his apathy, delay, willful ignorance, failure to engage, demeaning of the medical community, passing the buck, and overt denial of responsibility allowed the coronavirus to stampede through our population.  It was his abdication of leadership that allowed a serious health crisis to mushroom into the deadly plague that has killed 180,000 Americans.

Trump will never admit that he was asleep at the wheel, refusing to wear a mask while hawking phony cures, taunting Governors to pressure them to re-open their states for commerce on the hope that the economy would recover before election day. 

The Big Lies. They were all on display at the Republican Convention…

…That Donald Trump did a great job handling the coronavirus.

…That no one could have predicted the impact of the virus, and that nothing could have prevented the overwhelming impact of the coronavirus. (Clearly, no one at the White House read the "pandemic response plan" prepared by the Obama administration).

…That, therefore, Trump is not responsible for the cratered economy that resulted from his incompetence.

…That Black Lives Matter is a movement based on violence, lawlessness, looting, and will result in the invasion of and destruction of the suburbs.

…That Joe Biden is a socialist, and that the Democratic Party is bent on destroying America.

…That America is more admired in the international community than before. 

In the end, perhaps the biggest of  Donald Trump’s “Big Lies” is the one he told the day he was sworn into office: that he would “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

No, there was no mention in this Republican Convention of the recent Republican-led Senate Committee Report confirmed the Mueller Report findings of extensive contact between Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence to interfere with the 2016 election. No mention of using the Department of Justice to blunt the impact of investigations into Trump, and no mention of the DOJ being directed to investigate Trump’s enemies. No mention of defying separation of powers, refusing to cooperate in Congressional oversight, no mention of using the power of his office to demand that Ukraine slander Trump’s political opposition as a condition for receiving military aid. No mention of the Hatch Act, the Emoluments clause, no mention of rampant nepotism, no mention of evading Congressional approval by making “temporary” appointments. No mention of being the only President ever impeached in his first term in office. No mention of the Constitutional right of the free press to seek truth, only a shameful refrain that opposing views are “fake news.” 

Some may object to the theme of this piece as offensive, believing it is unfair to draw parallels between the atrocious horrors of Nazi Germany and the Trump White House. Let me be clear. The intent here is not to make a broad equation of the two regimes. Rather, we focus on one specific and important area in which they operate in a remarkably similar way: the reliance on propaganda to eradicate, conceal, deny, and cover up ugly truths in order to retain power. 
And yes, read that statement for the warning it is. A state that employs propaganda at every possible step is a state that seeks authoritarian control over its people. Unwilling or unable to stand the scrutiny of truth and the light of day, authoritarians attempt to control content, imagery, and messaging with the goal of sapping the people of their ability, right, and power to control their government.

You’ll recall Josef Goebbels’ definition of “successful” propaganda: “That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result. It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success.”  It remains to be seen whether the Republicans fooled anybody but each other in their four day orgy of deceit. 

But it is certainly clear what their game plan is for now until election day: a five-inch fire hose of deception intended to drown out the reality of their failures. 

May I have the envelope, please?

The Golden Goebbels goes to Donald Trump and the Republican sycophants who worship the idols of falsehood.

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1 comment:

  1. The speech writers managed a difficult feat -- the same words working for ALL the audience, both for AND against Trump.

    "Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens. And this election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life of whether we will allow a radical movement to dismantle and destroy it.”

    Do vote ... and consider the stakes, as it is clear there is a "radical movement to dismantle and destroy" the country.

    Which side are you on?


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