The Evolution of Propaganda in America

The Evolution of Propaganda in America February 27, 2018

Propaganda is everywhere.

Whenever we turn on our televisions we are confronted with propaganda in the form of commercials, and in the news. Facebook and Twitter have become little more than platforms for propaganda from the right and the left. Propaganda is coming from our seats of government on a daily basis. It’s even streaming from the pulpits of churches across the nation.

Propaganda is simply information being spread with an agenda to sway opinions. But propaganda has become so embedded within our daily lives that we have adapted to it. We have grown to accept it–even seek it out–when it comes from our preferred sources, and we lambaste it coming from any other sources. This phenomenon, known as confirmation bias, has changed the game. Propaganda is now information being spread with an agenda to reinforce already held opinions and to lock tight already closed minds.

Propaganda is certainly nothing new. In fact, our country was built upon it. Perhaps most famously, propaganda was used to stir up hatred and resentment after the Boston Massacre. That infamous event was, of course, caused by a rowdy, drunken mob of American colonists spoiling for a fight. Although five colonists were killed that night, it could hardly be fairly blamed on the British soldiers, yet, that’s what happened. The Sons of Liberty decided not to let a good tragedy go to waste and they had Paul Revere create a poster that told a very different story from the truth. They called the event a “massacre”–that title alone is pure propaganda–and created misleading visuals to make it look like a bunch of bloodthirsty Red Coats simply slaughtered innocent, law-abiding colonists.

Although hardly an accurate account of what actually happened, this poster was widely distributed throughout the colonies and was instrumental in creating more unity. The other colonies were incensed by the propaganda-fueled notions of what was going on in and around Boston. The next five years turned into a steady progression toward war.

Throughout our nation’s history, we’ve been taught to beware of propaganda coming out of other places. Terrible regimes, we were told, had entire departments devoted to nothing but propaganda–Nazi Germany–Russia–Japan–China–anyplace that had a propaganda machine was tainted (not unfairly) as a place that tried to brainwash their citizenry by controlling the information. More recently, the most famous example of this is found in North Korea. Kim Jong il–the father of Kim Jong Un–was legendary for his incredible claims of personal greatness, for instance. The North Korean people were led to believe that he was super human. Just a few examples of claims made public about North Korea’s “Great Leader”:

  • He wrote more than 1,500 books
  • He wrote six full operas in two years, “all of which are better than any in the history of music”
  • He once shot a round of golf at 38-under-par in which he scored 11 holes-in-one
  • He did not defecate

In many ways, I see a little of Kim Jong il in our current president, who also makes grandiose claims of being the best at this or that. After all, Donald Trump is a man who got a military deferment for heel spurs but claimed that he would have run into the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida without a weapon. He also tends to claim a pretty mean game of golf–although many who’ve played with him tell different stories.

Although Americans have been trained to beware of propaganda coming from other places–and we are really good at spotting it from afar–we often seem oblivious to it when it is right under our noses at home. Perhaps we find comfort in propaganda that is home grown and suits our own needs.

Social media has become a snake pit of propaganda. Daily, I see dozens of memes about one political hot button issue after another. They come with propaganda from both the right and the left. Almost all of them are rife with falsehoods, half-truths, misleading information, or lack the proper context to make the information viable. Diligent truth-seekers work overtime trying to fact check. I’ve called out dozens of people–sometimes friends and even family–for spreading such propaganda, always with sources to show how the information they share is wrong or misleading. They normally either discount my sources or ignore me altogether and leave the propaganda up for the world to see. This happens from both sides of the political divide. Bad information is allowed to stand, biases are confirmed and grow deeper, and the divide widens into a chasm.

Propaganda is built into our Christian faiths. This is true historically and is just as true today. Beginning with the Protestant Reformation, people began to align themselves with one side or another, swayed by propaganda. When this division followed the Pilgrims to America, it only grew to the point where we have almost endless numbers of different denominations, each with their unique take on Christianity, each with their own forms of propaganda. And in today’s America, politics have become entangled with faith. Political propaganda is often heard coming from American pulpits and parishioners are made to feel that, to be a member in good standing, they must vote for this candidate or that. During election cycles, I have even seen pamphlets added to church bulletins with guides about which candidates the church should support. This seems to be a direct affront to constitutional barriers between church and state, but it goes on in many places.

Propaganda is nothing new but I have grave concerns as to how it has evolved.

We used to be wary of it.

Now we court it, so long as it comes from our preferred sources.

 

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