Anatomy of Propaganda: Russian Election Hacking and the Migrant Crisis

Evy Mages
“They who have put out the people’s eyes reproach them of their blindness.” — John Milton
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” — Mark Twain, on western liberal democracies

Propaganda in Free-ish Societies

It is a divine truth of a society that trumpets the songs of democracy, yet strives to preserve undemocratic concentrated economic and political power. A truth often lost on its subjects, yet fully internalized by its ruling elite. Simply put, an excess of democracy breeds too much freedom, which threatens elite control on society, its wealth and its decisions.

In free societies, bludgeon in broad daylight is not quite an option, as in totalitarian regimes. To curb deviations, propaganda must be employed instead. This is far more effective in creating a compliant society.

Walter Lippmann, a leading political commentator in the first half of the 20th century, summarized it simply, “The public must be put in its place, so that the responsible men may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd, ignorant and meddlesome outsiders whose function is to be interested spectators of action, not participants, lending their weight periodically to one or another of the leadership class (elections), then returning to their private concerns.” (Year 501, Chomsky)

In a similar vein, Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Reinhold Niebuhr elaborated, “The great mass of the population, ignorant and mentally deficient, must be kept in their place for the common good, fed with necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplifications.” (Year 501, Chomsky)

This brings us to the two “emotionally potent oversimplifications” that have spun hurricanes of hysteria in recent times: Russian hacking of the election and the migrant crisis.

Russian Hacking

Since November 2016, the American public has been bombarded with an amorphous mass of claims regarding Russian influence on the 2016 elections, Trump’s finances, and memes on social media. Apparently, the red rampage has even claimed sex toys and Pokemon.

Predictably, the most convincing indictments by the FBI pertain to the rampant corruption discovered within Trump’s financial decisions and the Russian government. However, built on this foundation are more emotionally potent oversimplifications.

With Hillary Clinton’s spectacularly embarrassing 2016 defeat at the hands of an intellectually and morally bankrupt low-life hustler, the predominant neoliberal establishment felt an earthquake. This establishment upholds economic and political policies that protect the wealth of more intellectually and morally bankrupt elites, but also propagates the idea of a stable and just world. A seismic rattling of this dogma by a circus charlatan primed the masses to consume more myths, and in the process, forget actual threats to the values of democracy they claim to hold so dear.

Let us begin with the idea of Russian hacking of the election. The idea meets several requirements for an emotionally potent oversimplification. First, it serves to divert from the following:

  1. The Democratic National Committee (DNC), by its own admission, does not consider electoral primaries as a democratic process; rather, it is a process by which party royalty is elevated.
  2. The candidate of choice for the ruling elite thwarted the will of the people by suppressing votes during said primary elections, and by claiming delegates even in the face of absolute defeat in many states.
  3. Email leaks from Wikileaks provided further evidence of undemocratic coordination between Hillary Clinton, and the DNC.

The idea of Russian hacking leads to a few outcomes:

  1. It transfers blame to an external agent, prohibiting analysis of extremely corrupt domestic structures and actors. In this way, the “responsible men” (and women) that created the conditions for the social and political crisis are never questioned.
  2. Glorification of an oppressive and criminal state agency; in this case, the national state police (FBI).
  3. Xenophobic derangement percolates all political discourse; in this case, against all things Russian.
  4. A virulent form of patriotism begins uniting sections of the population in their collective and instinctive aversion of the external agent — prohibiting introspection, self-critique, and analysis of domestic oppression.
  5. Elementary facts are all but forgotten in favor of a reductionist, simplified hypothesis that conveniently preserves prevalent political and economic doctrines.

Here, the elementary facts refer to:

  1. The Electoral College, a relic of a wretched past, has caused 2 out of 5 presidential victories to be awarded to the loser since 2000. This includes Trump’s victory.
  2. Further, electoral campaigns are hardly otherwise democratic. The Orwellian-named non-profit Citizens United was successful in opening up the floodgates for unlimited campaign finance in elections, further entrenching elite control of the body politic. In the 2016 elections, just 158 families provided about 50% of campaign financing to Republicans and Democrats. Let us for a moment imagine outrage over these facts on cable TV and online publications, combined with countless books published to analyze these structures — in exactly the same way the media has responded to Russia’s possible interference of the election process. We hear the phrase ‘Russian oligarchs’ at a brisk frequency, but rarely ‘American oligarchs.’
  3. As a Princeton study showed in 2014, the U.S. in its current state is decidedly an oligarchy, not a democracy. The foundation for such an outcome was built during the 1787 Constitutional Debates.
  4. Lastly, the United States has no moral standing when it comes to interference in democracies. As previously covered in The Noble Lie: American Democracy and Alternatives,
Language fails to describe the hypocrisy of a nation that is up in arms against the slightest possible tinge of outside flavor in its otherwise delectable democratic dessert, when it has a deep history of not just interfering in the elections of at least 85 sovereign nations, but toppling many other democratically elected governments as well. More specifically, one of the targets was Russia itself. As Stephen Cohen, scholar and professor of Russian Studies at Princeton University describes, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the approach of US advisors “was nothing less than missionary — a virtual crusade to transform post-communist Russia into some facsimile of the American democratic and capitalist system”.
Immediately after Bill Clinton became President in 1993, his experts began “formulating a policy of American tutelage”, including flagrant partisan support for Russian President Boris Yeltsin. “Political missionaries and evangelists, usually called ‘advisers’, spread across Russia in the early and mid-1990s,” observes Cohen. Many were funded by the US government. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser, saw Russia “increasingly passing into de facto western receivership”. This was conducted out in the open.

There is no place for these discussions in the media, an industry reaping billions by reducing politics to “emotionally potent oversimplifications.” Dissection of such facts is often met with complaints of “whataboutism.” Proponents of this line, who instead seek to point out Russian interference in the face of provable and deeply entrenched problems with American democracy, apparently do not understand irony.

Migrant Crisis

The idea of an imagined foreign threat that prevents internal critique is an old one, and the right-wing’s immigration hysteria is not quite different. So what are the desired outcomes here? The following is copy-pasted from about 500 words ago. The only two changes are in bold.

  1. It transfers blame to an external agent, prohibiting analysis of extremely corrupt domestic structures and actors. In this way, the “responsible men” (and women) that created the conditions for the social and political crisis are never questioned.
  2. Glorification of an oppressive and criminal state agency; in this case, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  3. Xenophobic derangement percolates all political discourse; in this case, against all things brown-skinned.
  4. A virulent form of patriotism begins uniting sections of the population in their collective and instinctive aversion of the external agent — prohibiting introspection, self-critique, and analysis of domestic oppression.
  5. Elementary facts are all but forgotten in favor of a reductionist, simplified hypothesis that conveniently preserves prevalent political and economic dogma.

Here, the elementary facts refer to:

  1. There is no “migrant crisis”; rather, the migrants are the victims of the crisis. As Aljazeera explained,
Which brings us to the following short history lesson: US foreign policy in Central America over the past several decades — comprising “massive aid” to dictators, death squads, and other violent entities — is itself largely to thank for US-bound migration in the first place.
Previously, the Cold War provided the justification for all manner of US-backed regional savagery under the guise of defending the so-called “free world”. Honduras, for example, was utilized as a launchpad for the US Contra assault on neighboring Nicaragua in the 1980s, a bloody affair described by Noam Chomsky as a “large-scale terrorist war” that was accompanied by “economic warfare that was even more lethal”.

Further,

Nor was Honduras exempt from its own forms of terrorization, thanks to a CIA-trained death squad that went after suspected leftists and other domestic enemies of freedom.
In civil war-stricken El Salvador, US support for a right-wing regime facilitated tens of thousands of political murders and fueled Salvadoran migration to the US, where street gangs formed to protect the immigrant community. The gang problem was then exported to El Salvador via a US deportation frenzy in the 1990s.
In Guatemala, the 1954 CIA-orchestrated coup against the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz — who was insufficiently obsequious to US corporate interests — helped pave the way for ensuing decades of war, during which over 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared.

A conclusion is drawn, as follows,

In short, it’s rather difficult to argue that the current migrant caravan is a result of anything other than sustained physical and economic assault by the very country that is now preparing to repel the caravan.
This same country, it bears reiterating, has unilaterally endowed itself with the right to aggressively transcend international borders at will, while criminalizing human movement in the opposite direction — a task significantly aided by the invocation of “unknown Middle Easterners” and other bogeymen.

2. There is a legal process for asylum seekers that is being undermined by a lawless administration. Under the guise of law and order, unlawful policies are being implemented for the purposes of stoking “emotionally potent oversimplifications.”

3. There was a precipitous drop in fearmongering the day after the November midterm elections — demonstrating the real utility of such oversimplifications.

Elementary Morality

In Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, the Nazi high-command is depicted as a group of political elites heavily concerned with monitoring and modifying public attitudes. In the movie, the Nazis produce and showcase a jingoistic and master-race dogma thumping film. In this film within the film, the hero is a lone Nazi sniper fulfilling his higher purpose of ridding the world of all those who oppose the glorious Nazi mission.

This describes a real movie which was widely celebrated without pause in the US: American Sniper.

On one hand, it is easy for American audiences to identify the absurd immorality of the fictitious Nazi film in Inglorious Basterds. Yet, to apply the same standard to oneself is apparently a herculean task.

This example is to illustrate a complete absence of introspection and self-critique with regards to the aforementioned “emotionally potent oversimplifications” within our hypocritical society.

The conditions for such a state of affairs are created by those who wish to evade scrutiny — the domestic elite. These are American oligarchs, American media owners and editors, American policy framers and American elected representatives. The American public ought to turn its gaze inward, question its elite, and its combustible xenophobia — if we wish to justify the largely empty boast of being the land of the free, and the home of the brave.


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