The MAGA weapons of words

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Film composer John Williams took two cellos and a contrabass, gave them a couple of notes in a minor interval and enthralled the world. Every time we hear that two-note theme, that leitmotif of terror, we imagine a massive, deadly shark coming to eat us. That is the power of sound and language. We have evolved to respond to simple imagery quickly — as a matter of survival.

MAGA Republicans use simple combinations of words and short, simplistic, descriptive slogans endlessly repeated to trigger our primitive impulses, to manipulate our emotions, to achieve a reaction. “Make America Great Again,” “lock her up,” “the election is rigged,” “witch hunt,” “the DOJ is behind Trump’s conviction,” “illegal aliens streaming across the border,” “Biden is old,” “snowflakes,” “libtards,” “shifty Schiff,” “sleepy Joe,” and so on. It’s primitive, silly, crude, offensive, stupid. But it works. Familiar slogans and formulations often create powerful reactions that frequently contradict common sense.

Permit me to go back in time to the beginning of modern conspiracy theories to illustrate my point, to the Kennedy assassination. Most of us are familiar with the famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in a Dallas police garage. What are the first words that you hear in your head when you see that photo? I’ll bet for some of you it’s the words “mob hit.” As in, “That has all the earmarkings of a MOB HIT.” “That’s a MOB HIT if ever I saw one.” And so on. That’s what impulse fed by decades of repetitions does to us.

But is it true? We’ve also probably seen dozens of photos of actual mob hits, photos from hits from the 1920 to the 1970s. The victims have bullet holes everywhere, especially in their heads and their hearts. They all died at the scene, almost always instantly. The ones who were murdered to be kept silent never had a chance to testify. The killers were cold, efficient professionals who got away.

Oswald was shot not in the head or the heart but the stomach. Only once. Doctors who worked on him said he almost survived. His killer was a notorious simpleton, an irresponsible loser with no mob connections. A single shot to the stomach could have easily meant not one but two people would be left alive to tell the whole tale. When you stop to really think critically about it, the idea that it was a MOB HIT has a lot of problems. In fact it’s ridiculous.

But the words MOB HIT remain, so powerfully and effectively in fact that I’ll bet some of you, who have never even considered my points of why it looks nothing like a mob hit, are hard at work, even now, thinking of ways to rescue that imagery. That is the power of language, of symbology, of the efficiency of propaganda. It has a life of its own and is harder to kill than Rasputin.

As much as I love Barack Obama, he was no good at reaching people on a primitive level. His style was the very antithesis of effective propaganda. He was a master of the long, intellectual explanation, brilliantly made but rather difficult to summarise. He made, in short, lovely symphonies that nobody could dance to.

In order to achieve our maximum effectiveness in combating MAGA Republicans, we need to adopt some of their methods. I recently wrote a piece here on Palmer Report called “Convicted felon Donald Trump.” Those words, used as often as we can, quickly and efficiently convey a message. They remind people that Trump isn’t just a criminal, he’s a CONVICTED criminal. Repeated often enough it will become part of his name. It reaches people immediately on a primitive level. It horrifies fence-sitters and pisses off MAGAs. It also has the advantage of being true.

It can’t be said often enough that convicted felon Donald Trump is also a lunatic, a psychotic, a racist, a thin-skinned whiny baby, a moron, a doddering, inarticulate fool. We can use these images with great effectiveness to tell a story that isn’t just plausible, it’s true on its face. People who support Trump are racists and Nazis, the dregs of society. Who wants to be associated with them? Only other racists and Nazis.

Much of the mainstream media continues to portray the convicted felon as a legitimate candidate for the Republican nomination. We need to undermine that imagery in our everyday language. Above all, the President needs to start using the language and imagery of propaganda in his political ads.

Sure, we’re the intellectual side of the argument, but sometimes that part does us little good. We need to stop bringing teddy bears to knife fights. They want a battle in the sewer with sticks and stones? We should give them one. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

Important Note: Palmer Report is moving to a reader-supported format with a significantly reduced number of ads so we can reach a broader audience at this crucial time for our democracy. Support us via PayPal and GoFundMe.