Originally posted to Facebook, 13th November 2016.
‘Make America Great Again’ could just have easily referred to a platform built on free college education, equality before the law, universal healthcare, or TARP, or Barack Obama’s action to save the American auto industry. The handwringing on the part of liberals about whether the left did this is partially true in that we have failed to fight science with science – the right in America and Europe have gotten to where they are by the simple repetition of ideas and phrases hammered home so hard and so often that even people who consider themselves progressive instinctively think in their terms. The idea that Hillary Clinton is fundamentally dishonest, for example, is a narrative that was handed to you by the climate-change-denying, tax-cutting, intelligent-design-wielding right and which has no basis in reality (look at Politifact), but has simply been repeated so often for the last twenty years it has become fact. To the point where people on the left feel proud to say it because it makes them feel all cool and subversive.
That’s how the right feel, too.
Did you know American evangelical Christian support for environmental regulation and combatting climate change has increased dramatically in recent years? Its because a group of pastors actively agreed to stop talking about ‘dominion over the earth’ and to start instead talking about ‘creation care’. Did you know that in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, the American campaigns for same-sex marriage realised their message of same-sex marriage as a civil right wasn’t resonating, so they retooled their argument around LGBT people being able to experience love, commitment and families ‘just like yours’. Messages that were picked up and amplified by massive organised constituencies. Ten years later… The ideas didn’t change, just the conceptual framework around them.
I don’t think we need to accept racism and intolerance. But if you were actually listening to what the people who voted for racism and intolerance have to say, not pandering, like literally listening, you would notice the extent to which their defence of almost any of their stated views is a repetition of simple propaganda lines that are agreed upon, shared and stated over and over again by right wing politicians and media outlets.
I haven’t met many Trump supporters, but one I did this summer, on being asked how he could support someone who had done x, responded with what I, Hack, realised was a verbatim quotation of two lines from Donald Trump’s speech the day before. He didn’t even seem to notice.
I believe the left have superior ideas about things like ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘justice for all’ and ‘black people being human beings’ but let’s face it, the right has wiped the floor with us all around the world because their packaging looks really awesome and exciting and it has our name on it in really cool bubble pen.
The modern use of the word ‘propaganda’ was developed by the Soviets. They used their propaganda to persuade millions of people to support the overthrow of their own government and try out a completely different political system, which was an amazing achievement when you think about the circumstances then and the state of communist writing now. It’s time to recognize that the left have better memes but our propaganda lines promoted in them are really lame. ‘You suck if you voted Donald Trump’ isn’t a message, it’s an insult. ‘I’m With Her [Platform of Incremental Change]’ doesn’t secretly thrill me. Not the way ‘Yes We Can’ chanted by tens of thousands did. Not the way ‘Feel the Bern’ did.
But these were about people, not ideas.
If we’re going to live in a post-factual era, then we need some new lefty post-facts. Some sexy, simple, conceptual mindworms that get into your software architecture and prevent you from conceiving of a world that is both righteous and has people living without access to clean drinking water and vaccines.
That’s what I’m going to work on now. The book’s already been written (It’s called Don’t Think of an Elephant! And I’m sure many others have been written I haven’t read) and the theory’s done, but we need to start committing ourselves to implementing what we’ve learned from this election: you can get elected President of the United States of America if you just make your sentences short and simple enough that people can’t think of anything else. Even if those sentences describe ideas that make absolutely no sense.