Election 2016: What the numbers can’t tell us

While propaganda and media manipulation have always been part of modern political campaigns, several longstanding trends came together during this election.  Starting with the Republican Party’s wholesale embracement of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in the 80’s which has systematically stoked up anger, class and racial resentment in the decades since.

But they couldn’t have made it happen by themselves, they needed accomplices in the media who were willing to promote and reinforce their messages. And sure enough, FOX news emerged out of the wave of deregulation which swept the country during the Clinton era. Ever since its inception, FOX has been a toxic influence on their audience’s ability to understand the world around them.

Deceive and Believe

As their success grew, their style of “journalism” was slavishly copied by many other media outlets, leading to the creation of a self reinforcing feedback loop where today most cable viewers are only exposed to the things they already believe. In practical terms, the media’s function has become to indoctrinate what Joseph Stalin’s once called societies “useful idiots.

Their sole purpose is to stir up fear, constantly reminding members of the conservative tribe that they must all band together lest they be swept away by the tides of change, and the deviancy of “outsiders.”

The appeal of their messages appears to be rooted in differences in brain physiology and psychological outlook, with the penchant for selective exposure and closed-mindedness and authoritarianism — running much stronger in some than in others. It still took the emergence of an organization like FOX before these social tendencies could be fully activated.

In many respects,  much of today’s political dysfunction — lies in the fact that FOX has “brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle.” And over the years the actions of FOX and it’s imitators have not only divided the country along political and ideological lines, they have  polarized our very notion of reality itself

Information which confirms opinions you already have isn’t news — it’s FOX News.

Today, we live a world where deceit touches all of our lives, where reality has been privatized and illusion legitimized. Where censorship by media; politics by media; and diversion by media – all offer a surreal assembly line of clichés and false assumptions. Every time we pick up a digital device, turn on our computers and TV’s, or even read a paper – we are being manipulated and lied to. Edward Bernays, who first coined, “public relations” 80 years ago, as a euphemism for “propaganda,” also invented the term “invisible government.”

Writing, “Those who manipulate this unseen element of [modern democracy] constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of …

Going on to say that their aim is a conquest of our sense of the world, our political consciousness, our ability to think independently and most importantly our ability to separate truth from lies. And much of this has been accomplished through decades of cognitive framing, a technique familiar to those in the advertising world which takes advantage of the unconscious thought process.

While many people might like to believe that we are all rational thinkers, and that all “thought” operates at conscious level that may not be the case. Recent studies have shown that conscious thought is likely just the visible tip of our mental iceberg, and that “most” and perhaps as much as 98 percent of all our thinking really takes place at the unconscious level.

Our worldviews determine not only how we think the world operates, but how we think it should operate, and what we believe to be right and wrong. A worldview is a conceptual framework we use to understand the world, and is made up of many unconscious mental “frames.” In the institutions of our lives and especially politics, words are not neutral. Their meanings are defined by frames.

And there are conservative and liberal vocabularies which activate different frames. “Save the planet!” is liberal, and “Energy independence” is a conservative ‘dog whistle. ’

In general, trying negate a frame just activates that frame and makes it stronger. And according to George Lakoff’s book called Don’t Think of an Elephant! Liberals often find themselves caught in this trap. For example, if a conservative says, “we should have tax relief,” she is using the metaphor that taxation is an affliction that we need relief from. If a liberal replies, “No, we don’t need tax relief,” she is unconsciously reinforcing the idea that taxation is an affliction.

During this election, the Clinton campaign consistently violated those principles with negative campaigning, assuming they could turn the Drumpf’s most outrageous statements against him. Running numerous ads showing him expressing views which outraged liberals and his “deplorable” supporters wanted from their white nationalist party leader.

Oblivious to the reality, that the more the public hears one side’s language, the more that side’s frames will be activated, and the more their worldview(s) will be strengthened in the minds of those who watch and listen. And it’s one reason why effective political communication systems matter.

Jon Taylor

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