It’s All Too Easy to Relate To The Documentary ‘The Brainwashing of My Dad’




How many liberals have politically noxious relatives who were once reasonable people until they turned on Rush Limbaugh for their commute to work or ran across Fox as they flipped through their cable channels? Robert Sobel, writing for the Examiner, asked the question, “Why do Americans vote against their own interests?” He concluded that too many Americans are caught in the right wing misinformation echo chamber, whether it is listening to right wing radio, watching Fox News, or reading the conservative blogosphere. Recently, an upcoming documentary, “The Brainwashing of My Dad,” has been gaining attention. For this documentary, Jen Senko traces the history of her father’s transformation from mild-mannered Democrat to angry, racist Republican. As one might guess, this metamorphosis occurred following a change in his routine where he ended up having a long commute to work and tuned into Rush Limbaugh. His seething, bitter personality change only worsened as he dove deeper into right wing media. In her documentary, when it is completed, she intends to show her efforts to “de-program” her father. No doubt everyone will be curious to see how that works out.


Personally, in my family, the worst offenders in terms of personality deterioration following heavy doses of the right wing propaganda mill have been my grandfather and uncle. My late grandfather was a retired chiropractor, had no TV, and sat around his house much of the day listening to the radio. Somewhere along the way, he tuned his radio into Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s. He was positively relentless from that time forward in his attempts to draw me into listening as well, and the fact that this went on for well over a decade fits well with a brainwashing model.

Initially, I pointed out flaws in Rush's logic, blatant examples of racism, sexism, etc., and my grandfather sort of acknowledged my opinion. (Pardon the appearance of the text, he slanted lines in his typewriter)
Initially, I pointed out flaws in Rush’s logic, blatant examples of racism, sexism, etc., and my grandfather sort of acknowledged my opinion. This example of Rush’s wisdom shows why listeners begin to show racist tendencies. Excerpt from 1993 letter. (Pardon the appearance of the text, he slanted lines in his typewriter)

Where he was once more supportive of women’s rights, suddenly he was using terms like, “feminazi” in his letters to me, which came frequently. Since letters had always been his primary means of contact with me, I can actually line them up in chronological order to see my conservative, but evenhanded grandfather go from a supportive man who supported women’s rights to one who began to constantly degrade poor people, even my own family who had the misfortune to need government assistance.

Rush is not the ogre done
My grandfather began to adopt Rush’s language and thoughts in every letter. He mentioned him in every letter. Excerpt from 1996 letter.

It was hurtful, and I told him so. He relented for a bit, but forgot his emotional impact, and then started in again with another Limbaugh-inspired rant.

We had always had a respectful relationship. Suddenly, my grandfather began name-calling for this first time. He knows I am a liberal, yet degrades them. Excerpt from 2000 letter.

As he cast his Republican vote each time, he voted against his interests, because after that vote he promptly went right to the Salvation Army to eat lunch as he did every day, given that Social Security was his only income. Unfortunately, he struggled with financial problems because he also spent a lot of his money getting swindled by the conservative scam industry which has been built up in this country.

Dishearteningly, this man became a lesser person, a meaner person, and his hours of Limbaugh listening were directly to blame. But if my grandfather softened his rightwing rhetoric when I reminded him that he was actually enraged and bitter about “those” people, and one of “those” people was a group his granddaughter belonged to, not so with my uncle. His hatred knows no bounds. His venom and toxicity is so beyond the scope of my ability to cope, I had to completely shut down that relationship. For example, he railed against the fact that 30 years ago children who received free lunch were eligible to attend a three-day music camp for free in my hometown, so I got to go. Somehow, he had held onto this memory all these years and he spewed out his complaint that his son never got offered a “free ride” to camp. This particular uncle spent time on food stamps in the 1970s, and eventually built a small, but successful trucking magazine business, which he sold for over a million dollars. As one might guess, he spends all of his free time in retirement absorbing Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the rest of right wing media. I hear his nasty comments secondhand through my mother now, and I never understand how she takes his constant abusive comments about lazy, parasitic poor people, which by extension are also directed at her. I guess everyone’s gotta have a crazy uncle.

Sadly, like an epidemic, the brainwashing spread from one family member to family member until it was nearly impossible to find someone who wasn’t a right-wing conservative with a deep-seated resentment toward minorities, the poor, and even my nuclear family, their own flesh and blood. It is for this reason that I am eager to see Ms. Senko’s film with a particular eye on whether she is successful with deprogramming her father. In all honesty, I have my doubts. Perhaps, she hires a real deprogrammer of cult fame, but they aren’t always successful either, and her father’s had decades to harden his belief system.

To explain her father’s conversion, and the political mutation of so many Americans for the “The Brainwashing of My Dad” documentary, Senko has interviewed cognitive, linguistic, and media experts like Jeff Cohen, George Lakoff and Noam Chomsky. She also intends to interview other experts. No doubt they will all speak of a singular theme: the media has become overly consolidated in the hands of corporations that have a political agenda in their coverage of public affairs. It began with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, deregulation of the airwaves with the neutering of the FCC, and brings us to today’s rampant media consolidation (the decision about whether to allow Time-Warner and Comcast to merge into another mammoth media corporation is still pending). The experts will also likely speak to methods of propaganda. Many of these have been highlighted in the documentary, “Outfoxed,” as well. Somehow Americans need to become aware of the manipulative effects of “puppeteer media,” media designed to get people to follow unquestioningly fact-free infotainment and punditry with the purpose of getting them to vote against their best interests. There’s been a mass brainwashing in this country. Since so many of us have watched our loved ones get sucked into this message machine, often with personal harm to our relationships, it has to be a priority to learn how to overcome the effects of well-moneyed misinformation noise.

38 Replies to “It’s All Too Easy to Relate To The Documentary ‘The Brainwashing of My Dad’”

  1. This happened to my mother. It started with the Reagan presidency. My mother was a non racist, liberal democrat, she loved JFK, copied Jackie’s fashions, voted for Democratic candidates until the late 1980s. Today, although elderly, my mother refers to Obama using the n-word; it’s absolutely shocking!!

  2. I am really interested in this documentary because I had to leave my right wing family behind in Indiana and not look back. I haven’t seen them in 20 years which is just as well. They are extremely toxic, critical, bilious and miserable people. I think under neath is a huge heaping helping of self loathing,

    They are unhappy people who listen to other unhappy people. And Rush Limbaugh is a miserable puss bucket.

  3. Brutal story. I am lucky in that my close family are and always have been liberal. I can’t imagine having right wing hatred in my family.

  4. I’m glad my Dad was a Democrat, he NEVER FORGOT where he came from, coming through the Great Depression. Thank God FDR got their when he did or my little Daddy might have starved to death, so I was a Democrat years before I was born.

  5. “Democrats help those who need help.
    Republicans help those who don’t need help” My Grandfather always taught us.

  6. My family also consists of several members who have turned extreme in their political belief systems. It was so hostile that separation was the only answer. It was difficult when the hate was directed at some of the groups that I represent. There is a great deal of double-standard thinking in this crowd. I hope not to miss this documentary and I hope they will also watch.

  7. I wish you could sue them because rush limbast keeps saying he’s only entertaining but this is dangerous entertainment.

  8. I also have some strange thinking family & friends. I live away from them, so disagreements are held on FB, a good thing. Odd, that so many who hate the ACA have signed up & are receiving the medical care they reject.

  9. We have had over 40 years of PROPAGANDA from the right wing, unrelenting,with no place to hide as almost every aspect of our culture has become a means to spew their twisted,hate filled lies, taken directly from the Nazi play book. All done with the intention of turning the USA into a dictatorship of the rich and powerfull. Despite their sustained efforts a good man was elected President twice and though I disagree with some of Obamas policies we are damn lucky to have such a decent person as our commander and chief considering the circumstances of ignorance and paranoia that surrounded his election.

  10. I never became brainwashed for the simple fact that I study politics and history and get an understanding.

    My understanding was opened up to the fact that the Founding Fathers wanted a strong Federal Government and that the critics of the Constitution wanted a weak central Government because they wanted to keep their slaves and did not want Federal interference.

  11. My own “conversion” was started with Ron Reagan and Morton Downey. I liked these people because they started to bring a pride back to the United States. We were wallowing in guilt from the Vietnam War, Three Mile Island and just general guilt in being Americans. Started to listen to Rush Limbaugh on my way to and from work, and was in agreement in some of his thoughts concerning the Clintons. But there was something else that made me wonder, why was the economy supposedly doing well and I was unemployed? In fact that was a start from the break. When I realized that wait a minute, is nobless oblige wrong? Is it wrong to pay workers a good wage to pay for the appliances built in this country? If we care cutting federal budget, why is the military budget ignored? Why is there no accountability in the military budget?

  12. I thank god my parents died long before Fox News showed up. I don’t think my parents would have fallen for the Fox trap because they grew up during the depression and they knew hard times. My Aunt was a little girl during that time and her family were strong dems. She was always told never vote against your financial interests. She was 72 when she died and was always a dem. even though she didn’t agree with some of the social issues. She voted her pocket book. I wish republicans would realize if they leave all social issues out and vote strictly on financial interest they would be dems.

  13. I really do enjoy seeing liberals whine and moan about Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. The world realizes that you liberals would much rather have just one opinion. yours. If anyone dares to disagree with your opinion, your reaction is to attack those with that opinion. Yours should be the only opinion heard. Also, why are you even worried about Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Don’t you all have dozens of “reports claiming that Rush Limbaugh’s ratings are “plummeting”? But still, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News just bothers you so much. Go back to MSNBC.

  14. Someone with whom I was once close friends turned into something extremely ugly, inquisitorial, and racist like that. I will no longer even utter her name.

  15. Most of my extended family is right-wing, as well as the old friends of the family. Me, my wife and her parents are the only Democrats in the bunch. Compounding the divide is the fact that the wife and I are the only Catholics in the bunch. The rest are off chasing the dreams of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen and the like.

    It gets hard sometimes, standing against the tidal wave of lies and propaganda. But it’s worth it.

  16. Religion and politics get intertwined in all this. As my brother once quoted my grandmother, so many now believe:”Catholic is only one step away from communist.” People like that LOVE the new pontiff, I’m sure.

  17. That does sound consistent with what right wing media does to a person…make them enjoy seeing families split apart by a drumbeat of toxic, hateful messaging. You seem to relish it. I certainly saw my family members become sadistic and giddy when they saw other people harmed, and right wing media has harmed a lot of relationships. I defy any right winger to point to anything in the vast “left wing media conspiracy” that suddenly turns liberals into venomous, cruel people who are even willing to constantly call their family member names all of a sudden. No need to strain yourself, it can’t be done.

  18. Although it is entirely true that there is brainwashing going on in the churches and parochial schools, home schools and from Faux news. I would bet that this “mild mannered Democrat” already harbored some resentment and illogical thoughts. The “brainwashing” only brought them to the surface.

  19. What bothers us is the …


    Format that Rushbo, Faux “News”, Red State, Freeperville, etc., etc. embrace.

  20. Actually “the world” (meaning the vast majority of first world countries), sees our moderate left wing as their moderate right wing. They see out moderate right wing as insane.

    So how much is the Heritage Foundation paying you to find left wing blogs and throw in hate speech? Does corporate Koch really taste like honey?

  21. Oh, Jane, poor Jane. People like you can’t seem to get your point across without using straw man logic. We genuinely are baffled that you people actually believe their “fair and balanced” credo as fact. We are simply wondering why you people actually vote against your own best interests by cherry picking those issues that will never be of benefit to you.
    You people fail to realize that the common Rightwing statements (i.e., Dems “whine and moan”, Dems are one-sided in their thinking, Dems attack those who disagree with them) are the very things you yourselves suffer from. It’s called “projection”, and it’s a real psychological disorder.
    Psychological projection is the act or technique of defending oneself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in oneself, while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. Your post is full of projection.

  22. Hey Jane Doe, let’s talk about “the world”. Guess it would surprise you to know that the vast majority of first world countries have governments that are to the left of what you wish your own country was. We see the hate, the bigotry, the utter selfishness, the corporate welfare that even your Democratic President and his Senate can’t seem to overcome. We don’t understand how you folks can be so mean. Someone said “Democrats help people who need it. Republicans help people who don’t need it.” Yes, that’s quite obvious. let’s hope you never need help (other than perhaps mentally).

  23. Thanks for proving the point of this article, Jane.

    Besides, your comment doesn’t describe us. It describes you.

  24. My dad did what society demanded and reaped the middle class American Dream society promised, so he already tended to believe that anyone else could do the same–and that’s the experience of much of the Silent Gen. It wasn’t until he saw me and my family struggle recently that he softened some of his positions. I could never deprogram him straightforwardly because he would never admit that his daughter was right and he was wrong. But I can put third-party information into his path and let him educate himself.

  25. Luckily, this hasn’t happened in my family. I think the fact that I’m African American has something to do with that. So much of the right-wing hate has racist dog-whistles that it pretty much alienates everyone in my family from the GOP.

    However, I’ve seen this same family split in the families of some of my white friends. I’ve heard stories of my friends being called names by certain family members because they disagree with their right-wing nonsense. And it doesn’t matter that these friends aren’t really that political. They still get hostile treatment because the express some disagreement. Yet, this is the party of “family values?”

    Does everyone in a family have to all agree on political issues? Certainly not, but when right-wingers are ridiculing members of their own family with name-calling and like, where’s the “family values” in that?

  26. It happened to my eldest brother, who passed away im 2012 at age 80. The last couple of times I spoke with him were painful.

  27. The important thing is KNOW AND UNDERSTAND HISTORY. Too often history is presented like a cold bowl of yesterday’s oatmeal when in reality it is a TOOL.

    We must use this tool to examine the past, understand the present, and look to the future.

  28. It hurts to lose long time friends who have turned to the dark side.

    I miss my longtime friend but it’s hard to believe how’s she’s become so brainwashed to be so hateful.

    It’s got be a virus, some catch it, some don’t. The question is what makes one immune?

  29. You got to wonder if that hate took years off his life.

    Sorry for the loss of your brother, maybe he’s finally seeing the truth. We can only hope.

  30. The unhappiest people out there are leftist democrats.
    It’s wrong for you to call conservatives racists. It’s just a mantra that is completely false, told by the creeps who want to divide the country so they can conquer, the same with the way they demonize anyone who has a dollar more than you do. Stop believing the lies.

  31. You are going to love being without a constitution as the 1% rules you. You are just the type. You have no idea whats going on. A product of right wing media that is the media of the 1%

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