Opinion: How Messaging Destroyed the Democracy Show

Three years of Donald Trump and his crazy reality show showed us how messaging destroyed the democracy show.

You may have seen the video portraying Donald Trump as a mass killer going after his long list of “enemies” that included a past president, current possible opponents and people Trump and his crowd just don’t like very much. The New York Times  broke the story on Sunday.

I won’t post the video here because that would glorify, legitimize and normalize it. But you can see it at the above link.

Trump has since “condemned”  the video that was played for his supporters at his club, which means it was played with his support. Like many other times, the White House is playing the “fake news” and “this was just a joke” cards. We’ve seen those cards before with this White House. We saw them often and they aren’t fooling anyone.

It’s classic Trump to condemn something after the fact, as if he was never for it. Just like when he said he’s got sanctions ready to go after Turkey if Turkey indulges in the atrocities everyone with even casual knowledge of the region foresaw and even though he admitted he understood exactly what the Turks had in mind for the region.

We live in a time where the very foundation of America is being tested. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t know how this is going to end. If we learned nothing else, we’ve learned how much depends on the nature and quality of information we get.

We no longer have daily press briefings where a Press Secretary took the media’s questions and answered truthfully. No doubt the Press Secretary chose facts that presented the President and policies in the best possible light. But there were facts and there was no outright intent to deceive or lie.

We no longer have timely and reliable readouts of the president’s communications with foreign leaders. In fact, we’re still waiting for transcripts of several “private” meetings Trump has had with the world’s most notorious dictators – including a meeting held with Putin in Helsinki.

Occasionally, we get propaganda that has the appearance of “reality” that includes distorted transcripts that leave huge portions of conversations out and misrepresent some points. The most notable example is Attorney-General Bill Barr’s misrepresentation of the redacted Mueller Report in the form of a “letter.” That letter was released weeks before the redacted Mueller report was released, giving lies a long head start.

Of the many lessons we can draw from this time with Trump as president, one important lesson is the power of messaging. As Trump administration messaging goes, at least that had some coherence to its credit. Not so the messaging about gun violence.

In their attempt to deflect from needed gun safety laws (supported even by most Republicans and most members of the NRA) Trump and Republicans were quick to point to violence in movies and videos as a basis for gun violence – such as the hate crime that occurred at a Texas Walmart where families were buying school supplies.

But here’s the thing. If they believe that seeing violence contributes to the actualization of violence, that means the intent of playing that video was, in fact, to incite violence. If that’s true, the video is not protected, political speech. Rather, it is intended to invoke a violent and criminal action against the people targeted in the video.

If they don’t believe that to be true, they’re admitting that violent movies and videos are not the “cause” of gun violence. Rather, they must agree it’s the lack of responsible gun safety policy.

The MAGA version of America reminds me of a cross between the old Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. That’s especially true of the way this administration communicates and deals with information.

The secrecy is reminiscent of the Soviet Union, where news conferences didn’t exist and what passed as news was more like a press release from the Kremlin. Nothing was questioned or fact checked.

Trump’s lies about perceived enemies became increasingly hostile and violent, reminiscent of the sort of rhetoric that led to genocide in Rwanda and in Nazi Germany.

Here again, the video shown to Trump supporters at his Doral resort in Miami is a prime example. The video portrays Trump as a mass murderer going after his enemies.

This got me to thinking of Dr. Greg Stanton’s 10 stages of genocide. Some of the stages have, in the time of Trump, been conflated, overlapped and occurred in tandem.

Stanton identifies the 10 stages as: Classification, Symbolization, Discrimination, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination and Denial.

In fact, our current state is so chaotic, events at every one of these stages are happening simultaneously, though the first few steps obviously began even before Trump was nominated.

During the 2016 Republican primaries, Trump classified a long list of people as the sources of our problems. While white supremacists were delighted that his list was just like theirs, other Republicans convinced themselves that their candidate would never carry out policies like banning people from America based on religion or race. Still others figured that was a price worth paying to get tax cuts.

A majority of voters rejected Trump’s hate speech and voted for Hillary Clinton only to be horrified when Trump won the requisite number of electoral college votes to win the presidency.

The very first thing Donald Trump did when he took office was attempt to establish a Muslim ban. In fact, Rudy Giuliani was thrilled to be asked to find a way to legally ban Muslims. It took three tries and multiple court battles before Trump found a way that the Supreme Court would, in substance, accept a Muslim ban.

Meanwhile, a bombardment of hate speech is getting uglier by the year. We saw the human right of seeking asylum criminalized by Trump’s shadow Immigration policy guy, Stephen Miller. Families were separated. We saw horrifying film footage of children in cages, and other children traumatized by being taken from parents and being put in facilities that look a lot like prison. Of course, this was dismissed as “summer camp” or “better” than the conditions they left.

Throughout it all, the list of targets for Trump’s grievance political rhetoric grew and the resentment got more intense. He branched out into attacking vocal members of Congress who were women of color, outspoken and on the left side of the spectrum.

All the while, Trump and his surrogates deny this was about race. Of course, not. When Donald Trump said the Congresswomen should be sent “back” it wasn’t about the fact they just happened to be women of color. It was all about their politics. And that’s why he urged Israel to refuse entry to them.

Last week, Donald Trump betrayed the Kurds, he gave his blessing to ethnic cleansing by the Turks and with Russia’s help. During the same time frame we waited in anticipation to see if the former ambassador to Ukraine would testify before Congressional committees involved in the impeachment inquiry. It was behind closed doors for reasons that I don’t know for certain.

Maybe it was the fact that Marie Yovanovitch  remains employed by the Department of State. She defied orders and pressure from Trump by appearing and by releasing her opening statement to the public.

By leaving everyone guessing and releasing the statement, Ambassadaor Yovanovitch got ahead of Trump’s messaging as much as she could.

Unlike the good old days of a mere three years ago, we have a president who lies. We have a Secretary of State and an Attorney-General who help him do it.
We have Members of Congress who assist in witness intimidation and, in fact, brief the White House on in camera committee business.

There’s a level of secrecy that’s comparable to authoritarian states and with that secrecy comes the increased likelihood of lies and propaganda.

That video is a reminder of how far we have fallen in just three years of the Putin/Trump administration. While we were busy digesting the news of constitutional crisis at home and genocide as a result of Trump’s betrayal abroad, Democratic Senators released the second part of their report on Russia and its involvement in our political affairs.

This section focused on its use of troll farms and disinformation in 2016 to help Donald Trump. The disinformation continues on a social media outlet near you and it will keep on being circulated between now and the 2020 campaign.

All the incoming findings confirm that we’re in a war where information has become a casualty. The tragedy is it happens when we need to be informed about misinformation more than at any other time in our history.

The combination of disinformation and having civics and critical analysis take second place to religious and political indoctrination, means many of us are literally defenseless as we are given information intended to divide us and benefit Vladimir Putin.

That horrific video that Trump “condemned” after it was shown to his supporters at his resort was a preview of the severity and tone we can expect. Buckle up.