Who’s the Leader of the Club? Reflections on cute propaganda in the age of creeping fascism

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I once thought the combination of propaganda and crowd control was never practiced more effectively in this country than in the lead up to the Patriot Act. We live in a brave new world in which our bodies, our possessions, and virtually everything we say and do are under a microscope whenever we travel by air, make a purchase, and use a computer or phone. As odious as previous examples of such manipulation have been in the U.S. they never did that. And in and beyond the borders of this country, there are racist repercussions. On many occasions I’ve had to travel to places you’d think would be considered questionable like the North Caucasus. Returning from these trips I’d often pass through Heathrow Airport and I’d inevitably find myself in a waiting room with a lot of brown skinned people from Asia. They would be lined up for special questioning. Me, a white American male with no kind of diplomatic status for my travels to dangerous places? Never.

The powers that the Patriot Act, and the road to the Patriot Act, granted the government would have made Hitler and Stalin green with envy. And all the while, even if they dislike some things, much of the American public still runs around pretty sure that they live in the freest country on earth. That seems to be why rhetoric can shift so quickly from the problems at home to ginning up fear about European socialism. Better protect what you still have while you still have it.

Join that with the explosion of social media, and the astute manipulation of it in the 2016 presidential election by Cambridge Analytica and the Russian government, both probably with at least some collusion with the Cult 45 administration. What do former heads of Facebook have to say about how easily we are programmed by it? Jay Parker has called the social media platform a “dopamine driven social validation feedback loop.” VP of User Growth Chamath Palalihapitiya (2005-2011) says “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works… I feel tremendous guilt… No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth, and it’s not an American problem, it’s not about Russian acts, this is a global problem.” He won’t allow his own children to use it.

Deception, lies, and damn lies deserve close, critical attention while crimes deserve swift punishment commensurate with the offense, so that interfering with the healthy functioning of a country receives many, many times the punishment holding or selling grass still receives when it is already legal in many states. In the end, will 45 get the hard jail time he may very well deserve, or more than a slap on the hand compared to what Chelsea Manning endured and what’s been proposed for Edward Snowden? If not, why? Those in power are part of the issuing authority while the others, in their humanitarian and patriotic actions, blow the doors off the safe of things the government never wants you to know. But it’s only in your best interest to know. And people of color are being punished and killed for doing nothing wrong at all on a daily basis.

People seem resigned to the idea that it’s the way things are and the way they’re gonna be. Pandora’s box is open for full service, with a long history of things that have made recent developments not only possible but maybe inevitable. Many books have been written about it. Chances are you’ve read one of them. But there are… cartoons! If you’re like me you’ll find the following both funny and uncomfortable, which is probably a healthy frame of mind.

It’s possible that America has been better at propaganda and mass media manipulation than anyone else for a long, long time, even though for a lot people those things still conjure up the hammer and sickle or the Nazi propaganda machine. Effective as that was, one has to wonder how the Nazis viewed our own. I imagine Josef Goebbels reeling from Disney’s anti-Nazi cartoon short Der Fuehrer’s Face, then scrambling to try to harness the German film industry as effectively as the Roosevelt administration did with The Spirit of ’43, which blamed taxes on Hitler and Hirohito.

Whatever the propaganda said, taxes didn’t go away after the war while being a former target and war criminal didn’t prevent you from joining the home team. Nazi propagandists were a second group, along with rocket scientists, that Uncle Sam scooped up after the war and put to work in Project Paperclip, as propagandizing was morphed into psyops at home and abroad. The Nazis that were brought home were not a few dozen special individuals, like SS Major Werner Von Braun, but over 1600 and maybe hundreds more, many of whom were classified not just as party members but ardent Nazis and led very privileged lives in post-war America, like Walter Dornberger, who became Vice President of Bell Aerospace. How many of you have family members that have been put through the legal wringer for small offenses? Perhaps you have been yourself. Engineers and executors of crimes against humanity were recruited and made rich on your tax dollars if you’re old enough, or those of your parents and grandparents.

And now the Klan are marching openly, Nazism is on the rise, and during his campaign the current POTUS encouraged assaults on people of color in his rallies and openly joked about sexual assault. Time to wake up.

An earlier version of this was published by my alter ego esessis on Daily Kos as Mulder Syndrome: Donald Duck and Nazis (2/19/2014).

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