The term ‘propaganda’ is not a modern term, nor is it a modern concept. It has roots within the catholic church and was used to formulate support during the crusades. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV established what came to be known as the Congregation for Propagating the Faith, or Congregatio de Propaganda Fide as it was known in its original language, who were responsible for promoting the catholic faith in non-Catholic countries. The CPF then started to realise their name was quite the mouthful and thus shortened it to ‘Propaganda’ which coins the term we have used throughout history. As literacy rates have improved, and people’s political interests increased with it, propaganda has proved to be an extremely useful tool and has been used by many leaders and influential people throughout the world’s past. However, the question we aim to answer is: Are we as manipulated by propaganda as we were 395 years ago?
With events in Charlottesville showing a violent repeat of history, I direct my attention to the election campaigns of the President of the free world, Mister Trump. The focus of most campaigns tends to be immigration and employment, economy does play into this however for the object of this article we will leave that. The two candidates last year used very different tactics to engage with the American public on these two issues, with Hillary Clinton using a much softer approach than her opponent. Trump’s strategy was harsher and called for a complete stop to immigration, with a focus on Mexico, with plans to build a wall directly on the Mexican border. It seemed bizarre to most but the American public, particularly the south, ate it up like propaganda Apple Pie. Another issue within last year’s campaign was the Clinton email scandal which seemed to be the deciding factor in the election, with majority of Americans refusing to place their country into ‘untrustworthy’ hands regardless of her policies. But what is it that makes Trump trustworthy in comparison to a qualified politician? His election campaign, managed by Kellyanne Conway, reinforced three key issues – immigration, employment and Clinton’s untrustworthiness. As a successful businessman, Trump was certainly proven to have an idea of what he preached. But whenever he discussed employment he also discussed the immigrants who were ‘stealing American jobs’ and thus reinforced the need for the wall. Trump’s campaign is something that will stain history books, with none of us ever forgetting about the wall apart from the man himself, but this type of fear mongering in elections is a form of propaganda that distills throughout history.
The perfect example, forgive me, being Adolf Hitler. Like Trump there were three main goals within his election campaigns – employment, immigration and the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles. Each speech reinstated how Hitler would increase employment, blaming the lack of jobs on ‘greedy Jews’ and even going as far as blaming Jewish people for Germany losing the First World War. Now, I am not making a direct comparison between Trump and Hitler however it’s clear that the two have used a rather cyclical reinforcement tactic of propaganda which proved to be successful. As we swore to never have a repeat of the horrors of Hitler’s rule but I wonder if this cyclical reinforcement is a dangerous form of propaganda.
Following the events in Charlottesville, it’s clear to see that America’s racism problem is turning the clock back to violence. Many reports claim that supporters believed to be attending a Trump rally and told that to their family members, while the reality was a lot bloodier there is a question of: is this Trump’s campaign doing? We see in history that when a marginalized group is forced against a minority the results can be disastrous and while, obviously, the rally wasn’t near the same casualty count as the Holocaust it shocks us into seeing just how powerful a campaign built upon a simply propaganda message can be. So, by now you’re probably wondering why this is allowed to continue in the USA, if propaganda is so incredibly toxic why is it given the platform it is. It’s a simple, rather genius, amendment to the constitution – the first. The First Amendment, in short, is freedom of speech and to some extent this includes ‘hate speech’. This amendment is the reason that the KKK is still allowed in America regardless of what they stand for. The First Amendment also protects the media and therefore gives that platform for messages such as ‘Lock her up’ and allows Trump to pledge his alliance to the Mexican border wall, which as of today we are still ‘eagerly’ awaiting happening.
Now, of course not everybody is lulled by propaganda tactics, you’re thinking ‘this isn’t me, I’m smarter than that’ but when was the last time you looked on the internet and saw that a celebrity was supporting (or not supporting) a certain cause or person and suddenly you saw the follower count drop. In simpler terms; look at the Kanye West vs Taylor Swift war that began years ago, still ongoing with her now having apparently written her newest album about the injustice and suffering he has caused her. Now, whether you care about this feud or not, it was everywhere for ages and splashed the pages of snapchat and the snake emoji was tossed about. It was news and people, like any other news, lapped it up like it was the last supper. Still, technically, propaganda from both sides. Swift’s ‘Reputation’ sold 1.2 million copies in its first week alone and there’s a question of whether Kanye’s petty jabs had a lot to do with it.
Whether you’re influenced or not, you pay attention to any propaganda. It’s human, of course we’re still influenced by propaganda. If we weren’t then it wouldn’t be a tactic used, it doesn’t change in time other than the form it takes. During the war we used simple posters and mint tins, last year we had Trump’s slogans and empty promises and now we have Taylor Swift using a possibly fake argument in means to get sales. We’re all guilty somehow.