Challenging Trump’s Propaganda Means Creating a Counter-Narrative

Modern propaganda is best understood through the praxis of messenger, recipient and mode of messaging. The late Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s axiom “the medium is the message” demonstrated how political propagandists cater messages for specific audiences. Framing plays an important role in creating perceptions that support or reject public policy or candidates running for public office.

Framing is especially powerful when it targets a specific population who make claims of grievance or victimization. In the 1960s, McLuhan identified newspapers and television as the primary medium for spreading political messaging.

Today, with the rise of the internet and social media platforms like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter, messaging is primarily intended for niche audiences who are likely to agree with the ideological position of the political actor sending the message. In our current narrowcast environment, “personalized” messages can be distributed selectively to thousands of groups and subgroups that have a shared ideological viewpoint. The purpose of this messaging is to encourage group solidarity and deepen political identity. The politician who creates the most convincing narrative is likely to establish the most ideologically motivated support.

Facts, empirical data and truth have little significance when the message’s objective is to solidify a group’s political identity. Republican strategist Frank Luntz has argued this messaging process turns perception into reality. Donald Trump has turned this idea on its head. For Trump, perception is meant to create falsehood. Through his messaging, Trump creates an emotion-laden echo chamber in which he demonizes all political opponents, caters to the emotional psyche of his supporters and asserts repetitive lies. As Nicholas Lemann writes, “If you introduce a subject using language that will produce a strong opinion no subsequent information will get people to change their minds.” Lemann stresses that an image…

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