What I Learned from Republican Propaganda
I make it a point to monitor my local AM radio station (WRKO), which airs non-stop right wing pro-Republican Party talk show propaganda. Here's what I have learned.
To build a successful revolutionary movement, we need to win the support of at least most of the audience that WRKO (and similar radio stations across the country) presently influences. To do this we need to carefully distinguish the themes of the right wing propaganda that we actually agree with from the ones that we don't, and appeal to this audience on the basis of values that we share.
We also need to keep in mind that, while we probably cannot change the core values of people (which is ok because most people have positive core values), we can change what people believe is factually true or false. When it comes to mere facts, as opposed to values, we can provide evidence and encourage people to rely on what they know first hand instead of what they read in the corporate-controlled press.
If one looks at the propaganda themes above, the interesting thing is that there is only one that is a core value--the one against cheating--and I agree with it: cheating to get things one doesn't deserve is immoral. The others are mere factual beliefs. And of these factual beliefs, one and a half are true: The state and federal governments don't serve the interests of WRKO's audience and do serve the interests of corrupt politicians (that's the "one.") The "half" truth is that the Democratic politicians do rely on votes from people who depend on the social safety-net to survive. The half that is false is that these people all deserve to be called "cheaters."
So it turns out that of the four right wing propaganda themes, two and half of them are positive ones that I agree with, and the ones I disagree with are not about values but merely facts.
This means that there is a solid basis for a revolutionary movement aiming for a fair and equitable society to appeal to WRKO's audience. Of course the way to do this is not by insulting people in the audience and treating them as if they were the enemy. We need to engage with them in a way that underlines the values we share in common, and only on that basis introduce the reasons we disagree about some facts.
For one example of how to underline shared values with rank-and-file Republicans, please see my article, Be a Good Republican and Support Occupy Wall Street.
Cheating is the one thing that the WRKO audience really hates. WRKO talk show hosts provide lots of examples of cheaters. The list includes: a) corrupt politicians, b) illegal immigrants, c) people receiving government benefits (welfare, disability, unemployment, etc.) with an EBT card (electronic benefit transfer card that can be used like a credit card to buy stuff) using it (according to WRKO) to buy luxuries, d) minorities getting a job or an admission to a school with a lower score on a qualifying exam than non-minorities, due to Affirmative Action, and e) criminals--felons who committed violent crimes against innocent people three or more times--being stupidly released on parole early and set free to attack again.
Let's consider these examples of cheating to see what a reasonable opinion would be.
Corrupt politicians: that's a no-brainer, the radio talk show host has a legitimate reason to condemn them. So should we.
Illegal immigrants: There are a number of points to make here.
First, while I believe that the borders should be open for all people to move and live where they please without anybody being declared an "illegal immigrant" (as I have written about here), we should note that right-wing Republicans unfortunately have no monopoly on the desire to deport illegal immigrants. One can find plenty of people who, in all other respects, are liberals or Leftists, who, in the name of defending American workers, advocate deporting illegal immigrants. The arguments I make in my article (linked above) on immigration can be as persuasive to a WRKO listener as to a liberal Democrat.
Second, WRKO listeners pride themselves for supporting legal immigrants no matter what their race or ethnicity. They insist that their opposition to illegal immigration is about opposition to cheating, to breaking the law, and not driven by racism. I think that until proven otherwise for specific individuals, we should take their word for it.
Third, the aspect of illegal immigration that angers WRKO listeners the most is that it is an example of a gross unfairness: illegal immigrants are allowed to break the law and get away with it, while other people have to obey the law or go to jail. I myself agree that, as a general principle, everybody should be bound to obey just laws; making exceptions for some people is wrong. This anger at unfairness is a positive thing, not a negative one. The negative thing is that the owners of WRKO direct this righteous anger away from the biggest cheaters and beneficiaries of unjustness--the ruling plutocracy. We need to ally with the positive aspect of WRKO listeners, while attacking the negative role of the WRKO owners. We can, for example, say that the laws should indeed apply to everybody, but that the laws making illegal immigrants illegal are wrong, and explain why as I discuss here.
Fourth, WRKO hosts use every trick in the book to make their listeners believe in a false stereotype of illegal immigrants as the worst low-lifes and criminals immaginable. For example, one host, Howie Carr, once recounted how he was driving on Rt. 128 and a car nearly side-swiped him and then took the exit to Lawrence. Carr told his listeners that the driver was undoubtedly an illegal immigrant, as proven by the fact that he was headed towards Lawrence (where there are illegal immigrants.) Clearly we need to factually refute this stereotype. Part of doing that is to explain why the ruling class promotes this stereotype--to direct public anger at illegal immigrants and away from the ruling class that is the primary cause of the problems in our lives. Another part is to inform WRKO listeners about how illegal immigrants wage struggles to improve wages and working conditions where they work, and this is a struggle we all should support.
EBT card cheaters: This is a really interesting topic because it is, if we play our cards right, an invitation for us to talk about the need for a revolution to abolish economic inequality. The topic is about a value (it's wrong to cheat to get something you don't deserve) and a supposed fact (that many EBT card users are getting stuff they don't deserve, at the expense of the hardworking taxpayer.) A revolution for economic equality, as discussed in Thinking about Revolution, is a revolution to abolish cheating, to end the practice of some people getting more than they deserve at the expense of others getting less. In the good society after a revolution the economy is based on "From each according to ability, to each according to need." People are expected to contribute economically according to ability in order to share in the fruits of the economy, and people who do not contribute reasonably ("cheaters") forfeit their right to share in the fruits of the economy--a principle that WRKO listeners fully endorse.
To the extent that people are truly cheating with EBT cards, we should oppose it as much as any WRKO listener does, and we should make that clear when we engage with these listeners. At the same time we should try to determine the true facts about such cheating and spread the truth, whatever it happens to be. (I confess I don't know the truth; I suspect that there is some cheating but not as much as the WRKO hosts imply.)
Additionally, we should call attention to the huge legalized cheating (as discussed here) done by the plutocracy of billionaires. The WRKO hosts avoid talking about these billionaires (since these are their employers and they don't bite the hand that feeds them) but their listeners are probably as angry about cheating by billionaires as by anybody else.
Affirmative Action: I don't think we have a disagreement with people who disapprove of government-approved racial discrimination. The corporate-controlled liberal media label this disapproval "racism" in order to turn the NPR-listening crowd against the rest of the population. Nixon introduced Affirmative Action in order to make white workers resentful of blacks. Why should we support that?
Setting violent criminals free: This is another invitation for us to talk about the need for revolution. We don't think that people who commit violence against innocent people should be set free to do that, do we? There's no disagreement here about the core value. The only possible disagreement is about mere fact: who are the ones committing violence against innocent people? We need to interject some perspective into this topic. We need to focus attention on the fact that our plutocracy murders innocent people by the hundreds of thousands (as discussed here) while ordinary criminals, when they do it at all, do it on a far smaller scale. The point is not to defend the violent felons or minimize the wrongness of their violence, but simply to say that anger against such violence, and a determination to prevent it, should also be directed against the ruling class.
Republican Economic Dogma: The Private Sector is the Source of All Good Things, and it is Crippled by Big Government
Both the right wing media such as WRKO and the liberal media such as NPR, and both the conservative tabloid newspapers and liberal papers like the Boston Globe and New York Times, and both the Republican Party and Democratic Party all agree that the economy is and shall remain a capitalist economy. This premise is taken for granted and not even, therefore, ever stated explicitly. All of the arguments that right wing pundits and talk show hosts make about the virtues of the private sector and the harm done by big government only hold water on the basis of this unstated capitalist premise.
Given that we have a capitalist economy based on production for profit to make capitalists richer, rather than production of goods and services to be shared equally according to need among all who contribute reasonable work (as described here), there are many arguments that WRKO hosts can make about why big government is "bad for the economy" and why "only the private sector produces jobs." There are enough germs of truth in these arguments about how a capitalist economy works to make them persuasive to people who hear them repeated over and over. Some of the arguments may even be true, given the capitalist premise.
We need to keep in mind that the only reason most WRKO listeners subscribe to the Republican economic dogma is because they sincerely believe (rightly or wrongly) that it provides more jobs to more people. Given a capitalist economy, this is a praiseworthy aim. Who wants increased unemployment?
But true or not, these Republican economic arguments are irrelevant to the question of what kind of economy is morally right. When engaging with WRKO listeners we should not try to defend liberal economists (like the New York Times' Paul Krugman who argues for increased government spending to end the depression) to refute conservative economists. That would be to fall into the trap laid out for us by the ruling plutocracy that owns both sides of this "debate."
Virtually none of WRKO's listeners have heard an argument for a non-capitalist sharing economy as described here. We need to introduce this non-capitalist idea to them. There is every reason to believe that its basis in the principles of equality and mutual aid (e.g., fairness and no cheating), as well as plenty of opportunity for creative entrepreneurship and the complete absence of a central government, would resonate very favorably with most WRKO listeners.
The Big Lie: "The U.S. Military Defends Our Freedom"
It seems from listening to the show that a lot of WRKO listeners believe the Big Lie that the U.S. military defends our freedom. But it's hard to know for sure how true this is. The mass media have created an environment in which most people, even if they don't believe the big lie, will keep their mouth shut about it for fear of being denounced as unpatriotic. (Making people shut up is the very purpose of the Big Lie.) Also, as I discovered personally, if you call in to this talk show and express disagreement with the Big Lie you get cut off immediately, and with the time-delay feature the listeners will never hear what you said.
I discovered how widespread disagreement with the Big Lie is among apparently right-wing Republicans when I went to a rally against same-sex marriage sponsored by an organization whose leaders are avid promoters of the Big Lie. I went for the express purpose of seeing how the rank-and-file thought about the U.S. invasion of Iraq that had just taken place (it was 2003.) What I discovered was that the people there, including ones holding the big banner, were opposed to the war in Iraq, and some of them started telling me why 9/11 was an inside job!
We need to engage with WRKO listeners about why we think the Big Lie is a lie. I think we will find receptive ears. After all, the reason that WRKO listeners support the U.S. military is because they think it is protecting Americans from being killed by hate-driven fanatical anti-Semitic terrorists. This reason comes from a positive core value, even if it has been hijacked by a factual lie. We can ally with such people around the core value, while exposing the lie.
The important point is that we cannot, and we need not, write off any large segment of the American working class or small business owners if we seriously intend to make a revolution to abolish inequality and the dictatorship of the rich.
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