Thursday, August 17, 2017

“Jews Will Not Replace Us”

One of many racist/anti-Semitic loud and oft-repeated chants from the largest assemblage of white supremacists in over a decade (per CBS News) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Along with “They will not replace us.” Referencing black Americans… and “Blood and soil,” a Nazi-era slogan (German: Blut und Boden and the words on the Nazi Ministry of Food and Agriculture logo) referring to pure Aryan blood and native German land belonging only to these “pure Christian Germans.”

Many of this alt-right Charlottesville group – understanding that “alt-right” is defined as those American right wing adherents where white Christian (almost always Protestant) supremacy is a core belief – carried rifles, pistols and assault weapons… using defensive shields with racist markings, carrying torches specifically as homage to the traditional KKK practice of carrying torches that would be used to ignite their burning crosses.
They are well-represented in the White House by players like Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller, where some of these individuals have been instrumental in creating catch-phrases that sound patriotic – such as “America First” and “Make America Great Again” – that are in fact alt-right dog whistles for white supremacy.
My June 5th “America First” – A Phrase with a Very Dark Past blog traces the clear historical path of that phrase into a rather unambiguous racist, white supremacist connotation, and it is pretty universally acknowledged that “Make America Great Again” is a call to return the United States to the ethos, economy, power and influence of the 1950s… which the alt-right also includes as a time when blacks and Jews “knew their place.” The alt-right has seized on the Confederacy for symbolism and history, coopting the flag, symbols and historical icons, arguing that they are doing nothing more than preserving history… a posture rapidly and openly adopted by the President himself. But who are these followers of the alt-right philosophy, what do there really believe and what motivates them?

The August 15th explores a recent formal psychological study – A Psychological Profile of the Alt-Right: “Recently, psychologists Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily recruited members of the alt-right (a.k.a. the ‘alternative right,’ the catchall political identity of white nationalists) to participate in a study to build the first psychological profile of their movement. The results, which were released on August 9, are just in working paper form, and have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal…
“A lot of the findings align with what we intuit about the alt-right: This group is supportive of social hierarchies that favor whites at the top. It’s distrustful of mainstream media and strongly opposed to Black Lives Matter. Respondents were highly supportive of statements like, ‘There are good reasons to have organization that look out for the interests of white people.’ And when they look at other groups — like black Americans, Muslims, feminists, and journalists — they’re willing to admit they see these people as ‘less evolved.’”
The study itself noted why Forscher and Kteily mounted the research in the first place: “[Donald] Trump’s election coincided with the rise of a political movement, the ‘alternative right’ or ‘alt right,’ that took an active role in cheerleading his candidacy and several of his controversial policy positions. Although the movement embraced Trump enthusiastically, the precise nature of its membership and goals remain unclear. Nevertheless, associates of the alt-right appear to wield considerable influence within Trump’s administration, dramatically increasing the movement’s reach and political power. Moreover, some alt-right associates have shown a willingness to use aggressive behavior in pursuing their aims, including violence at political rallies and doxxing of political opponents (i.e., publicly releasing sensitive personal information on the internet). Beyond the significance of the alt-right’s rise for theories of intergroup relations, the movement’s growing political influence and the seeming willingness of some of its adherents to use extremist tactics towards their objectives highlight the practical need to better understand the psychological roots of alt-right support.
“Some of the opaqueness of the alt-right’s motivations follows from the movement’s largely decentralized structure; whatever formal organization it has exists primarily online.” (Citations omitted). While there are clearly-defined local groups, from assemblages of KKK followers to regional alt-right militias/neo-Nazi organizations – supported by online periodicals like Breitbart News – they are heavily dispersed across the country. However, their common thread is the reestablishment of white Christian traditionalists to all material positions of power in the American political scene and the relegation of everyone else to a rather clear second class (or worse) status, regardless of citizenship. Reversing the results of the long-past Civil War.
The study’s authors compared answers to series of questions and visual analyses between clear alt-right supporters and a more average grouping. For example, using the image above with online sliders to measure intensity along with additional polling efforts, they generated the following “evolved status” result from the alt-right test-takers:

“[It’s] the degree to which the alt-righters differed from the comparison sample that’s most striking — especially when it came to measures of dehumanization, support for collective white action, and admitting to harassing others online. That surprised even Forscher, the lead author and a professor at the University of Arkansas, who typically doesn’t find such large group difference in his work…
“Among the measures where the alt-right and comparison groups don’t look much different in the survey results is closeness and relationships with other people. The alt-righters reported having about equal levels of close friends, which means these aren’t necessarily isolated, lonely people. They’re members of a community.
“Also important: Alt-righters in the sample aren’t all that concerned about the economy. The survey used a common set of Pew question that asks about the current state of the economy, and about whether participants feel like things are going to improve for them. Here, both groups reported about the same levels of confidence in the economy… It goes to show: The alt-right is motivated by racial issues, not economic anxiety.
“But it goes deeper than that. The survey revealed that the alt-righters were much more concerned that their groups were at a disadvantage compared with the control sample. The alt-right (and white nationalists) is afraid of being displaced by increasing numbers of immigrants and outsiders in this country. And, yes, they see themselves as potential victims.”
The most troubling undercurrent to these findings, evidenced by the alt-right’s violent Charlottesville protest followed by alt-rallies around the country, is their increasing willingness to take action against those they see as the inferior beings that threaten their power and control over “their” society.
Online attacks and the dissemination of fake news through social media are bad enough, but the notion that alt-right followers are no different from any other group (there is no “alt-left,” by the way, no matter what Donald Trump may say)… no more or less violent… and are thus categorized and legitimized by the President of the United States as part of his official U.S. policy, has effectively empowered these groups to escalate their well-armed efforts to the next level. Social media is now replete with statements from alt-right hate groups citing the President’s statements as clear support for their views.
If the rise of legitimize alt-rights expressions of hatred and concomitant belief that violence against their perceived “inferiors” is now legitimized by those they have voted to put in office is not severely stopped, we may well generate that race war that mass murderer Charles Manson (a rather clear alt-right neo-Nazi pictured above right with his obvious facial tattoo) tried to foment in back in 1969. “In the months leading up to the Tate/LaBianca murders in August 1969, Charles Manson often spoke to the members of his ‘Family’ about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions between blacks and whites.” Wikipedia.
But back then we did not have a president who counted that extreme neo-Nazi movement as just one more protest group. One more thing: Odd, I thought that the over 30 thousand U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen who died or were wounded in World War II were deeply committed to purging Nazi from the face of this earth. I wonder how those fighting men and women would feel to watch the President of the United States legitimize neo-Nazis as just one more political force in the American body politic?
If you have the slightest doubt what side the Trump administration is on, here’s a little stunning development reported in the August 16th “The Department of Justice (DoJ) wants all visitors' IP addresses - some 1.3 million - to a website that helped organise a protest on the day of President Trump's inauguration… DreamHost is currently refusing to comply with the request and is due in court later this month.” The Donald does not do well with anyone who criticizes him or his policies. But if you voted for and support him... no matter how extreme you may be... expect his unyielding support. I wonder how well our enemies will use these racist vectors in their anti-American propaganda.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if you aren’t already angry at our President, perhaps it’s time to leap over mere anger into being furious and letting your elected representatives know that.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Giving White Supremacists a Platform

I’ve blogged on that atavistic balance between curiosity and self-preservation. Why elements that are obviously different introduced into an environment – the “unknown” if you will – are not openly and immediately embraced by the animal-incumbents in that environment. Animals in the wild are born with self-preserving skepticism, but as you move up the evolutionary scale – assuming you believe in evolution – you can see how that “fear of the unknown” morphs into intellectual curiosity and more. Societies with strong notions of morality likewise embrace openness versus exclusion, and notwithstanding a misplaced reliance on “White Protestant Christianity” by too many white supremacists, one of the major themes of the New Testament is combination of inclusion, compassion and brotherly love… not surprising for a religion that was literally born in a region filled with “people of color.”
Racism is born of insecurity, often passed down from generation to generation, but never comes from a healthy place. But it continues to exist today in numbers that should concern us all. Even “liberal” and seemingly “enlightened” historical figures we generally admire have suffered from its ugly embrace. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a Princeton scholar and architect of the League of Nations, led our nation during World War I… but was historically a horrific racist. He actively pushed black Americans out of their hard-won Civil Service positions and quietly envisioned a White Christian world – particularly a united Europe and the United States – uniting against the growing “yellow menace” rising in Asia. Racism was not only an accepted part of our cultural reality, reinforced by Jim Crow laws designed to contain blacks. As the disruptive violence from Ferguson, Missouri to the debacle in Charlottesville, Virginia prove, racism is alive and well across the land. The Civil Rights movement began in the 1960s… but we are not over that “beginning” yet.
Racism may exist in communities of traditional white Americans watching their livelihoods wither away and globalization and change challenge their long-standing way of life. They see “foreigners” taking their jobs away and violent protests from minority communities, their cultural icons labeled un-American (and by reference, their way of life), and they are severely threatened, longing for scapegoats to blame. But others, very much like Woodrow Wilson, are intellectual racists, believing to their core that their way of life is vastly superior, that they should rule to the exclusion of others.
Our prison system has become a racism accelerant. With stunning uniformity, men’s prisons and jails are highly segregated along the lines of gang affiliation and race. For too many white inmates without a hint of racial bias, they are forced to seek “protection” against well-organized Hispanic and black gangs by affiliating with white extremist gangs, the most powerful of which has to be the Aryan Brotherhood in its many incarnations and approved lesser organizations.
“The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand, or the AB, is a white supremacist prison gang and organized crime syndicate in the United States with about 10,000 members in and out of prison. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the gang makes up less than 0.1% of the prison population, but it is responsible for between 18-25% of murders in the federal prison system. The AB has focused on the economic activities typical of organized crime entities, particularly drug trafficking, extortion, inmate prostitution, and murder-for-hire.
“Organization of whites only at lower levels varies from prison to prison. For example, in the Arizona prison system, members are known as ‘kindred’ and organize into ‘families’. A ‘council’ controls the families. Kindred may recruit other members, known as ‘progeny’, and serve as a mentor for the new recruits. The group has an alliance with La Eme (the Mexican Mafia) as the two are mutual enemies of Black Guerrilla Family.
“Like most prison gangs, Aryan Brotherhood members mark themselves with distinctive tattoos. Designs commonly include the words ‘Aryan Brotherhood’, ‘AB’, ‘666’, Nazi symbolism such as SS, sig runes, and swastikas, as well as shamrocks and Celtic iconography
“Until the 1960s, most prisons in the United States were racially segregated. As prisons began to desegregate, many inmates organized along racial lines. The Aryan Brotherhood is believed to have been formed at San Quentin State Prison, but it may have been derived from or inspired by the Bluebird Gang. They decided to strike against the blacks who were forming their own militant group called the Black Guerrilla Family.” Wikipedia. Simply, the more you incarcerate, the more you extend and countenance racism.
The trappings of traditional white supremacy are heavily reliant on the trappings of history. Despite the claims of preserving history veracity, the Confederate flag and associated monuments are high on that list… as are KKK robes and Nazi symbols. And the misuse of the Christian cross. The use of these symbols are intended to legitimize, intimidate, empower and foment racial hatred, and, ultimately, to terrorize. They frequently identify with militias and often carry torches, guns, batons and shields in their protest movement. Their adherents jump on any bandwagon that supports any element of their “cause,” or fails to single them out, as evidence of what they misperceive as their growing legitimacy.
They are overjoyed at Donald Trump’s immigration policy and the rise of evangelical power over the scientific Washington bureaucratic gurus. They love Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rather clear statement pulling back federal investigations of local police forces with seriously bad race relations and a reinforcement of “law and order” (now alt-right buzzwords) priorities – viewed by these extremists as the antithesis of “supporting civil rights” that marked prior political regimes. They cheer as the Trump administration embraces a further opening-up of guns in society, which they see as supporting an ultimate race war that will return control of the United States to the white traditionalists who began their tenure running this nation as slave owners. That the Justice Department is “opening” a “domestic terrorism” investigation has been met with a white nationalist shrug… and the President certainly avoided applying that label to the Charlottesville assault.
If you read their websites, listen to their statements, and look at their use of social media, you can see how overjoyed white nationalists are at how Donald Trump – notwithstanding subsequent “clarifications from administration officials” – equally blamed the white supremacist protestors and the counter-protestors for the Charlottesville violence. “… on many sides, on many sides.” That after an opening statement about the economy on August 14th, Donald Trump finally chastised as “repugnant” the white supremacist movements by name, days later, is clearly viewed by those extremists as his bowing, reluctantly, to pressure from many, including his own party. But – wink, wink – the extremists already knew where he really stood, and that’s what mattered. They are immutably part of Trump’s ultimately-loyal base, supporters who will remain with him through thick and thin. And The Donald knows that reality, rewarding their fierce loyalty with a “wink, wink” acceptance of their movement.
But we also know that racism can be unlearned. Charlottesville, once a hotbed of racism, is a very good case in point. While most of the white supremacists came from elsewhere, the majority of the counter-protestors were local. It was the local community that was removing the statue of Confederal General Robert E. Lee. Obviously, we can also legitimize racism with “wink, wink” messaging, avoiding direct condemnation until “forced to do so,” and pulling the rug out from under programs and prosecutions aimed at enhancing “equality under the law.” The President has already set the moral low ground for his rather unsubtle “you know what I said” approach to this volatile situation. Republicans and Democrats alike criticized Donald Trump’s tepid response to the horror.
Did Donald Trump need that extra time to criticize racism? When Merck & Co Inc Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier, himself anAfrican-American, resigned from U.S. President Donald Trump's American Manufacturing Council on the morning August 14th, it took Donald Trump about an hour to tweet a classic Trump put-down in response: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” It seems clear to me that Donald Trump was not happy that he had to add moral clarity to his earlier statements, an additional specific condemnation against the white nationalist in Charlottesville. Clearly, there is a powerful lack of moral leadership in the White House. I suspect that the President’s followers will think he has said enough. But look carefully at the litany of criticisms and the timing of the statements as they evolved. Not credible. s
But there’s an even bigger point for the rest of us. While in a moral nation, there are not two sides to racial hatred and concomitant violence, the question arises as to whether we are giving white supremacists, including well-armed white militias, Klan members and neo-Nazis, a platform for their cause, presenting strong visuals about “traditional Christian whites taking action” – creating the same kind of luring propaganda that attracted ordinary people to fight for ISIS – making these white extremists a part of the conversation about racial problems in our country. Do they belong in this conversation or should our discussion refocus on the more day-to-day vestiges of racial disharmony that are spread much more widely than these edgy extremes? Shouldn’t we continue to contain their toxicity but marginalize their inclusion in the real racial conversation that must take place across America?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder exactly how much we should focus on these bastions of domestic terrorism as opposed to discussing how racism otherwise permeates so many other aspects of contemporary American life.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs – Tips, Tips, Tips

 Chart from, August 9th based on BLS statistics
Aside from the escalating potential of an expansion of jobs for nuclear radiation decontamination experts, it is interesting to look at the hard numbers of where Trump-directed job growth has been most focused. What is clear is how underwhelming the increases are in terms of longer-term national economic values. Except for healthcare, which is beginning to implode as Donald Trump threatens to undermine and underfund the Affordable Care Act until he can force it to collapse, there is very little in the way of tech-development, infrastructure, education and research – the real high-level-job creation accelerators.
The big-deal Trump coal mining push – a small part of the above “Mining/Logging” category – is proving to be as underwhelming as economists predicted. As federal lands are opened up for exploitation, there is some minimal job growth in this rapidly fading sector, accompanied by some distressing side effects. For example, as a May 8, 2016 CBS 60 Minutes program points out, “Before 2009, there were, on average, two earthquakes a year in Oklahoma that were magnitude 3 or greater. [In 2015], there were 907. That's right, 907.” Wastewater, the result of expanding oil and gas extraction, has been pumped back into the ground resulting in this nasty earthquake phenomenon.
But the accelerating decline of retail jobs – from closing malls and growing online shopping – a sector that employs approximately 3.5 million Americans, is being rather completely ignored by the Trump administration, which continues to focus on the rapidly-contracting coal mining industry where there are fewer than a total 100,000 workers… and falling. Coal is most-definitely not the natural fuel resource of the future as global demand continues to plunge for this highly-polluting energy-generating alternative.
The slight increase in manufacturing jobs might seem like a good sign, but in a world where American manufacturing is defined by robotics, the winners in bringing “making things” back are the wealthiest Americans who own that automation that is replacing what used to be high-paying blue collar manufacturing jobs. Certainly not our labor force. Income inequality anyone?
But are we becoming a nation of cooks, waiters, and bussers? Not exactly the bastion of high pay, excepting super-star chefs and waiters in the most expensive eateries in the country. We seem obsessed with chefs and food, as any slide down a cable television channel menu will substantiate. Where’s the beef? On the table but definitely not in the wallet.
“Restaurant jobs are on fire in 2017, growing faster than health care, construction, or manufacturing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls this subsector ‘food services and drinking places,’ and the jobs are mostly at sit-down restaurants, which make up 50 percent of the category. Fast-food joints are the next-largest employer in the category, with 37 percent. Bars—wonderful, plentiful, but leanly staffed—account for just 3 percent. So, [we are] just going to keep saying ‘restaurants’ for short…
“How did this happen? As Justin Fox points out, the trend didn't appear overnight. For the past three decades, restaurants have steadily grown, as part of the most fundamental shift in American work—from making things to serving people. Between 1990 and 2008, 98 percent of new jobs came from so-called ‘nontradable’ industries that aren't sensitive to international trade, according to the economist Michael Spence.
“In 1990, manufacturing was almost three times larger than the food-service industry. But restaurants have gradually closed the gap. At current rates of growth, more people will work at restaurants than in manufacturing in 2020. This mirrors the shift in consumer spending. Restaurants’ share of America’s food budget has doubled from 25 percent in the 1950s to 50 percent today
“The trend is speeding up, but it’s not clear that we should cheer it—or whether it’s sustainable. Jobs are jobs, but these ones don’t pay very well. The typical private-sector job pays about $22 an hour. The typical restaurant job pays about $12.50. That’s one reason why the Fight for 15 movement to raise the minimum wage has targeted the restaurant industry. What’s more, although it might feel like a golden age of restaurants in America, the truth is that the United States might have too many restaurants, particularly ‘family-casual’ chains like Applebee’s, which have struggled to keep up with rising labor costs [recently announcing a closing of approximately 135 venues].
“But the most important feature of the restaurant-jobs boom is not what it may say about the future, but rather the fact that it is happening in the first place. Trump and other politicians often say they want to help the common worker. But then they talk about the economy as if it were cryogenically frozen sometime around 1957. The U.S. still makes stuff, but mostly it serves stuff. To help American workers, it helps to begin with an honest accounting of what Americans actually do.” Derek Thompson writing for, August 9th. Want better jobs? Education, research and infrastructure… all areas where government expenditures continue the long-term austerity cutbacks that have been implemented by a conservative Congress and the majority of state legislatures… also controlled by conservatives.
I’m Peter Dekom, and mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be waiters.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

“Firehose of Falsehood”

The PolitiFact scorecard

·         True 20 (5%)(20)
·         Mostly True 51 (12%)(51)
·         Half True 63 (14%)(63)
·         Mostly False 92 (21%)(92)
·         False 142 (33%)(142)
·         Pants on Fire 67 (15%)(67)
Last year, before Donald Trump was elected President, Rand Corporation authors, Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews, asked themselves how the Russian propaganda machine was so overwhelmingly effective with the Russian people when the government disseminated such an overflow of obviously false information. How did they do it?
In a 2016 Rand Report – The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model – based on extensive research, the authors drilled down into the answers. Their research is chilling, not so much on the impact of this practice in Putin’s Russia (which is  bad enough), but for the parallels of here in the United States, which was not the subject of their report. Let’s start with Trump himself, a man who in the first six months of his term in office has tweeted well over 500 times.
I began the analysis of Donald Trump’s self-described “truthful hyperbole” in my August 2nd Believe Me! blog, where the President seems to have so embraced his proclivity for embellishment and misstatement that his own physical manifestations while making these false or exaggerated statements suggests that at the moment he makes these expressions, orally or in writing, he may actually believe them to be “true”… or “true enough.”
Just one sliver of the Trump presidency, highly reflective of his entire six month tenure in office, says it all: “In a period of less than 26 hours — from 6:31 p.m. on July 24 to 8:09 p.m. on July 25 — President Trump made two fired-up speeches, held a news conference and tweeted with abandon, leaving a trail of misinformation in his wake. [29 false or misleading claims].” The Washington Post, July 26th, which listed in detail each of these statements and presented the irrefutable facts that contradicted them. Way before Trump’s purported but non-existent phone calls from the Mexican President or the leader of the Boy Scouts.
“The New York Times keeps a running tally of the president’s lies since Inauguration Day, and PolitiFact has scrutinized and rated 69 percent of Trump’s statements as mostly false, false, or ‘pants on fire.’ [see above chart].”, August 4th. With this basic premise – Trump’s pattern of issuing false or misleading statements – as background, the Rand report on Russia becomes that much more interesting.
Rand’s own summary of its report: “Since its 2008 incursion into Georgia (if not before), there has been a remarkable evolution in Russia's approach to propaganda. The country has effectively employed new dissemination channels and messages in support of its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, its ongoing involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and its antagonism of NATO allies. The Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency. Although these techniques would seem to run counter to the received wisdom for successful information campaigns, research in psychology supports many of the most successful aspects of the model. Furthermore, the very factors that make the firehose of falsehood effective also make it difficult to counter. Traditional counterpropaganda approaches will likely be inadequate in this context. More effective solutions can be found in the same psychology literature that explains the surprising success of the Russian propaganda model and its messages.”
Based on extensive supporting research, the Rand authors conclude:
Experimental research shows that, to achieve success in disseminating propaganda, the variety of sources matters:
·         Multiple sources are more persuasive than a single source, especially if those sources contain different arguments that point to the same conclusion.
·         Receiving the same or similar message from multiple sources is more persuasive.
·         People assume that information from multiple sources is likely to be based on different perspectives and is thus worth greater consideration.
The number and volume of sources also matter:
·         Endorsement by a large number of users boosts consumer trust, reliance, and confidence in the information, often with little attention paid to the credibility of those making the endorsements.
·         When consumer interest is low, the persuasiveness of a message can depend more on the number of arguments supporting it than on the quality of those arguments.

Finally, the views of others matter, especially if the message comes from a source that shares characteristics with the recipient:
·         Communications from groups to which the recipient belongs are more likely to be perceived as credible. The same applies when the source is perceived as similar to the recipient. If a propagandachannel is (or purports to be) from a group the recipient identifies with, it is more likely to be persuasive.
·         Credibility can be social; that is, people are more likely to perceive a source as credible if others perceive the source as credible. This effect is even stronger when there is not enough informationavailable to assess the trustworthiness of the source.
·         When information volume is low, recipients tend to favor experts, but when information volume is high, recipients tend to favor information from other users.
·         In online forums, comments attacking a proponent’s expertise or trustworthiness diminish credibility and decrease the likelihood that readers will take action based on what they have read.
The experimental psychology literature suggests that, all other things being equal, messages received in greater volume and from more sources will be more persuasive. Quantity does indeed have aquality all its own. High volume can deliver other benefits that are relevant in the Russian propaganda context. First, high volume can consume the attention and other available bandwidth of potentialaudiences, drowning out competing messages. Second, high volume can overwhelm competing messages in a flood of disagreement. Third, multiple channels increase the chances that target audiencesare exposed to the message. Fourth, receiving a message via multiple modes and from multiple sources increases the message’s perceived credibility, especially if a disseminating source is one with which anaudience member identifies…
Furthermore, repetition leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to acceptance:
·         Repeated exposure to a statement has been shown to increase its acceptance as true.
·         The “illusory truth effect” is well documented, whereby people rate statements as more truthful, valid, and believable when they have encountered those statements previously than when they arenew statements.
·         When people are less interested in a topic, they are more likely to accept familiarity brought about by repetition as an indicator that the information (repeated to the point of familiarity) is correct.
·         When processing information, consumers may save time and energy by using a frequency heuristic, that is, favoring information they have heard more frequently.
·         Even with preposterous stories and urban legends, those who have heard them multiple times are more likely to believe that they are true.
·         If an individual is already familiar with an argument or claim (has seen it before, for example), they process it less carefully, often failing to discriminate weak arguments from strong arguments
·         In a phenomenon known as the “sleeper effect, low-credibility sources manifest greater persuasive impact with the passage of time. While people make initial assessments of the credibility of asource, in remembering, information is often dissociated from its source. Thus, information from a questionable source may be remembered as true, with the source forgotten.
·         Information that is initially assumed valid but is later retracted or proven false can continue to shape people’s memory and influence their reasoning.
·         Even when people are aware that some sources (such as political campaign rhetoric) have the potential to contain misinformation, they still show a poor ability to discriminate between informationthat is false and information that is correct..
·         Someone is more likely to accept information when it is consistent with other messages that the person believes to be true.
·         People suffer from “confirmation bias”: They view news and opinions that confirm existing beliefs as more credible than other news and opinions, regardless of the quality of the arguments.
·         Someone who is already misinformed (that is, believes some- thing that is not true) is less likely to accept evidence that goes against those misinformed beliefs.
·         People whose peer group is affected by an event are much more likely to accept conspiracy theories about that event.
·         Stories or accounts that create emotional arousal in the recipient (e.g., disgust, fear, happiness) are much more likely to be passed on, whether they are true or not.
·         Angry messages are more persuasive to angry audiences.
Does this seem shockingly familiar? Does this seem to be a rather full description of much of Trump’s messaging habits? The Trump “Firehose” even takes credit for the work of others: “‘My first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,’ Trump tweeted Wednesday [8/9]… He did not order the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. President Obama did that in 2014, despite calling for a ‘vision of ... a world without nuclear weapons’ just five years earlier.
“The plan, expected to cost $400 billion through 2024, would upgrade nuclear weapon production facilities, refurbish warheads and build new submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles. It will likely cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years, according to outside estimates… Because the sprawling nuclear force will take so long to rebuild, the arsenal is more or less at the same level of strength as it was when Trump took office seven months ago.” Los Angeles Times, August 10th.
But he said… well… as the North Korean threats and counter threats mounted… “Hours after warning North Korea that it would meet ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen’ if its leader, Kim Jong Un, continued to provoke the United States, President Trump said the U.S. nuclear arsenal was stronger ‘than ever before.’” LA Times. Exactly my point. Sometimes ignorance, provocation and “Firehose” falsehoods can actually kill you.
Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, embraces the notion of exaggeration and factual manipulation as a viable negotiating technique he calls “truthful hyperbole.” But as his pattern of communication, embraced and accepted by his ultra-loyal base as gospel (“take what he says seriously but not always literally”), is now the norm for his administration, given his rather open admiration for Vladimir Putin, has Trump knowingly patterned his communications efforts through this proven-to-be-effective Russian “firehose of falsehood” model… or are his instincts innately driven to the same result? Similar to the North Korean “Firehose”? Either way, the resulting polarization and distortion of our democracy is deeply disturbing. Could these practices eventually unravel our entire governmental structure?
I’m Peter Dekom, and while I fully understand how dictatorships control their populations with disinformation by reason of their direct control over media, I am stunned that in a nation with First Amendment protections for a free press, the same disinformation techniques can be employed with amazing effectiveness.