There’s a really interesting new piece by Jason Stanley over at the The Stone in the New York Times on Trump and authoritarian propaganda. Excerpted below; the whole piece is here.
Trump regularly says that America’s “inner cities” are filled with Americans who are impoverished, and of African-American descent. According to Trump, these are places of unprecedented horror. In a tweet on Aug. 29, 2016, Trump wrote: “Inner-city crime is reaching record levels. African-Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!”
This has continued as one of the central themes in his campaign; there is supposedly an unprecedented wave of violent slaughter. In November 2015, Trump tweeted an image of the following statistics about race and murder from 2015, supposedly from a source called the “Crime Statistics Bureau of San Francisco,” which does not appear to exist. It included wildly inaccurate figures that indicated that a large majority of white people killed were being killed by black people.
In the United States, around 14 percent of the population is of African-American descent. White Americans make up around 75 percent. If 81 percent of white American citizens who were murdered in 2015 were murdered by a small minority group of American citizens with some kind of vaguely generalizable profile, it may be worth addressing in policy. However, F.B.I. statistics from 2014 tell us that 15 percent of whites are killed by their black fellow Americans, and 82 percent of white Americans are killed by their white fellow American citizens. Fact checkers of Trump’s tweet were displeased.
. . . The chief authoritarian values are law and order. In Trump’s value system, nonwhites and non-Christians are the chief threats to law and order. Trump knows that reality does not call for a value-system like his; violent crime is at almost historic lows in the United States. Trump is thundering about a crime wave of historic proportions, because he is an authoritarian using his speech to define a simple reality that legitimates his value system, leading voters to adopt it. Its strength is that it conveys his power to define reality. Its weakness is that it obviously contradicts it . . . Denouncing Trump as a liar, or describing him as merely entertaining, misses the point of authoritarian propaganda altogether. Authoritarian propagandists are attempting to convey power by defining reality. The reality they offer is very simple. It is offered with the goal of switching voters’ value systems to the authoritarian value system of the leader.