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Just dropping by ... The perils of propaganda

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 March 2016

I don’t know about you, but I am going bonkers with this election process. It is a Barnum and Bailey circus without any safety nets or guide wires. The tigers are loose in the ring, the announcers don’t know which way to turn, and the photographers don’t know where to point the camera.

The audience screams and cheers as the candidates push each other into the mouths of the hungry beasts. The Hunger Games has nothing on this fight to the death. Integrity seems to have flown into outer space, and the main purpose of this madhouse is to dupe the public into buying something they don’t need or want.



In the ’90s, I taught seventh- and eighth-grade social studies. Part of my curriculum was to help the students understand the techniques of propaganda. Not so they could use them – but to avoid them in their writing and speeches. It seems that some of these candidates are using the instruction for their own personal benefit.

I think it is appropriate to remind ourselves of the dangers and consequences of propaganda so, when we watch the debates and the town halls, we can see through the tactics. Maybe we will be able to discern the honest man from the snake-oil salesman.

I first learned about propaganda when I studied World War II and Hitler’s rise to power. Hitler was a master of propaganda and used it to shape the destiny of his country. He positioned himself as the smartest and the greatest leader the world had ever known.

With his skill as a slick propagandist, he fabricated truths; people believed and followed him off the cliff. The crowds, in the millions, cheered his lies and bowed in submission to his dictates.

In the wake of Hitler’s plan, he left millions of people devastated and homeless. He murdered innocent people and used his persuasive power of propaganda and bullying tactics to solicit others in his plot.


Generations later, many are still recovering from his promises to solve all the problems of society. There are many forms of propaganda, but I will name and define only a few. If you watch the debates and the campaign ads, you will see perfect examples of these techniques.


One of the well-used techniques of propaganda is bandwagon. Bandwagon means that just because everyone is doing it, you should too. When a candidate says, “Everyone is frustrated with the economy,” that gives the signal that you should be frustrated with the economy as well. It’s rah-rah, jump on the bandwagon, when a candidate says, “All of the polls show that I am ahead in the race. If you are not voting for me, you must be stupid. Everybody who is anybody is voting for me.”

The bandwagon technique appeals to a person’s self-esteem. We all want to feel that others think we are intelligent and important. We never want to feel like an outsider.

Snob appeal

The next propaganda technique is snob appeal. Snob appeal is related to the bandwagon technique. With this technique, the candidate brags about his accomplishments, trying to show he is better than everybody else.

He is a cut above the crowd. He alone can solve the problems. He multiplies great swelling words about his accomplishments and will not allow anyone to criticize him.

Unflattering criticism might make him fall from his self-constructed pedestal. People who fall into the trap of snob appeal are looking for a hero to worship, and feel that identifying with a superhero of such empirical standing could solve their problems and change the face of the future.


Glittering generalities

The next propaganda technique can be overlooked if you’re not vigilant. The candidate speaks in vague, undefined terms. He will say things like, “I haven’t got it all worked out yet, but it’s going to be wonderful. When we get this done, it will be beautiful.

Trust me, it will be fantastic.” The candidate speaks in glittering generalities, which is another name for this technique. You will notice the candidate seldom gives specifics. That is why this technique works; the candidate never has to answer specific questions. What is more, he can change his plan at will, and no one is the wiser.


Loaded words or name-calling is another technique used by the propagandist. We have seen many examples in this election process. We have heard candidates call each other choke artists, con artists and liars more times than we cared to.

Whether the names were fitting titles or not, it still colored the view of many voters. Name-calling doesn’t have to be exact titles. It can be allusions to character or associations.

For example, if a candidate gets an endorsement from a particular individual or group, it automatically brands the candidate with a label. If the endorsement comes from a liberal, the candidate is branded a liberal, whether he is or not.

Sometimes endorsements can be detrimental to a candidate and used by the other candidates to defame and hurt his chances for election.

Unreliable testimonials

Unreliable testimonials or half-truths are another instrument of propaganda. The famous sound bite is a good example. The media asks “gotcha” questions to trap the candidate into making foolish statements; then they will cut and shape the bite for their own purposes.

Often, they pay little attention to context or intention of the candidate. Once I watched a news team interview people at a convention. The reporter started talking to a man and his wife and asked them a question.

The couple did not give the answer the reporter intended to hear. The reporter said, “I’m sorry, we don’t need you.” The reporter moved from one person to the next until he found someone to say what he wanted to hear. Talk about unreliable testimonials. I’m afraid it happens way too often in the media’s coverage of politics.

Plain folk

Acting like plain folk, or part of the common people, is another technique of propaganda. Candidates will often dress down. They take off the tie and coat and roll up their sleeves when talking to a group of blue-collar workers. If they are talking to a group of businessmen or educators, the suit and tie becomes the mode of dress. I have heard candidates even go so far as to change their accent and vocal intonation to fit into a group of people.

Candidates will often say something like, “I am one of you. I am not one of those guys.” They might use a different phraseology when speaking to Washington insiders because they want to appeal to whatever crowd they play to.

Appeal to high emotion

Our final propaganda technique is the appeal to high emotion. The Internet is splattered with advertisements that play on people’s fears or desires for love and happiness. I have bought many books, newsletters and gadgets that advertise the impending doom of the economy. I have also bought new clothes, new makeup and new diets that promise to change my self-esteem and make me more loved and happy.

During this election, candidates are using the rampant emotion of anger to sell themselves to the public. They capitalize on the fact that people are angry with the establishment for not keeping their promises.

Candidates rant and rave on the stage, telling people that they feel the anger as well. They may or may not be angry, but they are using anger to make a bridge between them and their constituents.


Propaganda is a tool of manipulation and trickery. When we are choosing our candidate, we need to be vigilant. We must find the truth for ourselves. By being aware of the techniques of propaganda, it will help to discern who is telling the truth and who is shaping the truth for their benefit. Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

We must listen to every debate and news moderator with a prayer in our hearts; then we must check it out with reliable sources. Then we must ask, in prayer, whom the Lord would have lead this nation and listen for the answer. He will answer every heartfelt prayer.  PD