Commentary

Faith, Fear And Marketing

How do you get people riled up -- so riled up as to surrender all their democratic values, their Christian values, their ability to process facts, their very human rationality? 

“That is easy,” explained one of history’s greatest experts on the subject. “All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Ladies and gentlemen, your Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering.

This is the essence of demagoguery: seizing on the public’s anxieties, insecurities, prejudices and deepest fears, and then creating a sinister Other on whom to foist the blame. You needn’t go to Nazi Germany to find examples in modern history. You could think of Rwanda, or Yugoslavia, or Cambodia, or China in the Cultural Revolution. But why be so exotic?

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You could simply recall America’s “Yellow Peril.” Or America’s Red Scare. Or America’s Jim Crow. Or America’s internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Or America’s ongoing brisk marketplace for anti-semitism, sometimes dog whistled -- “New York elites” -- and sometimes explicit, as in Henry Ford’s noted four-volume page-turner, The International Jew, The World’s Foremost Problem. (Volume Two, Chapter 26 is particularly enlightening: “The Scope of Jewish Dictatorship in the U.S.”)

Oh, we’ve had so many marketers of the year. Ford, Father Coughlin, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Gov. George Wallace, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and now the uber marketer -- whose entire worldwide business is built on the branding of an empty promise --- Reichsmarschall Donald Trump.

You know, the guy who has suddenly recalled seeing thousands of Arab New Jerseyans cheering the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down, and that tells you something. It was well covered at the time."

Actually, it wasn’t covered at the time, because it didn’t happen. Did. Not. Happen. Which is hardly surprising, because Trump is a serial liar whose lies are often easily debunked based on things like verifiable facts. From his inflated net worth to Obama’s birth certificate, really, take your pick:

“The last quarter, it was just announced, our gross domestic product [growth] … was below zero. Who ever heard of this? It's never below zero." (Except for the other 42 times over the 272 quarters ever measured.) 

"We have the highest tax rate anywhere in the world."  (Not No. 1, but 103 out of 111, according to the World Bank in 2012)

Number of illegal immigrants in the U.S.: “30 million, it could be 34 million.” (11.3 million, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2006)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership "was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone."  (The TPP, which excludes China, is designed to do the opposite.)

"The Mexican government ... they send the bad ones over." (The Mexican government sends nobody over.)

But as the poll numbers and mass rallies more than demonstrate, truth is not the raw material of fear marketing. The secret sauce is understanding what frightened people are prepared to believe. Then, a la Goering, you just repeat it again and again until it becomes their reality -- whether it’s chanting Jersey Muslims or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Obamacare “death panels.” 

Some people call this the Big Lie. Some people call it propaganda. Really, it’s just faith.

Ben Carson, a trained physician, is able to discard the fossil record and carbon dating to believe in recent Biblical Creation. The GOP insists as an article of faith that regulating business on environmental practices or anything else kills jobs -- although there is essentially zero historical economic evidence to support that.

(They also ignore all economic reality on the subject of deficit spending, which is very bad for households and very good for superpowers.) The Birthers are prepared to believe a conspiracy so prescient as to plant a phony birth notice for infant Barack Obama in Honolulu newspapers in 1961.

None of this has anything to do with rational thinking, nor even necessarily stupidity. It has to do with belief. Donald Trump has spent a career telling the public like it isn’t, and yet has a majority of likely Republican voters crediting him for telling it like it is. 

Is this any different from gilding faucets at kitschy resorts or selling crappy merchandise at Macy’s, supposedly imbuing the goods with Trump success and “sophistication?” No.

Trump understands what people most want: validation for their unattainable hopes and darkest fears. The gold faucets of his politics are simplistic explanations, tough talk, safety, security and someone to blame.  Like all the other most cynical marketers, demagogues, evangelists and con men, feeding us with the very lies we wish to tell ourselves. 

Why are ye fearful, O yeof too much faith?

14 comments about "Faith, Fear And Marketing".
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  1. Robert Dahill from IDTV , November 23, 2015 at 10:06 a.m.

    Bob, Given the number of examples that you've noted -- and that history has provided, are there any examples of effective, timely 'counterpoints' that offered people perspective and hope? The civil rights movement, the McCarthy hearings, the internment camps' all came at a great loss of human dignity and personnel freedoms and their stain on the American psyche is still with us.  Bob        

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 23, 2015 at 10:29 a.m.

    Thank you. 

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 23, 2015 at 10:29 a.m.

    Luckily trump's the *only* high-polling Presidential candidate who's been accused of being a serial liar.

  4. Jeff Sawyer from GH, November 23, 2015 at 11:44 a.m.

    Brilliant piece.
    PS. He seems to be running for monarch, and would surely be better at that, given its parallels to life in the boardroom.  

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 23, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.

    I think that Trump is simply not very buttoned up on his "facts" and doesn't think before he speaks----not a good tendency for one who wishes to become President of the U.S. For example, I saw video footage of Palestinians cheering the terrorist acts of 9/11----but they were in Gaza and/or The West Bank----not New Jersey. Perhaps that's what Trump referred to---who knows?

  6. mark weiner from PRIME Research, November 23, 2015 at 4:53 p.m.

    Here we see the difference between "truth" and "facts."  Truth can be an individual belief while facts are verifiable.  I can try to convince Ben Carson that the pyramids were tombs and he can argue based on "his truth as he knows it."  He can't argue that 2+2=4. When presented with enough facts, one hopes in this case that they can become the truth for people about whom you write. 

  7. Robyn Tippins from Mariposa Interactive, November 24, 2015 at 8:42 a.m.

    I giggled when I found out he was running, but it's not funny anymore.  

    I don't understand the popularity of a leacherous, cruel, fearmongering liar, but he has incredibly strong support -- in that race it's pretty much evil Trump or clueless Carson.  And the Nazi comparison, while striking, is surprisingly common.  A google search returns many, many voices crying out in the sae vein.  

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 24, 2015 at 10:05 a.m.

    Not to worry, folks. It is most unlikely that the Republicans, even though they are amazingly befuddled my modern life, will opt for Trump as their candidate. More likely is Rubio----which could be interesting.

  9. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, November 24, 2015 at 10:59 a.m.

    The problem isn't the Trumps of the world. The problem is the masses who fall in the demagogue's thrall...because they are predisposed to do so.  I feel shame and heartbreak that I share a flag with those who flock to his rallies and see his poison as the cure. 

  10. Anthony Detry from Mediabrands, November 24, 2015 at 11:49 a.m.

    This is one of my favorite pieces by you. Superbly written.

  11. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 24, 2015 at 12:34 p.m.

    Robert, to your question about counterpoints offering people hope certainly the election of President Kennedy counts as one of these as we thought we would finally have a new beginning after the traumas of WW2, the Korean War and the onset of The Cold War. Again, in the same vein, the fall of communism and the breakup of the old Soviet empire would be a more recent example. Sadly, in both cases the great new beginnings failed to materialize.

  12. Jo Holz from Holz Research, November 24, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    Thank you, Bob, for being one of the few journalists to tell it like it is about the Donald.  Years from now, when we look back on this sad episode in American politics, I don't know what will seem more shameful -- the way this demagogue lied and bullied his way to the top of the Republican candidate foodchain, or the way the media by and large enabled him to do so. 

  13. Joel Rubinson from Rubinson Partners, Inc., November 24, 2015 at 2:01 p.m.

    There is a lot that is wrong with  this piece.  When the towers went down, there WAS celebrating in Jersey City, Atlantic ve. Brooklyn, and in Jerusalem (until Arafat stopped it to prevent blowback.).  We ARE one of the highest taxed nations.  add to our top federal bracket the tax rate in NY, the sales tax, and Medicare/Social Security. and tell me what you see.  Not a lot of digging deep here to get to the right answers...

  14. Michael Pursel from Pursel Advertising replied, November 24, 2015 at 5:08 p.m.

    I'm glad you feel the shame of our flag, just as I feel the shame for those who cannot see the dark days that lie beyond 2016.  Why is it that Trump and Carson resonate with the american people? Because a large and growing larger number of Americans do not trust The Media, Our Elected Officials, and the Corporations backing them.  It's the same when I listen to marketers "telling" us how we should absorb our media, which commentators and networks "tell the truth", why Broadcast TV is dead and not even worth the effort to understand. Trust is everything and is nothing in DC. And Bob, It always amazes me when a conservative has a "thought" or position on current events, it is because we are too stupid to come up with original ideas, so our "thought" must be planted by those spreading POISON.  (Like Fox News?) But of course your thoughts are pure and 100% original.    I get it.  It's your page, you get the pulpit.
    Ed is correct, Trump probably will not be the republican flag bearer.  But both parties better realize the seed of discontent has been planted and is growing.  Now that I'm finished, i'll go back to Media Post and see if I can't find some stories about Media. For a minute though I thought I was on the MSNBC site.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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