Countering the Establishment’s Message

The idea that China or Russia pose a threat to you is so self-evidently ridiculous, so transparently absurd, that the only way to make you believe it would be to propagandize you, writes Caitlin Johnstone.

Detail of World War II propaganda poster. (Carl Paulson/US Treasury Dept.)

By Caitlin Johnstone

new Gallup poll finds that Americans’ opinion of Russia and China have plummeted to historic lows this year, with 79 percent of the population now reporting an unfavorable view of China and 77 percent reporting an unfavorable view of Russia.

The hate predictably falls along partisan lines, with Republicans showing more disfavor toward China and Democrats reserving more of theirs for Russia, but there is plenty of overlap. China is only seen positively by 10 percent of Republicans compared to 27 percent of Democrats, while only sixteen percent of Dem voters view Russia in a positive light compared to 25 percent of Republicans. Unfavorable opinions of both nations dominate across the board no matter how you slice it.

In a recent Mintpress News article titled “After Years of Propaganda, American Views of Russia and China Hit Historic Lows“, Alan MacLeod points the finger at the obvious culprit in this shift in public opinion:

“Last year, American military planners advised that the U.S. should step up its campaign of psychological warfare against Beijing, including sponsoring authors and artists to create anti-China propaganda. The Pentagon’s budget request for 2021 makes clear that the United States is retooling for a potential intercontinental war with China or Russia. It asks for $705 billion to ‘shift focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a greater emphasis on the types of weapons that could be used to confront nuclear giants like Russia and China,’ noting that it requires ‘more advanced high-end weapon systems, which provide increased standoff, enhanced lethality and autonomous targeting for employment against near-peer threats in a more contested environment.’ 

Russia, meanwhile, has been the focus of Democratic Party ire since their defeat in the 2016 election. Prominent Democrats have accused Vladimir Putin of being behind the rise of Bernie Sanderspaying Afghans to kill American soldiers, and of helping spark the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. RussiaGate — the belief that Moscow managed to hack the 2016 election, swinging the result for Trump — has hardened liberal attitudes towards the country and drastically increased suspicion and fear of Russians. This was crystallized by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s comments on NBC’s Meet The Press, where he claimed that Russians are ‘typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.’ As with China, the U.S. government has attempted to score diplomatic points, taking up the case of imprisoned politician Alexey Navalny.”

And, I mean, of course. Of course this is the case. There is no rational reason for anyone to hold particularly negative views of either of those countries based on actual facts in evidence, and there is certainly no rational reason to perceive them as a threat. The idea that China or Russia pose a threat to you is so self-evidently ridiculous, so transparently absurd, that the only way to make you believe it would be to propagandize you. And if you do believe it, that’s exactly what has happened.

You can expand this principle to include the entirety of U.S. foreign policy on the global stage today. No ordinary American benefits from the U.S. having troops in Syria, sanctioning Venezuelans to death, supporting Saudi Arabia while it rapes Yemen, circling the planet with military bases and working to destroy any nation which refuses to bow to its dictates. The only way to get Americans to consent to any of these agendas is to propagandize them into doing so.

Indeed, you can also expand this principle to include our entire financial/economic/political system as a whole. Ordinary people would not accept as normal a system in which they have to toil long hours just to feed themselves while parasitic middlemen hoard all the profits and use their immense wealth to shape the political paradigm. The only way to get them to accept this exploitative, oppressive and intrinsically unjust system as normal would be to propagandize them.

And that’s precisely what is happening. That’s the only reason our world is ordered in the way that it is.

Propaganda is the single most overlooked and under-emphasized aspect of our society, bar none. It’s so pervasive that most of us don’t even notice it, like that old joke about the two fish who are asked “How’s the water?” and then turn to each other and say “What’s water?”

Vast fortunes are poured into buying up media outlets, paying media bribes in the form of advertising, funding think tanks, manipulating online algorithms, buying the loyalty of influential politicians, and other forms of narrative control. Immense resources are dumped year after year after year into manipulating the way the majority of people think, act, and vote, and yet hardly anyone ever talks about this extremely important fact.

Seriously, think about that for a second. How often do you hear your average citizens discussing the fact that billionaires own the mass media which is consistently used to manufacture consent for the agendas of the plutocratic class, compared to how often you’ll hear them talking about, say, the next presidential election? Even among the well-read and relatively aware people you know, how often do you hear them discussing the fact that public perception is being continually manipulated against the interests of the public? Probably not too frequently compared to other issues.

Even among leftists (by which I mean anti-imperialist socialists) this is a severely under-discussed issue, when it should be the most discussed, because leftist agendas will necessarily be incapable of advancing as long as the majority of the working class are being manipulated at mass scale into consenting to the agendas of plutocrats and warmongers. All socialists and anti-imperialists worth their salt are at least somewhat aware of the fact that the mass media are propaganda operations, but directly discussing this absolutely foundational problem occupies only a very small slice of overall leftist discourse. This will necessarily have to change if there is to be any meaningful leftward movement in our society.

“The idea that China or Russia pose a threat to you is so self-evidently ridiculous, so transparently absurd, that the only way to make you believe it would be to propagandize you. And if you do believe it, that’s exactly what has happened.”

Until fighting the empire’s propaganda engine becomes the agenda the left focuses the bulk of its energy on, none of its other agendas will ever come to pass. People will never rise up and revolt as long as they are being successfully propagandized not to. They won’t even vote for anyone with sufficient numbers if their words diverge too sharply from the consensus worldview they’ve been manipulated into espousing as true. It doesn’t seem to matter how badly the people’s material conditions deteriorate, because they can always be manipulated into blaming someone else and consenting to the status quo anyway.

How do we do this? We just do it. We begin focusing our efforts, for the first time ever, on drawing public attention to the fact that the mass media have been deceiving them. For the first time ever, we begin in sufficient numbers to prioritize above all else the disruption of public trust in the plutocratic media and the imperial narrative management scams which keep everyone from clearly seeing what’s wrong with the world. We seize control of the narrative.

This has never been tried before. Whenever I bring up prioritizing a grassroots media rebellion I’ll get a few leftists telling me “We’re already doing that!” No you’re not. You’ve never come anywhere close. At no time in the information age has killing trust in imperial propaganda been the foremost priority of western leftists. At no time has it ever been our collective priority to use our newfound ability to network and share information to weaken public trust in the mass media and tell the public the truth about economic injustice and the kleptocratic depravity that is western imperialism. Our energy has been spread all over a variety of issues which have nothing to do with this far more crucial one.

Information has never been more democratized, and trust in the mass media has never been more low. The opportunity to expand awareness of what’s really happening in our world has never been riper; all we need to do is seize on this opportunity and wake the working class out of its propaganda-induced coma before the window on that possibility closes on us forever.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium.   Her work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking her on Facebook, following her antics on Twitter, checking out her podcast on either YoutubesoundcloudApple podcasts or Spotify, following her on Steemit, throwing some money into her tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of her sweet merchandise, buying her books Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone and Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.

This article was re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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16 comments for “Countering the Establishment’s Message

  1. P. Michael Garber
    March 7, 2021 at 21:53

    Great article. However, convincing people they’ve been propagandized is, in my experience, flat out impossible when that propaganda A: Tells them they are exceptional, B: Makes excuses for their leaders’ warmongering foreign policy, and C: Is being fed to them by the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post. There doesn’t seem to be any way of impugning the reputation of these “elite” media sources, at least among Democrats. Pointing out how often they’ve been wrong and how often they’ve been caught lying to advance their hostile agenda has no effect. Their trusted sources are there telling them how good and true and righteous they are and excusing all this warmaking. In my experience people prefer being lied to over facing the ugly truth about their country.

  2. evelync
    March 7, 2021 at 19:11

    After the 2016 election – discouraged that my candidate, Bernie Sanders, would have won if he had not been couped by the DNC – I began to ask strangers in airports or at hotels about the election. Many had voted for Trump but they were all sick at heart over the horrific costly wars and the unfair policies of the GOP and DNC. They also didn’t trust Clinton or the establishment Dems. They did like Bernie.

    Trump cleverly had adopted some of Bernie’s mantras –
    The D.C. DNC ignored it all and used the MICIMATT to spread the “Russia did it” bullshit to distract people.
    Too many Dems who were comfortable jumped on board with blinders on.

  3. Moi
    March 7, 2021 at 04:52

    Propaganda can also have significant societal effects within that nation’s borders.

    It was reported this last week that over 100,000 Australian Chinese had been physically threatened or attacked within the last year. That is a flat out disgusting – a national disgrace probably on a par with domestic violence. The MsM amplifying government messages are to blame and it adds insult to injury when Google and Facebook pay the producers of this vile garbage for their output.

    Citizen journalists don’t stand a chance when the social media giants team up with MsM giants or just add a further layer of censorship of their own. For example I read this last week that Twitter blocked Russian users for criticising Nato.

    The only defence is to read far and wide from as many sources as possible then form one’s own opinion. Propaganda works because most people nowadays are too lazy to think for themselves – they just swallow hook, line and sinker anything that is dangled in front of them.

  4. jdd
    March 6, 2021 at 19:30

    Forget “left” and “right.’ Those labels have little meaning, if ever they did, in the modern context. The demonization of of Both Russia and China, as the author notes, cuts across party lines and the ideological spectrum. The issue, which Donald Trump rightly stated in his 2016 elections campaign, revolved around the issue of true economic development for the US itself, which is in precipitous decline. Trump initially repeatedly stated his intentions to be “friends” with Russia and China, and to withdraw from “endless wars.” earning him the bitter hatred of the London-Wall street axis, which threw everything behind his overthrow and defeat. Ultimately Trump failed, proving the “military-industrial complex” to be more powerful, and along with his inability to reindustrialize the economy, increasingly sought to blame China for his failures, and allowing demagogues like Mike Pompeo to run foreign policy. Can we expect the “more liberal” Democrats to pursue a policy of peace? Not from what we have seen so far. More important, the intention of the Biden administration to ram the through the Davos/WEF “Great Reset” green deindustrialization regime will ultimately bring the US and the West into conflict with pro-development Russia, China and the Belt and Road Initiative. Pro-growth Americans will be stymied by the presentation of an “enemy image,” until they can recognize that not only are Russia and China not threats, but are their most powerful allies against the Malthusian banker elites.

  5. Zhu
    March 6, 2021 at 18:57

    Working Americans rarely vote, not because of a “propaganda-induced coma” but because paying for food and rent are so difficult and time-consuming. The streets are full of people who have failed, and while most Americans tell themselve “it can’t happen to me, I’m not like them!”, probably most also know that “yes, it can happen to me.” Caring about politics is pretty high up the hierarchy of needs. Food and shelter are basic.

  6. saurabh
    March 6, 2021 at 16:01

    >No ordinary American benefits from the U.S. having troops in Syria, sanctioning Venezuelans to death, supporting Saudi Arabia while it rapes Yemen, circling the planet with military bases and working to destroy any nation which refuses to bow to its dictates.

    I disagree with this profoundly. There is a reason that the “ordinary American”, despite living in relative poverty, still has access to resources and goods that most people around the world do not, and the reason is because the American empire acts to the benefit of individual Americans, depressing wages around the world by preventing development so that Americans can benefit from their superior purchasing power. While it is true that the vast majority of the benefit accrues to the American ruling class, there is simply *no other explanation* for why the American schlub does so much better than, say, the inhabitant of a favela in Sao Paulo or a tin shack in Mumbai. It certainly isn’t our robust labor movement or our responsible political class that deserves the credit.

    I also think that Americans implicitly, with that deep-rooted instinct that truly governs politics, understand this bargain: if they line up behind their military, and don’t raise too many questions about foreign adventures, squeezing this-or-that leftist government, CIA coups and the like, the result is that they are guaranteed *something*, a small something, but more than they have “over there”, in the “shitholes” that Americans are bombing desperately.

    It is the abandoning of this bargain (we support your military misadventures, you throw us some bones from your carrion heap) that I think has caused a great anger in America, and why Americans are desperate to “Make America Great Again”, so they can get back to the kind of empire that really “works” for them the way they are used to.

    • Tom Kath
      March 6, 2021 at 20:23

      Funny how these classical examples of “propagandized” people never see their own “shitholes” as shitholes.

    • z
      March 6, 2021 at 23:21

      I fear it’s true that many Americans not in the elite do enjoy warfare. If your a young soldier/sailor, you get a fairly good wage, free medical care, free food, cheap shopping at the PX. If yoou’re stationed overseas, you can get lots of cheap sex without the annoyance of a relationship. Most soldiers/sailors are never in combat. They are support troops. But it gets old fast, if you have any moral sense or have any fellow feeling for the people you are inflicted upon. Overall, only a few really profit.

    • Broompilot
      March 7, 2021 at 00:57

      And this is why we are heading for major war and why most will end up supporting it. No matter how unjust the war will seem, the alternatives will seem worse (to both sides). My guess is, it has always been that way. They know we know they are lying to us, and they dont care and never really did.

    • Indian
      March 7, 2021 at 04:13

      So true.
      The vast majority of Americans are accomplices of the Empire’s crimes.
      Propaganda appeases their conscience.
      That’s why Americans are despised around the world.

    • Manifold Destiny
      March 7, 2021 at 06:06

      While you bring up some interesting points, I believe you’re making a few mistakes:

      Americans don’t have it better than the rest of the world. Comparing the average “American schlub” to the extreme poverty found in the favelas or shantytowns of the Global South is a bit of a straw man argument. Of course they’re doing better, but so is the average South Korean, or Canadian, or European — countries that don’t partake in military misadventures in order to prop up their citizens.

      You write that Americans “implicitly…understand the (military) bargain”. Of course, what you’re describing is Colonialism, or the new Imperialism, which has been around for at least 400 years and could be applied to any number of European powers of the past. What you seem to be missing is just what makes this bargain “implicit”. Could it be the notion of “manufactured consent”? – which is really the whole point of Caitlin’s essay. You are mistaking “deep-rooted instincts” for a heavily propagandized and undereducated polity.

      Finally, you then conclude that this instinctual bargain is the source of anger and the consequent popularity of the MAGA ideology. This may be true for a small percentage of right-wing followers, but that would be ignoring the overwhelming evidence that much of the MAGA crowd anger derives from the self-perceived notion of the loss of white supremacy. The sense of loss of control to the Other – whether gender or race -based – is the underlying source of their anger. One which was (and will continue to be) exploited mercilessly by demagoguery.

      It is always problematic when making generalizations that the resultant analysis can become monolithic. Be wary of them, my friend. No two people are alike, therefore reasons for believing in an ideology, any ideology, are manifold. Manufacturing consent is a big reason why Americans believe they live in an “exceptional” country with an outsized military that represents a “force for good” in the world, much to their detriment.

      • Freedomlover
        March 7, 2021 at 21:29

        You hit the nail on the head. Great response

      • Antiwar7
        March 8, 2021 at 03:18

        You’re overthinking it. Most people in flyover country aren’t doing well financially, and they don’t think the elites care. So they’re unhappy. No implicit bargain needed.

        An empire makes profits for a few, and its enormous expenses are borne by the many. Propaganda aims to divert attention from that.

      • broompilot
        March 8, 2021 at 03:48

        Non-minority Whites have not lost anything and they are still the vast majority in this country. They are the largest voting group by far and addressing them with stupid made up names like “supremacists” to intentionally evoke images of Hitler is not going to change that. In fact, it is becoming more and more obvious to non-minority Whites they would be fools to think they will be better served by a governments consisting of a coalition of minorities.

    • Sancho
      March 7, 2021 at 20:24

      Obama had us involved in seven wars to Bush and Cheney’s three. Also under the Obama administration, more arms were sold to foreign countries than under any other administration. Trump “abandoned” this so-called bargain, and the economy took off, setting records. Your theory does not make sense. PS where in your theory do you discuss the movement of American factories and jobs to unregulated China, and how does 16 years of Bush and Obama moving jobs and factories to China fit into any sort of imperialsm scheme?

      • Dave
        March 8, 2021 at 15:50

        Check out Alan Greenspan’s financial engineering, and find out how rich MNC have got. There is the reason why blue-collar jobs went to China, and the imperialism scheme. Middle-class be damned.

Comments are closed.