I hate going back, again, to Orwell, but since the world is intent on using Nineteen Eighty-Four as an instructional guide, I have no choice. So proles, take note: this week’s Two Minutes Hate will be split between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. They apparently share the goal of destroying American democracy via the invasion of Ukraine.
Something very sinister has happened in the American mind-space over the last few days. Ukraine, a country of little importance to the United States, suddenly became the sole focus of most media-consuming Americans. This was constructed to appear organic, but it is impossible not to imagine guiding hands behind the shift of every single media outlet to a single story told in a single way. Leap-frogging over one another, social media and traditional media competed for the most extreme Ukraine stories.
One of the first was the “Ghost of Kyiv,” a fighter pilot who improbably shot down six Russian aircraft. No matter the whole story was soon proven false — the images shown were created by game sim software. This was followed by a tale of Ukrainian soldiers on an island who died valiantly rather than surrender, which also was not true — as we learned days later, they did indeed surrender.
America was flooded with images of gorgeous Ukrainian girls with AirSoft toy rifles volunteering for the front. Ukrainian cats are supposedly trained to spot Russian laser sights. Pictures appeared of plucky people making Molotov cocktails to fight the Russians in the streets. For what it’s worth, those cocktails would have either a) evaporated their inflammant through the rag before use — you can’t make ’em days in advance — or b) set fire to the thrower. Unless the rag is very, very tightly in the bottle, the inflammant will run down the thrower’s arm and set him afire. Propaganda has no time, apparently, for WikiHow.
But the most intense propaganda was reserved for the Ukrainian president, labeled by the MSM as both a George Washington and a Winston Churchill. Combat reports of him patrolling the streets in cammies are now a standard feature. The tell on all this is how unspecific the propaganda is. Yep, that’s Zelensky alright, but exactly where is he? When was the footage shot? We haven’t seen this much veneration of a foreign leader since the election of savior-o-the-day Iraqi prime ministers a decade or so ago.
The Ukraine coverage is fact-free: all about narratives of hot girls with guns, nothing about what is going on. For example, is one side winning? It’s all just emotion to stim you into equally meaningless acts.
And it worked. Shallow Americans are “standing with” Ukraine, throwing Russian alcohol off the shelves, lining up to eat at Ukrainian diners and, of course, posting across social media. Overnight we as a nation became experts on SWIFT, and patriots ready to pay more at the gas pumps for freedom. My neighbor made a show of pouring out some old vodka at a party but was unaware our state generates most of its electricity from Russian crude. And never mind vodka accounts for only millions out of the billions of dollars worth of US imports from Russia.
Alongside all this false and misleading information is the overnight disappearance of the fact checkers. The same people who would jump on a Covid article for misquoting a protein statistic, or suspend an account for not following the party line on masking, are dead silent in the face of a tsunami of Ukrainian propaganda. No surprise a former Ukrainian president lauded CNN as an “objective source of information as a contradiction against Russian information.” Twitter labels all tweets linking to Russian state media while allowing Ukrainian sources free reign.
If any of this seems familiar, rewind to the 2016 presidential campaign, and then get back to the future.
The propaganda, having whipped Americans into bloodlust demanding Putin’s death, has now begun its metamorphosis into tying Trump into all this. In doing so, the campaign builds on the remnants of 2016, when the Clinton machine falsely claimed the Russians elected Trump as their agent in place.
USA Today writes, “Trump’s bromance with Putin was very much on display… as the former president saw it, there was nothing to condemn [regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] but much to admire.” The NYT says that “The American political right… has shifted toward fawning praise for autocrats, even those leading America’s traditional adversaries. Where once Russia and other autocracies were seen as anti-democratic, they have now become symbols of US conservatism — a mirror for the right-wing worldview. Supporting Mr. Putin, as well as other authoritarian leaders, is yet another way in which the political right is weaponizing culture wars to further divide Americans.”
Salon explains “how Trump’s coup attempt [January 6] encouraged Putin’s Ukraine invasion” and claims that “Donald Trump and his regime consistently acted as vassals for Vladimir Putin’s regime and Russia’s strategic interests.” WaPo notes that “the implications of President Vladimir Putin’s actions against the United States in 2016 will finally sink in, especially for Republicans in Congress. The Vladimir Putin who planned, staged and launched a large-scale war on Ukraine is the same Vladimir Putin who ordered an aggressive, multifaceted, clandestine campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The Atlantic hauls out none other than Hillary Clinton herself to thunder, “It’s a five-alarm national-security crisis. The hard truth is that if Republicans won’t stand up to Trump, they can’t stand up to Putin or Xi.”
There are two things to worry about here. The first is the amazing speed with which a massive narrative can be forced into American brains in a coordinated fashion. Ukrainian propaganda sucked all of the oxygen from the room so quickly it should scare us. The second thing to fear is how quickly American partisan political forces were able to hijack the initial anti-Russian narrative and repurpose it into a slightly revised version of 2016’s “Trump is a Russian asset.” No matter that that narrative has been debunked as Clinton-made propaganda, the story line today is somehow that Trump and Putin are working together to destroy Ukraine on their way to ending American democracy.
Trump has nothing to do with Putin, or Ukraine, and the latter two have nothing to do with American democracy. As in Orwell’s world, our thoughts are no longer our own. We are told how to think, and groomed how to vote.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.