We are going to be dissecting this thing for years. How could they have voted for him after what came out about him? Where did all those votes come from? Why wasn’t it a landslide all the way down the ticket?
The reason is in some basic, fundamental principles of propaganda. That we listen selectively and hear what we want to hear. That a proposition repeated over and over as being true is eventually accepted as true. And that we tend to remember the first thing we hear about a subject and the last – primacy and recency – giving lesser significance to information gleaned in the middle. Trump understands these concepts thoroughly and uses them all with abandon to drive home what Kellyanne Conway referred to at one time as the alternative truth. It is the practice of coming out early with outrageous comments about adversaries or events, and then maintaining a drumbeat of the same statement consistently – no matter what the forthcoming explanations might be – to the very end, all through the same outlets and all intended for the same ears.
In the case of every Democratic candidate to cross Trump in any way, he gave those willing to listen no option of what to recall first or last. With the barrage of words Trump maintained, and the media’s practice of reporting every word he said, the first and last thing anyone was going hear would be Trump’s claim.
It did not matter that his words were lies, or were completely wrong, or had been thoroughly rebutted. Those in Trump’s base, depending on background, education, position in life, attitudes of the day and feeling towards the speaker, listened selectively. They heard what they wanted to hear. Further, and as the propagandist knows, repetition can easily substitute for credibility. The more times a proposition is presented as true, the greater the chance that it will eventually be accepted as true. And while Trump was driving these messages home to the base, the general electorate was subjected to the same messages, albeit not with the same level of intensity. But the same principles work for everyone, capturing many who either left their guard down or were not listening intently.
Trump maintained for months that the only way the Republicans could lose the election was if it were fixed. The claims were dutifully reported widely by the mainstream press and all the news networks. The reaction of many was to roll their eyes, and mutter, “There he goes again,” recognizing the hype and not falling sway to it. It is only now, after the election, that defenders are coming forward with the explanation that there is no evidence to any of the claims being made. But this comes after months of the drumbeat claims of fraud and corruption.
Now, when the media repeats Trump’s more outrageous claims, someone might add, “But there is no evidence of this accusation.” But this is too late. Those listening carefully would correctly take away that there is no evidence of any corruption or fraud in the election. But too many do not listen carefully and might well remember – through primacy, recency or repetition, all the claims that have been made during the months and months before, and - despite the cautionary warning – accept that there is something wrong with the election process.
Put some number of millions of these listeners behind a TV set with nothing but Fox News, or give them radios only tuned to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Mark Levine, and they will not only remember the claim as told, they will believe it, and be advocates for doing something about it.
Trump’s impact is going to be with us for a long, long time.