With today’s GOP it would be exhausting to counter every lie with the truth. Lying, conspiracy theories, propaganda, gaslighting and other forms of manipulation are age old tricks used to keep citizens out of the decision making process and the GOP embraced these methods well before Trump. Though at some level lies and propaganda must be called out, the psychology is pretty clear: debunking, while necessary, comes with a risk: the furthering of your opponents frames and messages.
The target of the Republican propagandists is not just the ordinary person, but us and our messaging. They count on the fact that we’ll debunk it. Here are the dangers of engaging with propaganda and we’ll use the lie of voter fraud as an example:
- Projection and distraction: Republicans have a massive and scarily successful effort to disenfranchise or inconvenience voters to the point here they can’t or won’t bother to vote. To distract from this they promote a lie about voter fraud and, loudly and repeatedly, blame this non existent threat on Democrats. The focus remains on mail in ballot security, drawing attention away, as it was intended to, from the GOP and Dark Money’s decades long, well funded and highly sophisticated vote prevention efforts.
- When we debate their absurdity about vote fraud, it gives undeserved weight to the lie and suggests it’s not only on par with complaints of vote prevention but the repetition of the frame of fraud is strengthened in people’s brains.
- Debunking keeps us in the “crime” frame and narrative the Republican strategists want us in.
- Best of all for Republicans, debunking the lies wastes our precious messaging time assumning we even remember to pivot to our messages. They know we almost always take the bait.
So what can we do when we must set the record straight without falling into the trap set for us? The best thing to do is simply brush aside the lies and pivot to what you want to talk about. That‘s not always possible; sometimes you have to respond. In this case a truth sandwich is helpful.
Here’s my take on George Lakoff’s Truth Sandwich:
- Top Bun: Uncover the real issue and state it’s truth. The first to frame gets the advantage.
- The Baloney: Indicate the lie as a distraction from that truth. Avoid repeating your opponent’s specific language and stay out of their frame.
- Bottom bun: Return to the truth. Always repeat truths and not lies.
In our example of countering the voter fraud lie…
- The truth: “The real issue is that the GOP’s anti-democratic vote prevention tactics put our right to vote, our elections and our democracy in grave danger.
- Vote by mail, ballot drop boxes, and early voting make it easier for citizens to vote. Any talk otherwise is a distraction from the GOP’s widespread vote prevention efforts.
- Voter suppression is morally wrong, anti-democratic and racist. Let me repeat: Voter suppression is morally wrong, anti-democratic and racist.
Understand that the lies are intentional and have a purpose. The purpose of lies is summed up in my take on the term FUD which I call FUDD, fear, uncertainty, doubt and distraction.
- Fear impairs rational thinking.
- Uncertainty keeps people on edge, confused about reality and more willing to accept an authority figure to tell them what to think and do.
- Doubt, repeated often, suggests settled facts and logic may not be truly settled.
- Distraction is often the primary goal of propaganda -to talk about anything but what the propagandist is actually doing.
Why create FUDD? Because the more confused and distracted voters are, the harder it is for our messages to get through and the more time we’ll waste debunking the oppositions absurdities.
Time we could have used to put forth our message.