The DNC’s Propaganda Engineers Want Us to Fear Kennedy: How Laughter and Hope Can Help Us Resist

The DNC’s Propaganda Engineers Want Us to Fear Kennedy: How Laughter and Hope Can Help Us Resist
American Values 2024 | June 24, 2024

By Elsa Hjalmarsson Lyons, The Kennedy Beacon

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” dystopian novelist and journalist George Orwell writes that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” He warns that politicians and propagandists are constantly churning out “ready-made phrases” that “will construct your sentences for you – even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent.” According to Orwell, these phrases are “a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow”; each one “anesthetizes a portion of one’s brain” when used.

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If what Orwell writes is true, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has assembled a crew of expert anesthesiologists. Headlined by the notoriously unscrupulous Democratic strategist Lis Smith and overseen by DNC senior advisor Mary Beth Cahill, the team has nothing to do with promoting President Biden’s reelection. Its sole mission is to convince voters that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is dangerous – and the media establishment is all too happy to fall in line.

Smith and her gossip squad say they want to educate voters about Kennedy, but what they really want is to reeducate us. Rather than learning and thinking for ourselves, they want us to memorize. They’re trying to accomplish this through a campaign of mind-numbing repetition, using and reusing the same sorts of buzzwords and “ready-made phrases” that Orwell wrote about – all to discredit Kennedy. These have included “anti-vaxxer,” “conspiracy theorist,” “crank,” and more recently “spoiler for Trump,” “stalking horse for Trump,” “useful idiot,” etc. These words are the real brain worms, parasites made to wriggle their way into our thoughts.

Orwell knew about a cure for this kind of parasite, one that Kennedy has discovered too: laughter. But treatment cannot precede diagnosis. The more we understand how the DNC and the captured media manipulate language in order to influence us, the more equipped we will be to reclaim our independence.

On May 2, The New York Times published Michelle Cottle’s interview with Lis Smith, in which Smith sketches out the DNC’s attack strategies against RFK. Rather than marketing President Biden to voters – it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s a hard sell – the DNC is focused on “highlighting the negatives and vulnerabilities of the third-party, independent candidates, most notably R.F.K. Jr.,” as Smith puts it. She characterizes the DNC strategy as “intensive voter education,” necessary to influence voters who are “not reading the New York Times or watching MSNBC every day.” Smith further reveals that the DNC will focus its “education[al]” efforts on “women, voters of color and lower propensity voters” as well as “younger voters.” She doesn’t say how they plan to reach the first three groups, but assures Cottle that they “will be doing work to make sure we are reaching younger voters where they consume their news. Social media influencers along with traditional media outlets.” [For more on Cottle’s interview with Smith, please see The Kennedy Beacon, here.]

There’s something subtly Orwellian about these tactics and the way Smith describes them. If people are choosing not to read The New York Times or watch MSNBC, maybe it’s for a reason. Maybe they want to shelter themselves from the fear mongering and targeted gossip that has taken over these news outlets. Maybe they are seeking another kind of journalism, the kind that empowers them to evaluate candidates for themselves, like citizens of a robust democracy. But the DNC cannot allow that. Instead, Lis Smith’s cohort is inundating voters with a constant stream of messaging in order to erode their curiosity about Kennedy. That’s not education – that’s indoctrination.

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell describes how propagandists use words that have become “almost completely lacking in meaning” in order to “deceive” audiences. There’s a kind of accountability that concrete and direct language demands from us, and one way to escape that accountability is to use terms that sound weighty but are really without substance. “Conspiracy theorist” is one of these. In that May 2 interview with Cottle, Smith accuses Kennedy of “embrac[ing] a lot of bizarre and dangerous conspiracy theories….” Before that, in an April 29 Times article on ballot access, Smith is quoted as saying that “RFK Jr. has never met a conspiracy theory he doesn’t like….” The phrases “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” have been split off from their meanings, so that the former essentially translates to “baloney” and the latter to “nutjob,” inevitably conjuring up the image of a paranoid misanthrope. All they really refer to, though, is the belief that (typically powerful) people or entities are joining forces to commit illegal or immoral acts in secret. It sounds damning when Smith or another of the DNC’s mouthpieces calls Kennedy a conspiracy theorist, but he’s actually pretty forthright about his view that federal regulatory agencies are colluding – or to use the dirty word, conspiring – with big corporations to deceive and rob the American people.

If the three key concepts in real estate are location, location, and location, then the three rules of propaganda are repetition, repetition, and repetition.

One of the tropes that the DNC has recently been pushing is that the Kennedy campaign is a “stalking horse” for former president Trump. As Sanna Hannele Voltti explains in this Kennedy Beacon article, “stalking horse” refers to a political candidate propped up by one campaign in order to take votes away from its opponent– another version of a spoiler. In fact, an NBC poll published in late April shows Kennedy taking more votes from Trump than from President Biden. But like “conspiracy theorist,” the phrase “stalking horse” is now primarily a slur, not a real category. On February 8, The Washington Post published an article that quoted Smith calling Kennedy a “stalking horse.” A sequence of similar quotes from Smith, all including that phrase, appear in The New York Times on February 9, on CNN February 13, on ABC News March 14, and in Politico April 4. On March 25, Time magazine ran the exact quote published in The New York Times in February – apparently it’s from a Zoom call that Smith held with various reporters.

Reading these articles, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to imagine that all their content came from one big Zoom with Smith. They echo each other with slight variations, a cage full of parrots jabbering on until you can’t tell who’s imitating who.

In his book The Indoctrinated Brain: How to Successfully Fend Off the Global Attack on Your Mental Freedom, German doctor and scientist Michael Nehls explains that attaching propaganda narratives to strong emotions like fear can make them easier to implant in people’s brains. These emotions signal to our brains that a particular thought or experience is meaningful enough to be transferred from the frontal lobe to the hippocampus, where short-term memories are stored on their way to becoming long-term memories. Nehls writes that “if I want someone to remember something for life, I have to package my message emotionally…. Instilling fear is a proven, if mostly unethical, means of achieving this goal.”

Nehls goes on to explain that the hippocampus is home to our vital “index neurons.” These neurons help us retrieve information from the neocortex, which holds our long-term memories. According to Nehls, index neurons are produced constantly, in a process known as hippocampal neurogenesis. Because they cannot survive if they are not utilized, they have an “appetite for new things” that is “the neural correlate of natural human curiosity.” But chronic fear and anxiety can impede this process by causing the brain to release neurotoxic levels of glucocorticoids, a type of stress hormone. The flood of stress hormones interferes with the production of new index neurons. Nehls writes that “a blocked hippocampal neurogenesis induces anxiety of new experiences, thoughts, and opinions, which is equivalent to a depressive state of mind.”

Fear makes us better at memorizing and worse at thinking creatively. It makes us more retentive and less curious.

Fear makes us better at memorizing and worse at thinking creatively. It makes us more retentive and less curious. And this is the perfect formula for complacency. In his book, Nehls is specifically discussing the fear-based messaging embraced by most government agencies and media outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the DNC has adopted the same strategies in its crusade against Kennedy. Smith and her team know that Democratic voters are afraid of Donald Trump getting reelected. They’re using this fear to sharpen their attacks on Kennedy. More specifically, they’re manipulating voters’ fear of being responsible for Trump’s reelection – kind of like the fear of being responsible for infecting someone with COVID-19.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once told Americans that the only thing to fear is fear itself. But today’s prevailing narrative is that we should be afraid of not being fearful enough – that we should be afraid of what might happen if we allow ourselves to make choices (like the choice of who to vote for) out of hope. By engineering a fear of freedom, the DNC is trying to generate the kind of stress-hormone-overflow that ultimately makes people neurologically resistant to changing their minds.

I recently saw a brilliant movie that was made in Georgia – the small country in the Caucasus, once under Soviet occupation – not the US state. In the film, an eccentric physicist and his young protégée are on a mission to build a flying machine. The town doctor pretends to help them in order to study what he perceives as a rare delusion known as flyology, the belief that the human heart can triumph over the laws of gravity. When the flying machine is finished, the doctor and his assistants all gather around it, ready to take notes on how the two passengers react to the collapse of their delusion. But instead, it works – the machine begins to lift off the ground. Instead of being amazed, the doctor is furious. He tries to yank the vessel back down, shouting, “Impossible, impossible! Humans don’t belong in the sky!” RFK Jr.’s detractors remind me of this cynical doctor – energized at the thought of pathology, they can’t imagine hope as the product of a healthy mind. They want us to dismiss Kennedy’s candidacy as a delusion, even as we watch it take flight.

So how do we keep our thinking as independent as Kennedy’s candidacy?

Seventy-eight years ago, Orwell encouraged us “to laugh [propaganda] out of existence.” His words are more salient than ever. Once we recognize the tactics that, taken together, constitute an assault on our powers of original thought, we can playfully subvert those tactics. In the process, we have the chance to remind ourselves of how to use language rather than being used by language. That’s exactly what Kennedy has begun to do – and it’s a key part of his resistance against the forces that seek to control us through social pressure and propaganda.

For instance, Kennedy doesn’t mind former president Trump calling him “Junior.” The nickname was a cheap way to belittle Kennedy’s candidacy – until RFK decided to let himself in on the joke. In a recent post on X (formerly Twitter), Kennedy wished Trump a happy 78th birthday, calling the milestone “YUGE.” “I look forward to seeing you on the debate stage,” Kennedy went on. The debate reference was both an expression of confidence and a dare, considering that neither former president Trump nor President Biden has acknowledged CNN’s use of inconsistent criteria to deny Kennedy a platform (though Trump did say back in May that he would have no problem including Kennedy if he met the criteria). Kennedy signed off with “Affectionately, Junior.” By co-opting the nickname, Kennedy has transfigured it from a mocking epithet to an honorific that highlights his family legacy and his youthful vigor.

In another X post this month, Kennedy wrote: “The ranks of the conspiracy theorists now include the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which just ruled Covid vax mandates unconstitutional because the vaccine does not stop transmission.” The ruling he referenced was filed on June 7 in the case of Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. v. Alberto Carvalho.

Kennedy could have taken this ruling as an opportunity to rage against his detractors. Instead, he used irony to elegantly expose the way in which buzzwords and stock phrases have been weaponized against him and nearly everyone else who dares to question vaccine dogma.

Orwell would approve of how Kennedy’s post highlighted the flimsiness of the phrase “conspiracy theorist” in its current usage as a synonym for “crank.” Kennedy also wielded some dad-joke-style humor to poke fun at the mainstream media’s sensationalist coverage of his past health problems: “I dunno, maybe it’s the brain worm, but I seem to remember the experts and authorities telling us otherwise.” When the brain worm story was first circulating, he offered in an X post to “eat 5 more brain worms and still beat President Trump and President Biden in a debate.”

It’s not that Kennedy doesn’t take words seriously. I believe that he does. In fact, I believe he takes them much more seriously than the smear artists who are working full-time to discredit him. In creatively repurposing the language of propaganda, RFK Jr. is mounting a powerful campaign against fear. He’s telling us that we don’t have to be afraid of not being afraid. Instead of reverse-indoctrinating us, he’s giving us permission to get a little cheeky, a little mischievous – if that’s what it takes to reassert our right to think and make choices freely.

Elsa Hjalmarsson Lyons is a student at Amherst College.

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