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Main points of lecture about polarizing political speech, part 4



Kathryn Ruud lecture, part 4

[I think the material towards the end of this lecture about attacks on empathy is extremely important.]

Quotes a German historian (name not caught) who says that totalitarians are terrible simplifiers.

Scapegoating: Divide complex individuals into opposing camps.

Imagine a stadium, with the problems on one side of the stadium, and the people suffering on the other side of the stadium. The leader creates a laser beam of blame going down into his hand, where he's holding the outgroup he's attributing all the problems to. If we get rid of this outgroup, all our problems will go away.

The outgroup can be based on ideology, ethnicity, race, or class.

In East Germany, capitalists were called a threat to humanity. The Nazis said that Jews were simultaneously evil communists in they were in the east, and evil capitalists if they were in the west. Germany can be whole and pure only if they are completely excluded.

On talk radio, Michael Savage (in the same sentence) called Obama appointees Communist vermin and neo-nazis. Note: lexical fusion of opposites.

If the national media were a propaganda organ, we would be reading that Romney and McCain were fascist Nazi communists, but she hasn't seen it. Talk radio has made "liberal" and "progressive" into pejoratives. The new pejorative is "statist".

Limbaugh and other hosts are saying that liberals, progressives, and even moderate Republicans are statists.

Stereotyping: Narrowing a concept into generic form. The speaker does this by using impersonal and derisive terms. In East Germany, "the capitalist personality" was described as "inhumane, the worker's grave digger, an atomic warrior, slimey, nasty, trash, and filth", and she read a brochure which had been given to independent farmers which said "the only good farmer is he who accelerates the victory of socialism", and the message here in this brochure was "No matter how productive you might be, you are a bad farmer, and a bad person, and selfish, unless you are in a collective. In fact, you should be considered a collaborator with the fascist capitalists".

In political talk radio, liberals, progressives, and Democrats are labelled arrogant, contemptuous, lazy, gutless, whiners, and crybabies. "Liberal crybabies" and "whining liberals" might seem benign, but this was a red flag for her, because Hitler had had hurled a slew of names at elected parlimentarians, but one of his favorites was to call them babblers and whiners. The propaganda effect is to say, "I'm a grown-up with a serious purpose, but these people, all they can do is fuss and drool and cry and get in my way. I can't get anything done."

[I don't know about Hitler, but I think the American use of "whiners" has a different edge. The idea isn't "you're a bunch of babies", it's closer to "if you were adults (real men?), you'd be tough enough to not be bothered by this, and you certainly wouldn't complain about it".]

[I've never seen anyone discuss the animal attack verb-- what one's opponents say is "grunting", "howling", "oinking" etc.]

This kind of talk has become pervasive. She's seen it from liberal and conservative pundits, in style[?], science, and economic sections, and in ordinary conversations.

Limbaugh: "There are Americans and then there are liberals." Beck: "There are patriots and then there are progressives."

Ugly sterotypes from the left: "You rightwing, toothless, red-necked, bible-thumping trailer trash". That may be funny, unless you've done manual labor, you've known somebody poor, or you've done manual labor yourself, and I've spent time livin' in a trailer while working as a waitress, so that doesn't go over well with me at all. [word-for-word quote] [I've been drifting in and out of exact quotes and paraphrases. I hope this isn't a problem.]

No one likes to be stereotyped. She hasn't seen widespread use of these stereotypes on leftwing national talk radio, except for this "whining" which is everywhere.

Your opponents are made to be seen as despicable, both as groups and as individuals.

Propaganda is always mixed with natural language, even in totalitarian countries.

7:22 Limbaugh: Complains that the left is anti-war, but is claiming credit for victory in Iraq, while the credit should go to Bush. Refers to the current administration as dishonest and diabolical. Also sick and mentally unstable. Limbaugh doesn't know who their friends are any more. [Why would he expect to? He isn't exactly going to be invited to their parties.]

Manipulation of key moral concepts: Very insidious-- the object is to alter the moral meaning of key words.

The Nazis used words like ruthless, brutal, and fanatical in positive contexts. Previously, all those words had been negative. They would say things like 'brutal courage', or 'fanatical loyalty'. The word 'fanatic' [I'm not hunting down the German] had previously been very negative, but was used commonly in the Nazi press.

The words penetrated so far that they would be used casually by Jews-- "I'm a fanatical tennis player". It would no longer sound weird to say "I'm a Hitler fanatic".

Words like empathy, kind-heartedness, and tolerance were only used by the weak.

Hitler told the German people they were made of steel: ruthless, intolerant, and pitiless against all enemies, and he referred to "poisonous Jewish humanitarianism".

She's seen a tendency on political talk radio in this direction: During the healthcare debate, Limbaugh called liberals "compassion fascists" or "compassion mongereres" during the health care debate.

There's been an effort to make "social justice" alarming.

In general, the brakes are taken off meanness.

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Tags: limbaugh, linguistics, nazis, polarizing political talk, ruud
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